The Need for Speed franchise has always been a bit of a mixed bag. Depending upon who you ask, the game is either great or for lack of a better word, “meh.” Which category that falls into also is determined by which version of the game you are referring to. Just stop and think about it, the series has seen nineteen individual releases to date. There have been so many versions of this game that the developers started running out of names to give it and started reusing old ones. Surprisingly that was not the case with Need for Speed Rivals, the first to be available on the next-generation consoles coming out this holiday season and the twentieth Need For Speed title. Developed by Ghost Games, one has to wonder if they can pump some life back into this series.
I TRY REALLY HARD TO SOUND COOL The mere fact that you try to give a racing game a developing story already says that you are trying too hard. A quick note to EA: we just wanna drive, man! Rivals is all about this grand struggle between street racers and cops in Olympic City. You can tell that the narrators for the racer and cop stories are trying extra hard to sound tough and they draw their words out so you know they mean business – you have to hear it, so awful. Let’s not even get into the fact that the starting patrol vehicle for the cops is a Mercedes. Every time you start a new speedlist (set of objectives to increase your rank), you get a little blurb from them on how the actions of the other faction won’t deter them. Every time you complete a chapter, you get a video of random images that look cool but give you no clue as to what is going on accompanied by that faceless cool guy that just loves to hear himself talk. It gets laid on pretty thick here and sadly it does not stop at narration.
EXTRA TEXTURE = NEXT GEN? The following is an issue that I am seeing on many of the multiplatform games that are crossing generations. The PlayStation 4 version of Need for Speed Rivals is the first to be available for purchase, but you can tell that neither the PS4 nor the Xbox One were the focus of these games. Graphically they are identical to the versions available on their predecessors. The big difference is that there is a little bit of extra polish in the form of textures and rendering. This is not such a big deal now because the new consoles are just coming out, but going forward, work needs to be put in to distinguish these titles from last gen to current. EA might also want to ease up on their developers and stop pushing for a new game every year. Rivals is pretty, but it is riddled with graphical hiccups. Every time you enter your hideout (racer) or base (cop) the garage loads faster than the car and you see a messy image for a second. It happens every time. On the road, there are plenty of glitches visible as you drive by, especially during electrical storms. The snowy area I have to say is extremely well done and I am yet to see hiccups there but I also don’t get over there that often. Rainy areas look terrible. The cars still look great and the animation is always smooth, but rain is just poorly done in this game, as is water in general. There is a large bridge under construction that has some fantastic jumps on it, but if you fall off into the river, there is no splash when you hit the water and you see your car crash into this dark blue area as if there were no water. It’s weird how one area looks like it was meticulously crafted and another looks slapped together in terms of overall production value. The desert has fantastic dust effects that you notice during races and your car does get dirty to reflect it. The overall game area just seems slapped together and that might be part of the problem. How is it that one moment I am in an area with nice trees and grass and two seconds later it turns to desert after which you are suddenly seeing snow seconds after that. Comparing the drivable area of Need for Speed Rivals to that of 2012’s version of Most Wanted is like night and day. Most Wanted had regular city areas, industrial areas, desert, country and a huge interstate that properly wrapped around the map. This game has an interstate, but it just does not feel like effort was put into making a playable area. This directly affects the gameplay as well.
