Review: Need For Speed: Rivals Takes Uninspiring To New Levels Of Beauty
Another year, another Need For Speed title. What's to say, really? It's got cars, it's got a place to race them and you're probably either going to buy this or not, with very little middle ground. But let's just go right ahead and address that middle ground, shall we?
- Worth The Time?No.
- Things LovedThe visuals are breathtaking; The sound design is quite good; There's a decent selection of cars for both racers and cops; None of that tuner bullshit exists here, it's just supercars and nothing else; Branching career paths makes for a refreshing change of pace if required.
- Things HatedThere's really no point to any of it; The plot is silly and unnecessary; The racing feels way too finnicky and the controls arcade-y; there's still too much Burnout influence in this game; The cops are more of an annoyance at times; The semi-online experience is terri-bad; Why does every car handle like ass?
- RecommendationIf you're a fan of racing games then buy this. If not, or you're just an occasional sampler of racers, stay far away.
- Name: Need For Speed: Rivals
- Genre: Racing
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: Online
- Platforms: PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
- Developer: Ghost Games
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Price: R 600
- Reviewed On: PS3
Do you know why drug overdoses happen? The first time someone tries out a hard drug, they experience the kind of high that stands unrivalled (no pun intended) amongst all their other life experiences, effectively putting them on Cloud 9000. And 1. However — and this should be obvious if you’ve ever done economics and studied the ‘law of diminishing returns’ or you just understand how the body acclimatises to experiences — the body acclimatises to experiences and so every subsequent high has less and less of an impact. Eventually the now-addicted junkie decides to try a higher dose in a desperate attempt to recreate that initial euphoric high, and sure enough they succeed to some extent but again it diminishes and, well, you see where we’re going here, right? Eventually the dose gets lethal, in the name of re-acquiring that euphoria. (Havok ftw.)
Likewise, the Need For Speed series has experienced some amazing highs in its past. Now, I’m from the old school who consider High Stakes and Porsche 2000 to be the best Need For Speed titles but you might disagree and consider the likes of Underground, its sequel and Most Wanted to be the high point of the series. And you would be in the majority in that case. See, once upon a time Electronic Arts gave us Need For Speed III: Hot Pursuit. It was a smash hit and resulted in a follow-up many years later, Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2. While also quite popular, it didn’t quite hit the spot. That was until Most Wanted came out in 2005, and broke every fan’s brain. It had a cool enough story, a really great open world set in permanent daylight and a wide array of cars that started with tuners and went all the way up to supercar level.
Ever since then, the Need For Speed series has not only stagnated but dropped well below its best with each subsequent release trying to do something that brings the series close to another high point. We saw entries the likes of the adequate but otherwise forgettable Carbon and Shift, and then we got utter garbage such as Undercover and last year’s Most Wanted. In fact, I’d say that the Need For Speed series really hit a low point when Electronic Arts decided to hire Criterion Games, the guys who can only make
With that long and convoluted intro done and dusted, let’s get to the far shorter discussion of the latest entry in the long-running series of Need For Speed titles, the alluringly-titled Rivals. Rivals being either racers and cops, or other players, depending on how you look at it.
Need For Speed: Rivals is a racer in the same guise as the Most Wanteds and Hot Pursuits of old, only it mixes in a little Need For Speed: World as well. That is to say, it’s got an online free roam component and cops. Sometimes, they’re mixed together. The dependence on cops as a checklist entry into Need For Speed titles is obviously getting a little old now, but making a welcomed return is the ability to actually play as a cop. Or you could play as a racer. Or you could play both.
In fact, the game encourages you to play as both, allowing you to play through branching career modes, one involving that of the racer and one involving that of the cop. There’s kinda sorta something resembling a plot there, about racers and cops and their ongoing war on the open road, but really these are just little unnecessarily egregious monologues and you’re going to roll your eyes so hard, you could put them onto your car and use them as tyres. Each career can be swapped between at any time you so desire, which is particularly enjoyable if you’re getting a little tired of playing either role for too long — something that happens a little too often in this game.
If you’ve played Need For Speed: Most Wanted, then a lot of that busy-ness has carried over here and you’re going to feel right at home with Rivals — whether that’s a good thing or not, you decide — with Autolog making its return, along with the EasyDrive function for controlling GPS routes and events on the go. There’s also the return of speed cameras, repair shops, speed zones, jumps and so on, although thankfully the gates have disappeared this time around. The world is also a lot more colourful and visceral than that piece of shit world of Fairhaven. More on this in a bit.
