Like the latest model in a line of vehicles, Need For Speed rolls out every year with the same shiny sportscars and blistering pace as cops battle racers to own the roads.
This year's arrival of Need For Speed: Rivals is no different. Sleek, powerful vehicles? Check. Insane chases featuring police officers and racers? Check. Yet the refinements in Rivals lead to an exciting adventure behind the wheel.
Rivals kicks off with a lengthy tutorial breaking down the approach as a cop versus racer. Similar to last year's Need For Speed: Most Wanted, the game features an open environment, so players can casually speed down streets and choose missions in any order.
When players boot up the game, they immediately hop in to the world, select their car and start racing. By default, the game is set to public online racing, so the game will find players and set everyone up before the action begins. It seemed to take some time though. Playing on Xbox One, There were times I waited for a couple minutes before getting into the game. Players can change their settings to Single Player if they want to just race offline.
Cops and racers have the same set of missions at their disposal, with slight variations. Hot Pursuit requires cops to wreck a set number of racers before they reach the finish, while racers must not only avoid disaster but win. Interceptor is a one-on-one battle where the racer must escape a chasing cop. The faster the player accomplishes their task, the greater the reward. Also, racers and cops can embark on Time Trials and Rapid Response, respectively, where players must finish in the fastest time possible. Cops have the added challenge of doing without causing damage or suffer time penalties.
Cops can flip on their sirens and start a chase with any other racer they spot. Meanwhile, racers can challenge fellow drivers to a quick one-on-one sprint to the finish.
What makes this formula in Rivals interesting is the inclusion of AllDrive, which basically blends single player, cooperative and multiplayer modes into one continuous experience. For example, if my cop is engaged in Hot Pursuit, fellow cops can join in and help out, or opposing racers can join the action. There are also leaderboards for comparing race times with friends and the intriguing Overwatch mode, where players can join their friends' matches through a browser, smartphone or tablet to help them finish or interfere with their efforts.
Before heading out on the road, players choose a series of objectives to complete to gain experience and unlock better cars. Players usually have 2-3 objectives to complete, such as side slam five cars or get a gold medal in an Interceptor race.
Players outfit their rides with Pursuit Tech, special gear that offers an extra edge while driving. For example, racers can add Turbo to give them a stronger speed boost that nitrous can't deliver, or Stun Mines to slow chasing cops. Police cars can use Shock Rams to provide a jolt when ramming the back of a racer, or set up Roadblocks to impede progress.
While completing objectives, players earn Speed Points to spend on cars, upgraded Pursuit Tech or customization options. But there's a big catch. In order to keep those points, players must bank them by returning to their hideout or command post. If a player totals their car before banking their points, they lose them all.
However, the structure of Rivals is set up where it is easy to level up and get to the car you want. So, a player could compete in easier races multiple times to earn medals at each level and finish the objective.
Overall, playing as the racer felt more exhilarating. The cops have great Pursuit Tech and players don't have to spend points on buying cars. Of course, speeding down a freeway at 150+ miles per hour is great in any car.
However, it's more thrilling to play the racer, who must fight off both fellow racers and cops. Plus, the point banking is more critical as a racer, especially with cops ready to chase racers down and wreck them before they reach their hideout. That element of "risk vs. reward" makes the racer more inviting.
Despite some hangups connecting to the game, Need For Speed Rivals is a strong addition to Electronic Arts' racing series, impressive considering the publisher has released 16 games tied to the franchise since 2000. Rivals is a sign there's a little gas left in the Need For Speed tank.