SATISFY THE NEED? When I first started playing this game I would frequently ask myself why the cops kept chasing me when I was not doing anything. I would then look at my speedometer and notice that I was doing about ninety miles per hour. There is barely any sense of speed in this game unless you are hitting speeds over one hundred and fifty. Or maybe I never feel like I am going fast because it is nearly impossible to permanently out run a cop. Then again, it would be a little difficult to out run them when their starter vehicle is a Mercedes. There is so much in this game that is ridiculous and most of it just deals with the fact that last year’s Most Wanted was not only a better game, it offered so much more to players. There are fewer jumps, fewer cars, no billboards to break through, not nearly as many shortcuts and these are all features that would make a “run away from the cops” game more enjoyable. Now let’s discuss the actual versus aspect of the game. Regardless of what side you play, your adversary seems to be better than you. Races start with you being unable to drive until all racers pass by you; so while they do ninety, you are getting your zero to sixty going. Cops claim to be protecting the innocent but they hit racers and civilians alike with EMPs; choppers drop spike strips out of the sky and they in general seem more interested in killing you than stopping you. On the racer end the weapons make more sense because you are the one with the blatant disregard for public safety. Even that is a joke because there are only like ten civilian cars on the entire map at any given time. I must say that the driving controls are improved over Most Wanted (and they were not terrible in that game). Turning and drifting are a lot more forgiving in Rivals; controlling your car is only difficult when you activate your turbo (racer feature). The cop side of the game would have been more enjoyable (to me) if it used the Most Wanted design. Instead of using all of the licensed vehicles, give a squad car and an undercover car (just one of each) and allow us to call in road blocks, SWAT and choppers. The weapons are fine, but all those cars could have been used on the racer end.There are plenty of good concepts in the game, I think Ghost Games may not have been given enough time to properly organize it all. Either that, or they should have consulted more with Criterion and took a closer look at their last game.
I CAN LIVE WITHOUT MY RADIO Once again, I defer to Most Wanted, which had a decent soundtrack. It had plenty of music that just fit the races and the feeling of speeding through the countryside. In Rivals, there is usually so much police chatter that you cannot even hear the music and if you happen to be in one of the five second intervals where you have lost the cops, your engine often drowns out the music so it feels like there is no point to it. Honestly, I can’t even beef about not hearing the music in this game because either the game is playing the same song over and over or all the music sounds like the same dubstep track. I looked up the soundtrack outside of the game and the music actually is decent, but a the selection has a huge flaw for a video game. Multiple tracks from the same artist combined with remixes that make different songs sound the same. This is fine when you are driving your own car in real life, but not what people want to hear in their game if they choose to listen to your provided soundtrack. Time to use some of the 500 GB of storage to make your own playlist.
BUELLER? BUELLER? There is really not too much to say about the online to this game other than the fact that it is there and it works. Need for Speed as a franchise has been suffering from declining sales and the game came out as a launch title for a system that is a week old as of the publishing of this article. There are plenty of people to play with if you don’t care who you play online with. If you are like me and actually want to play with your friends, you are likely to be out of luck because not enough people have purchased this game (yet). This could change after the holiday sales. That said, the online lets you do everything you would do in single player, but adds the OverWatch feature. This lets you play the NFS equivalent of god as you can give racers an edge or hinder them by replenishing or diminishing their turbo and weapons. You can also put roadblocks in the way of your friends or sic a chopper on them that will drop a spike strip. This feature reminds me of the Wii U Gamepad feature on New Super Mario Bros and Rayman where you can assist your friends as they play and I am glad that it is being utilized (since there is no Wii U version of this game). Once there is more of a community for this game, I hope the feature is successful enough to inspire future games.
Need for Speed Rivals is not the worst game ever made, but it fails on several levels. As a Need for Speed title it falls short because its immediate predecessor was better in just about every sense. That is bad because Most Wanted ‘12 was really repetitive and only the most hardcore completionists even bothered to play it through to the end. Rivals has fewer cars and pretty much all of them were in last year’s game so there is nothing fresh to look forward to. The soundtrack is much shorter and you can barely hear it. You also cannot skip tracks like you could before but if you cannot hear the music, that really does not matter. I forgot to mention the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room: this game does not let you pause. Now I understand that a PS4 controller does not have a designated start button, but not being able to pause is unforgiveable in a game. It’s one thing when you are online but no offline pausing is damn near a crime. Honestly, the only reason I picked this one up was because Driveclub is not out yet and I was starving for a new racer. To put it plainly, Need for Speed Rivals should only be purchased by those who really love racing games and/or those who have friends who already have the game (on their console of choice) because the online is kinda fun.
(video clips are the property of Electronic Arts’ “NeedForSpeed” YouTube page)