EA invited Rocket Chainsaw to preview the first two hours of their new title Need for Speed: Rivals on the soon to be released PS4. We sent Alex Mann who jumped at the task, taking the wheel with the eager arrogance of someone about to crash.
Need for Speed as a series has been kind of hard to pin down. Forza and Gran Turismo pride themselves on realism, Dirt aims to satisfy rally-heads the world through, Burnout offers ridiculous slow-mo wrecks and… you get the idea. But over the years, Need of Speed’s tendency to jump back and forth between goals (and developers) have caused its quality to shift wildly from title to title, leaving it in the “do I or don’t I?” category for most gamers. To solve this, EA have assembled a super studio known simply as Ghost, giving them control of the N4S franchise for the foreseeable future and, if my first two hours with N4S: Rivals is anything to go by, things are already looking up.
At first glance, Rivals is nothing new, donning the cops and robbers format of titles like Hot Pursuit, Undercover and Most Wanted, but first impressions are often deceptive. The game begins by running through tutorials for both sides of the law. I decided I’d start with the police, as chasing down criminals seemed more appealing than escaping the fuzz (a sure sign Batman’s ideals have started to influence my world a little too much) and was given a selection of law enforcement vehicles that offered a mix of speed and power. The aim of the police is to take down illegal racers any way possible, so with this in mind I selected the Dodge Enforcer Charger – a vehicle with not the best top speed, but a beast of a car all the same.
I was then assigned three set tasks, one was to complete a certain event, another was to bust a speeding racer and the third was simply to activate my police lights. Being the tutorial, these tasks were achieved pretty easily, but it was handled in a way that got me playing without the annoying stop and start of most video game tutorials. Busting a racer was as easy as turning on my lights as soon as the first hoon launched by, chasing them down and ramming the hell out of them until they were nothing but a smoking heap. The law keepers of the Rivals universe certainly mean business. Once these missions were completed, I could head back to the nearest police base and cash in my points for upgradable racer-hindering gadgets, as well as unlocking a new police vehicle to test out.
The tutorial for Racers ran in a similar fashion, but introduced this side’s risk/reward basis. The three task mission format is still the same, but the longer you stay out of the garage, the more points you will garner – building up a multiplayer that rakes in some serious $$. These points can then be spent on customising your car’s aesthetic, durability, top speed, acceleration etc, as well as buying new cars or gadgets to help shake a tail (you don’t get free cars like the po-po do, but each completed mission will unlock a new car that can then be purchased if you so desire). The risk lies in being busted by the cops, or wrecked by other racers, which sees all the points earned that round sacrificed, making way for some Dark Souls worthy tantrums.
Once I’d been taught the ropes, I was given free reign to switch between the Cops or Racers at a whim, being as easy as heading to the nearest garage or base and choosing my other rival alter-ego. So I went to the dark side of the law and customised my current car’s aesthetic with the points I’d earned: laying down a deep green base complete with red racing stripes, (if I was already breaking the laws of the road, I may as well break all good style laws while I’m at it) and topping it off with a custom numberplate that simply read “DR4G0N”. It was finally time to explore the world of Rivals.
Instead of a campaign, from the garage you are tasked with choosing three set challenges from three separate trees. Undercover, Patrol or Enforcer for the Police, and Race, Pursuit or Drive for Racers. The completion of each objective leads to more unlockables as well as an increased challenge, pushing you to try new things like longest jump, top speed or destroying a vehicle in a certain way etc. All in all, a similar concept to Call of Duty’s online mission tasks encourage you to use different guns and so on, just more fleshed out. But as I had a “DR4G0N” underfoot, I was itching to stretch my wings. So I hit the road…
… or rather, I hit everything that surrounded the road. While I was pleased to find the controls and handling were smooth and responsive (even with my entry level car) it doesn’t mean my driving abilities were any good… yet. The use of EA’s Frostbite engine sees N4S: Rivals sharing Battlefield’s staple destructible environments, so as the nitrous oxide flared from the back of my car I unintentionally took out all the fences, lamp-post and odd water tank that got in my way. I was delighted to find they crumpled under my wheels or shot over the bonnet like they were nothing more than roadside trash, like I was driving some kind of super tank. Sure, it leans more towards the arcade side of things, but it also keeps the focus on the high speed action without breaking up gameplay with too many race stopping obstacles.
As my maniacal driving led me off the road, it became quickly evident that the invisible walls that plagued titles such as Need for Speed: The Run were not welcome in Rivals’ open world environment. Zooming around the map, I found myself heading straight for a vila at the top of a rise, but instead of bouncing off the surface like a rubber ball, I crashed through window after table after window, shooting out the other side at a speed that caused me to overshoot the road below and sail straight into the ocean.
And it was little things like this that made my first two hours with Rivals a truly enjoyable experience. Rivals sheds itself of all the annoying junk that breaks up racers and focuses on what’s fun, offering a fluid experience that allows players to play how they want. The main reason for this seems to lie with the introduction of the AllDrive function, a feature that single handedly rids the game of set tracks and awkward menus, as well as abolishing wait times for online play. It’s designed to seamlessly blend single-player and multi-player into one streamlined experience and while, yes that line sounds like an annoying sales pitch developers would feed you, it’s pretty much spot on.The function can be tweaked to adjust the amount of AI and online vehicles for those who are a bit more introverted when it comes to online play, but fully utilising the function opens the game up to a varied open world experience where no chase is the same, and getting revenge on online players who try and bust you by leaving them in your dust is a must.
The environments are also beautifully realised I might add, with dynamic weather causing rain to splatter the screen, leaves to sail passed or even snow to pummel through – all adding to the adrenaline pumping feeling of that NOS induced action that Need for Speed built its name on. Speaking to James Mouat, Ghosts lead designer, the only difference between the current generation and the next generation titles will be the quality of the effects and the amount of particles that make things like the dynamic weather look so rad, but excluding visuals, the two versions will be exactly the same.
As much as I enjoyed my time with Rivals, its true test will be whether the game offers enough variation to hold up over long hours of play, or whether the it quickly grows stale as is the case with a large amount of racing titles. I, for one, have high hopes, but we’ll just have to wait until November 19 when Need for Speed Rivals releases on Ps3, Xbox 360 and PC or November 28 for next gen options.
Still on the fence? Be sure to check back here for Rocket Chainsaw’s full game review coming later this month!