Back in 2005 the Xbox 360 launched with two racing titles, PGR3 and Need for Speed Most Wanted – developed by EA’s Black Box. On Friday 22 November 2013 the Xbox One launched with Rivals, no not the new Kinect Sports title, the newest Need for Speed. Meanwhile, poor old PGR has been replaced by the supreme Forza Motorsport 5.
Using DICE’s frostbite 3 engine, Rivals looks stunning particularly the particle and weather effects. As with all the Xbox One titles I’ve played, there’s no screen tear and I didn’t notice any loss in frame rate. The game has been developed by newcomers Ghost Games, which is primarily staffed by Criterion Games, the geniuses behind the Burnout series and the recent Need for Speed titles so no need to worry, Need for Speed is in safe hands. Rivals is the perfect mix of Criterion’s Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted, swaying more toward Hot Pursuit’s Cops vs. Racers style of gameplay.
Set in an open world with six players competing against Cop and Racer AI cars, you’re never short of any action – in fact the action gets mixed up in whatever you’re doing. While racing through a Rapid Response call out in my Mercedes Cop car, a pursuit involving a player controlled Racer and Cop flew through my patrol route, obviously I immediately joined my fellow policeman and joined the pursuit happily abandoning my mission in favour of hunting down the fleeing Racer!
It’s this level of uncertainty that keeps Need for Speed Rivals fresh, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great game but it’s nothing new. Rivals may be a superb entry into the Need for Speed series but like Batman Origins, it feels a little too overfamiliar. There isn’t enough new innovations, instead Rivals merely picks up where Hot Pursuit left off save some minor tweaks that make the gameplay feel more integrated into the online/single player experience.
All the activities of Redview County are easily selectable via the map or the Easy Drive menu which is navigated and selected via the dpad. To make things really easy, there’s a full list of voice commands which work really well, that is when you’ve learnt or guessed all the correct commands – there’s a full list of commands in the options. While driving to and from destinations there are speed traps to break and average speed sections to beat, you also need to be on the lookout for Cops or Racers as a pursuit can start at any time.
Everything you do accumulates points which you may invest into your vehicle in order to make it more effective at hunting Racers or avoiding the Cops. This XP, or SP (Speedpoints) can be earned faster as a Racer if you increase your multiplier by completing multiple events – be warned though, the more events you complete the higher your heat and that means the long arm of the law will be more likely to come after you, no big deal right? Well if you get busted you lose your multiplier and any SP that you haven’t banked. Banking SP at your hideout will secure your points but will also reset your multiplier, it’s a great dynamic to juggle when playing as a Racer – do I complete just one more race?
While there’s no risk of losing SP as a cop, playing as the law isn’t quite as over powering as you may think. One wrong move could see you crash out and your foe disappear into the sunset with little hope of you being able to catch them, it’s a good job AI Cops and other players can join in with your pursuit making online chases an insane amount of fun especially with friends. I did find that the AI can be a little slow at chasing after Racers and not very aggressive, they do however do a brilliant job of getting in your way! Overall the Racer and Cop vehicles/abilities are well-balanced making the gameplay feel fair.
Thankfully there’s no convoluted storyline to Rivals, no rookie Cop on a quest to rid Redview County of Racers, or a nobody Racer on a rise to fame – this is purely an open world littered with events to conquer and online players to dominate. There is some narration to the events and chapters that unfold, it’s reminiscent of the excellent tone and style of how the recent SSX played out – certainly a big plus in my book!
Rivals is a more streamlined version of Hot Pursuit with elements of last year’s Most Wanted thrown in for good measure. It looks great on the Xbox One and the impulse triggers feel far less heavy-handed as they rumble away as you accelerate or drive over each bump (or crash) in the road. You can certainly draw comparisons with several other racing games, with obvious influences from Burnout Paradise, Outrun and Chase HQ. The drifting of cars feels very Outrun in the way they slide into drifts and as for Chase HQ, the similarity is quite obvious – bash to crash. In a similar way to Chase HQ’s style of taking down Racers, each car in Rivals needs to take a tremendous amount of damage before you can take it off the road. Unlike Most Wanted’s evade system, when you’re escaping the cops there’s no more hiding places to tuck away in – you must simply outrun the boys in blue. It makes for some highly entertaining games especially when you’re online with other players.
The competence of Ghost Games and the knowledge that the guiding hand of Criterion is present makes me excited to see where the series goes next, rest assured we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the quality of Need for Speed games is much higher than the yearly iterations that began to creep in every Christmas!