Need for Speed: Rivals
Need for Speed: Rivals is the Dark Souls of racing games. Now I know what you’re thinking but just bear with me for a moment. In the fictional open-world of Redview County illegal street racing is king and the cops fight back with supercars of their own. Playing as a racer you accumulate “speed points” as you compete in various events, escape the attention of an unrelenting police force and cruise the world.
These points can be spent on buying new cars, improving vehicle performance and purchasing pursuit tech like EMPs and stun mines that are imperative to your progression. However, you can lose all of these points at any moment if you’re busted by the cops – which can happen fairly quickly if you’re not careful. The only way to retain your points is by successfully escaping to a hideout to bank them. Sound familiar? All you need to do is replace “speed points” with souls, hideouts with bonfires and getting busted with being killed and we have a racing game with more than a few similarities to a certain Japanese action-RPG.
“There’s an incentive to stay in the action despite the inherent risks involved”It might sound a little ridiculous but it’s a comparison that jumped to mind as soon as I started playing. The concept works surprisingly well too, adding tension to almost every pursuit in a genre that’s not exactly known for its nerve-wracking moments.
You desperately want to avoid losing those hard-earned points yet the longer you stay out on the road the more multipliers you build and the more points you earn. There’s an incentive to stay in the action despite the inherent risks involved as the police presence grows stronger as your multiplier rises. It puts you on edge when you’ve amassed a large amount of points just knowing that the cops could strike at any moment and in any event. Sometimes those red and blue sirens might even be a real player, hunting you down to take the points for themselves in an act not too dissimilar from Dark Souls’ nefarious invaders.
Like that game, Rivals also features seamless multiplayer integration; its default mode automatically dropping you into a world with up to five other players occupying both sides of this odd conflict. On paper this is a solid idea but the execution doesn’t quite live up to its potential. For one, Redview Country is a large, desolate area with winding roads taking you from barren stretches of desert to country lanes and snowy mountains. With only five players at any one time the chances of actually encountering anyone else are disappointingly slim. You can choose to spawn near another player but there’s a chance they’ll be much further away once you’re past the loading screen, and with so many other AI drivers on the roads there’s little incentive to try and organise races with complete strangers who may or may not be using headsets.
Host disconnects are also an unfortunate side-effect of this system. If whoever’s considered the host drops out everyone’s game session will be temporarily interrupted as it migrates to a new host. Not only is this a momentum killer but once you’re back in the action your car will often be at a complete stop, allowing AI racers to pass you as you accelerate back up to speed.
It’s a shame because when it all works as intended it’s fantastic fun. Being pursued by a human cop is much more exhilarating than competing against the AI, and it also smartly transitions between events as players come together. If a racer is already competing in a race it will seamlessly shift to a hot pursuit event if a cop gets involved, while one racer might encounter another already in an event and join in to increase the multiplier for both. It’s a forward-thinking approach to online play but it needs a way to force players together, otherwise everyone just ends up doing their own thing.
“There’s a solid sense of speed as you blast through its varied locales, drifting around corners with the tap of a button”That’s not to say playing alone is bad, however. With all of its Dark Souls similarities there’s also an apt comparison to be made with Criterion’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. With much of the team at newly-formed Ghost Games having come from the Burnout developer, their arcade racing pedigree is certainly alive and well. There’s a solid sense of speed as you blast through its varied locales, drifting around corners with the tap of a button and expertly weaving through traffic.
The pursuit tech gives it a kart racer feel too, providing plenty of opportunities to gain the upper hand against either cops or racers. You might hit the turbo boost to escape the police or take first place in a race, deploying an EMP to temporarily disable another car or using a jammer to block an opponent’s own EMP. It never feels unbalanced, adding another facet to the exciting sense of danger inherent throughout.
Pursuit tech also plays into Rivals’ career progression with its “speedlists” potentially asking you to hit three cops with stun mines, or perform a perfect turbo (which basically means avoid crashing at 200mph). “Speedlists” are essentially a series of checklists asking you to complete various tasks from chapter to chapter. This can range from earning gold in various events to drifting a particular distance or winning a head-to-head race, growing in complexity and numbers the further you go. You can tackle each one at your own pace, adding an element of freedom to proceedings as you explore the open-world without being restricted to specific events.
With each “speedlist” completion you unlock new cars and are occasionally greeted with some heavy-handed cutscenes filled with fake social media interactions and overly serious dialogue that makes everyone involved sound like a complete psychopath. The cop’s name is F-8 (Fate) if you want an idea of how dumb it all is. I’m kind of glad it exists.
Need for Speed: Rivals is nothing if not ridiculously dumb fun, but that just makes its multiplayer failings all the more disappointing. With a higher player count and more ways to bring people together it could have been something special. As it is it remains an exciting arcade racer with unfulfilled potential and a world that seems just a little too empty. As a first try for Ghost Games there’s certainly room to grow, but it continues the upward trend for this series and gives us reason to believe the future is bright in their hands.