When you consider how well received the last few offerings from the Need for Speed fcamp were, namely the Hot Pursuit reboot and Most Wanted (The Run doesn’t count and let us never ever speak of it again), it’s a little surprising Need for Speed: Rivals has kind of snuck in under the radar. Sure, now that it’s launch week EA has upped the ante, but I was expecting to see this puppy plastered absolutely everywhere.
Maybe EA’s playing it safe easing in the new studio, Ghost Games – a team comprised of a conglomerate of gaming’s racing elite, boasting members from the ranks of Turn 10 Studios (Forza), Ubisoft Reflections (Driver: San Francisco) and Slightly Mad Studios (Need for Speed: Shift). Perhaps it’s new console launch jitters. Whatever the reasoning it shouldn’t have worried. I’ll say it loud and proud for you EA, Need for Speed: Rivals is some of the most exhilarating, white-knuckle fun I’ve had behind the wheel, and while it’s not perfect, it remains a thrilling driving experience.
The franchise’s more recent mantra has been to blur the lines between single and multiplayer, offering a seamless transition between modes. By giving you a massive open world at your fingertips you’re simply aching to explore, handbrake turn, 180, careen off insane jumps and generally mess about in causing delicious delectable destruction, Ghost Games is doing its darndest to ensure you never want to leave… and it pretty much succeeds.
The HUD conveys an amazing amount of information in a completely unobtrusive way. There’s a speedometer with a damage indicator skirting its circumference, a NOS (Nitrous-Oxide) dial, EasyDrive indicator, positioning and speed, a rear view mirror, current objectives and a mini-map, yet all of these are mostly transparent and seem to blend into the background. At a glance, you’re always on point and know where you’re going.
If you do momentarily get stumped a few clicks on the D-Pad and EasyDrive’s at the readytelling you “I got this” listing any points of interest and immediately mapping out a route to get you there. The whole idea is to keep you driving and a spending an incremental period of time navigating menus. This transfers through to events points marked on the map, head-to-head duels against rival speedsters and allows you to leave a race/chase and go take the jam out of a live player’s donut who happens to cross your no drive zone, all with a press of a button. I can barely recall a time I went into the actual menu and that in of itself is a triumph of design.
Let me just get this out the way first. The story, on both sides of the campaign? I did not care for it. Now that doesn’t mean I didn’t lurv the frantic and frenetic four-wheeled antics it led to, but the overly dramatic plot didn’t really strike a chord, it was the gameplay which set a cracking pace for me. As a racer you play the mysterious (read self-serving dick) Zephyr who leads a one driver war against the Po-po.
His goal? To capture all his high-speed evasions and law-breaking shenanigans and upload them all to YouTube to become the next big reality TV thing. He’s like Vin Diesel’s Xander Cage from XXX pre-government recruiting, but without the likability. And yes, I’m absolutely serious about that. The more popular he gets, the greater the risks he’s prepared to take. Not for his own gratification, mind you. Heavens no. It’s all for you, the adoring public.Can’t you just smell the nobility?
Ultimately all you need to do is evade Johnny Law in the most outlandishly spectacular fashion possible. At any given moment, mid-race or just cruising around, you’ll be beset upon by any number of rambunctious law-enforcement types looking to make you their bitch. As you tangle with Smokey you’ll earn ‘heat’ which doubles as a score multiplyer, and here’s where it gets interesting.
With each heat level increase the cops become more and more aggressive and determined to bust your arse. You're left with two options, deploy your arsenal of countermeasures and try to escape pursuit, living to fight another day or make for one of your hideouts and ‘bank’ your earnings. Be warned though. You gets busted, you lose it all. It makes for some unbelievably tense encounters as you’re always gambling and only one bust away from, well, going bust.
As for the aforementioned countermeasures? There are plenty to choose from, yet you can only equip two at any given time. Turbo is your best friend catapulting you to breakneck velocity as long as you don’t crash or clip anything. EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) cooks a specific vehicle’s electronics in front of you when successfully deployed, and likewise for EMP mines at the rear. These were the one’s I kept coming back to and they more than did the job.
Your garage is more than fully stocked with a who’s who of automotive dream machines to choose from, though you need to buy these bad boys. There are no free rides here. On the plus side, if you find one which perfectly matches your play style you don’t have to worry about it becoming obsolete in a few races time. You can customise and fine-tune the crap out of it so you’re always a contender, even into the final stages of the campaign. Just make sure you focus first on durability and acceleration or it’s going to be over real soon, real fast.