When you’re playing as a racer, you get your usual story of races, time trials and hot pursuits, which are just races with cops chasing you. You may engage in head-to-heads with other racers. There are also interceptors, which task you with losing the cops before a certain time. A lot of this will not seem unfamiliar to you, and will spend most of your time in the open world driving around and looking for races, or escaping pursuits. When you wish to take a break, or quickly end a pursuit, you may park at a nearby hideout.
When you’re playing as a cop, you get the same events more or less, but on the other side of the law. So in a race, you’re tasked with taking down racers and in an interceptor event, you must bust the racer before the time runs out. Other cops in the area will join you in pursuits. When you’re not doing that, you may patrol for more perps to pull over. When you’re done being the renegade, you may park your state-owned vehicle at a nearby command post.
Regardless of which career you’re playing, there are certain constants in play including the ability to add performance upgrades to your car, customise the license plate (with additional visual customisations for racers), purchase pursuit tech, which are basically just powerups for your car — examples include EMP, Shockwave, Spike Strip and Turbo — and complete setlists, which are basically just a bunch of objectives, the completion of which awards you with Speed Points, advances your rank (as a Racer or Cop) and progresses your career. Each career then has three distinct paths, with pure racing, hot pursuit and driving for Racers, and patrolling, undercover and enforcing for Cops. Mostly, they’re just different lists of objectives that you may pick between, to your liking.
Speed Points may also be earned on the road, just by doing various actions such as driving fast or having near misses (isn’t that a hit?) with traffic. These are then used as currency. While you’re out on the road, if you wreck or get busted, you lose your Speed Points, so it pays to constantly check in at a nearby hideout or command post. You may then treat it as an in-game hub, or main menu of sorts, allowing you to tweak and customise as you please before fast travelling out using the world map screen.
One of my biggest gripes with the career mode is that it’s basically all there is, in this game. To counter-balance this, they’ve opted to take the career mode online, creating lobbies on your behalf and making you play in public matchmaking with other racers. This would be great if it didn’t cause constant disconnects and lag. Thankfully, it can be switched off, leaving you with either private matchmaking or complete offline singleplayer. Still, the inclusion of such a system means that you can no longer pause in-game unless you’re at a hideout, which is kind of a pain if you’ve been racing for twenty minutes and feel a sudden urge to excrete things. Plus, you’re initially forced into playing online without really being given much of a choice, and in my time playing, I never found it particularly enjoyable — online racers are just dicks, to be perfectly honest. I would have preferred for the game to at least ask me, first.
Another issue I have with the game stems from a pet peeve of mine from the previous title Need For Speed: Most Wanted, and pretty much any Burnout game before it. Every time you so much as touch traffic, you get a cutscene showing your crashing car and the damage that has been wrought to it. Your car then respawns with only half of that damage actually showing, but you’ve just wasted precious seconds of a race. This wouldn’t be as bad if the arcade-y handling wasn’t so terrible. It effectively meant that racing in the game was so elastic and loose that you only really need to turn a little in order to brake (read: slow down your car), which is a mindfuck for anyone who has ever played a Forza title, I’ll tell you that much. So yes, even as a racer it’s not that good a racer.
Where the game does shine, however, quite literally, is in its audio-visual department. This is probably owing to that beautiful Frostbite engine they’re using. The game is breathtaking, both in terms of visuals and sounds. There’s just so much going on in a scene and the open world is so varied and dynamic that it never feels old. You will race from a golden coast to snowy mountain tops and desert highways in the space of a single game session. The dark hues and bright constrasts make for a smooth and beautiful experience and on visuals alone, I would want to recommend that people at least try the game. Unfortunately, visuals alone are not enough any more. They never were, to be fair.
Here, have a look at this video and decide for yourself:
All in all, this game is just another crash in the Need For Speed wall. It’s not going to win any awards, except perhaps for visuals, and it’s not going to break any ground. It’s just a racer and that about does it. If you’re playing games on the next generation of consoles then you might want this game, as an exhibition of what your console is capable of. If you’re on the current generation, it’s a sweet reminder of what your console is still capable of. However if you’re not interested in visuals then you had better be interested in racers. Really interested. Like, obsessed.
Because that’s the only way you’re going to really enjoy this game. It is about as bland as bland gets, which is a shame because it’s just so damn beautiful. Like one of those airhead blondes from every teen comedy. Or The Last of Us. I’m kidding! Geez.