With ‘Need for Speed: Rivals’, EA and Ghost Games made the wise decision to abandon pointless and irrelevant storytelling, and instead place you straight into the heart of the high-octane, racing action from the beginning, and keep you there until the end. If there’s any sign of a story, it’s a simple, bare-bones description of the rivalry between racers and the patrolling police.
Firstly, the thing that can make or break a driving game: driving. How do I put this? This is the best game I have played when it comes to the handling of every car overall. Players have the choice of simply turning hard with the analogue stick when you face a corner, or tapping square (handbrake) and a light push on the analogue stick. Personally, I prefer the former, although the latter is more dramatic… so it’s up to you! The driving is also dramatic when it comes to the weather system. If it’s sunny, the road is simply the road, and your slight alterations are translated directly and precisely onto your virtual tyres (if you make a mistake in these conditions, you’ve only got yourself to blame). If the weather takes a turn for the worse, however, every slight increase in speed must be delicately measured and the weather taken into account as it can make the difference between your precious vehicle pulling into the lead or ending up in a ditch.
The weather system is just as detailed and varied as the environment, which ranges from wide open deserts and enclosed, cold mountain roads. Unfortunately, each of these environments can be better described as a backdrop, rather than an ‘environment’, as this game isn’t open-world, as opposed to open-road. You cannot deviate from the game’s digital tarmac, which means that the vast majority of the so-called environments whizz by in a flash of white, green, and/or yellow. Also, I could never shake the feeling that each section of the game’s map (i.e. desert, mountainous, forest, etc.) was too small and isolated. In other words, it felt like Ghost Games had tried to cram every landscape they could think off into one map, which breaks the illusion for the player that the surroundings are real, whilst making you think that there is too little of everything.
Then you have the online play which, if you’re online, is always there. This means that people can join your game session at any time, so long as your lobby settings are on ‘public’. Annoyingly, even when no one is in your game (so it’s effectively single-player), you cannot pause it. This is incredibly frustrating as it means you cannot take a quick ten-second break from the non-stop driving action to do anything, without either falling behind in a race, or being spotted by the cops. Of course, you can always get to a hidden spot or go to a safehouse if you’re already being pursued, but both are inconvenient and the latter meaning you automatically lose your score multiplier/heat level and bank your in-game currency (more on that later).
However, all is not doom-and-gloom (far from it, in fact). In a similar fashion to almost every Need for Speed title worth mentioning, cops are in, and they don’t let up. To put it into easier terms, think ‘Grand Theft Auto V’s cops mixed with ‘Driver 1’s cops from ‘Survival’ mode. If you are a racer, they will attack you in numbers, and they will attack you hard. Basically, as you drive through the world of NFS: Rivals, you will undoubtedly break the speed barrier as often as public property. This increases your racer “Heat” level. This also acts as a score multiplier, as well as an indicator to how wanted you are by the police. The higher your level, the points you earn per action, and the more cops are after to you. Your heat level is only reduced by either entering one of the many safehouses distributed across the map, or by being stopped (read: obliterated) by the dreaded cops. If the latter occurs, you lose ALL of your hard-earned currency (which can used to purchase decals, upgrades, pursuit tech, and designs to make your car look, feel, and perform to a better degree), on top of reseting your multiplier to 0. In order to prevent this from happening, Ghost have thankfully placed repair shops around the world of Rivals, allowing you to repair your damaged vehicle without breaking your multiplier bonus.
And now we have the graphics. Oh, wondrous graphics! With the power of the PlayStation 4 behind it (meaning 1080p graphics and a smooth 60 frames per second), a Need for Speed game has never looked and performed so incredibly. Not once during both my playthroughs (I played through the game once as a racer, and once as a cop) did I encounter a single glitch or issue with the frame-rate. Roads glide by in a brilliant blur of sun-baked tarmac, cars in the distance glint with reflections of the hot sun, and the rubber of your tyres screech and smoke in protest of your antics.
Overall, Need for Speed: Rivals is a fantastic addition to the franchise and a great start to driving games on the PS4. If you’re looking for visually stunning and varied open-roads with fast and expensive cars on your newest console, this is the ride for you… and I suggest you don’t miss it.
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