On the opposing end of the campaign spectrum, you play a renegade cop who plays by nobody’s rules, not even his own (OK, that last part isn’t entirely accurate). It’s your duty to protect and serve, and that’s just what you’re going to do, protect the public by serving up a vehicle-decimating arse-whipping.Nobody messes with the law, not on these mean streets. This is my house, bitch.
I’ve got to say, I had an absolute blast smashing my way through this campaign, and I literally was, smashing through. Opposed to the every-man-for-himself philosophy of the racers, the cops utilise a pack mentality and operate as a team shutting races and their participants down.They don’t always play nice together either, as each cop wants to be the one to bring in a shiny new collar.
Your ‘walking the line’ methods haven’t gone unnoticed either, by both your superiors and the public. They want you to deliver the same results driving with one hand tied behind your back. Your use of excessive (albeit necessary) force won't be tolerated and you find yourself busted down to private, ahem, patrolman before the FBI comes a calling in need of your cowboy heroics once more. You’re a blunt instrument. A necessary evil they need and intend to use.
To this end you’ll have a garage filled with high-end and rough and tumble cruisers to choose from. The speeds the top level operate at are in excess of 50% quicker than the racer equivalent with the reasoning you’ll need to chase these mofos down, so you’ll need every bit of juice you can get. Unlike the racer campaign you unlock fully-loaded vehicles, though there are no multipliers so the earnings are more on the lean side. The tug of war between the two campaign’s upgrading system works rather well as you flit back and forth earning bank as a racer and then working out which ride or tech to upgrade across the board.
The tech on the right side of the law is more confrontational and packs a mean punch. You could get all tactical and use roadblocks or spike strips deployed manually behind you or up ahead via chopper, but I was far more partial to a more hands on approach. The EMP worked a treat to disable and jam the electronics of anything down the road, so too the mine for whoever was coming up behind, but it just wasn’t personal enough. I wanted them to recognise the Magnitude of their situation with a little “pop-pop!” (you all watch Community, right?)
The most satisfying way to get the job done was via ESF (Electro-Static Field) and the ShockRam. It’s an intense 1-2 punch combination. Picture this. You’ve got the law-breaker in your sights. You drop a ‘how you doing?’ love-tap shunt from behind. Disoriented and before they can recover you unleash the ESF electrifying your mean machine and edge closer. After zapping the living crap out of them and frying their circuits you follow up with a little ‘how’s your father’ shunt and arm the ShockRam for the coup de grace. As the name implies a shockwave pulsates forward and ba-da-bing ba-da-bam ba-da-boom, they’re out of commission. This was my go-to move and it never failed to deliver.
In both campaigns, the way the plot evolves is largely inconsequential and stands as a minor hindrance before you whizz right past, leaving it far behind in the rear view mirror. It is fed to you piecemeal, in between events and you’ll only really remember the broad strokes of it. Consider it a placeholder catalyst to advance the gameplay. Just hit the NOS and fly right by it. In keeping with the whole mantra of accessibility, each pit-stop in either campaign is equipped with three event options so if you’re not particularly inclined to a specific race or pursuit, you can pretty much avoid it altogether. Nice one Ghost!
So if it’s the duck nuts, ko-zee-ii, what’s with the “8.5” down the bottom, you might be thinking. Well there were a few potholes which got in the way of the silky smooth ride I was hoping for. Your hideouts, and I understand that by definition this is what they are, are a little too hard to find the entrance to on the fly. When you’ve got a slew of Five-0 on your tail the last thing you want to do is pussyfoot around. At times a whip I was pursuing would inexplicably disappear. Not outpace me, or break away, just vanish. And as I’ve mentioned, the story is balls.
Need for Speed: Rivals is one hell of a wild ride. The vehicular combat is refreshing, it looks a treat, and handles like a dream. Whether you’re a looking to leave your mark as a maverick speed demon with a legion of fans or skirting the thin blue line desperate to shut entitled street trash down, each campaign is a blast to work your way through, even if the plot surrounding them isn’t. Hit the road and make it your own, just a word of caution, I’ll be out there to, gunning for you.