Another year, another Need for Speed title. The franchise has once again gained some traction in recent years after dwindling sales and mixed reviews in the early 2000s. With the exception of NFS The Run in 2011, the last 5 titles in the franchise have fared admirably and received rave reviews. Need for Speed Rivals, developed by Ghost Games, was introduced at E3 earlier this year, which made quite a statement by winning the “Best Racing Game” award at the event, the franchise winning 3 out of the last 4 years. There are few mainstream arcade racing games available on the market these days, and even fewer worth your time. A once flourishing genre may be on the out with the rise of simulator racing titles, but EA and Need for Speed keep at it. The questions now are whether gamers will stick with it, or evolve with the market, and whether arcade racers are still enjoyable enough sustain its place on the shelves.
Unlike NFS: The Run, NFS: Most Wanted progressed away from the pretentious storyline. Rivals is no different in that sense, the storyline being a simple progression up the ranks by means of completing a series of objectives, for both racer and cop modes. This may seem an odd aspect to remove from such a major gaming title, but it’s more of a positive aspect, allowing users to jump right into the thick of the action, while unlocking the bounteous selection of cars we’ve come to expect. If only it were that simple though.
Although NFS Rivals has a simple and clear objective, there is an as inordinate amount of tutorials and trials to work through as you progress through the game. Some reports suggest that these tutorials and cut-scene videos account for up to 40 minutes of your game time.
Much had been made of EA’s new game engine, Frostbite 3, months before it was officially unveiled to the public. The engine saw it debut with the release of DICE’s Battlefield 4 last month, providing great graphics improvements for the next generation games. Rivals also makes use of Frostbite 3, which delivers impressive results over the previous title, Most Wanted. In almost all previous NFS titles, there are always moments where players could enjoy the game solely for its graphics, driving around the Redview County environment without any inclination to race. EA’s latest title is no different in that sense, as I often found myself seeking out the most scenic routes and enjoying the surroundings.
While the improvements in terms of visual effects are quite notable, the game doesn’t run as efficiently and well put together as Battlefield 4. There are numerous drops in frame rates throughout the game, with just as many bugs during gameplay. These often lead to occasions where the game would hang for a few seconds. These are problems that shouldn’t really exist with modern game development, and yet we still witness quite often.
There is no lack of excitement during most races in Rivals, almost always joined by cops. Unlike the cops in previous titles, the AI has been ramped up quite significantly here, which can always frustrate players to no end. Losing racers and being arrested isn’t just a matter of restarting and trying again. Every time you’re arrested, lose a race, or damage your car beyond a certain point, you lose vital reward points gathered during your outing away from the hideout. In some instances, this aspect adds to the tension of racing, avoiding cops, and taking any damage, but can quickly turn into infuriation, hobbling back to the hideout or the nearest repair shop along a route.
To make use of the multiplayer option players have to engage AllDrive, a system that effectively blurs the lines between single and multiplayer options. While switching between the different modes is as easy as it’s ever been, there are a few drawbacks. One of these is the limitation on the amount of online players in each region of the map, of which you’re only able to view 5 other racers at any time. EasyDrive still exists within the game, providing GPS routes to nearby races, although doesn’t exactly show which race is closest to your current position. Although EasyDrive can be used from within the cockpit, accessing the AllDrive features has to be completed from within the pause menu. Even worse is that entering the pause menu doesn’t pause the game, even during racers, and players simply lose control of their cars, leading to crashes, which often leads to loss of races. This is actually one of the game’s features not being able to pause. I can’t really understand this concept, and can’t think of many games that don’t allow you to enter the pause menu and pause the game.
Need for Speed returns to the old with the tried and tested racer vs. cop approach, which allows you to play as both parties. There are many exciting moments in NFS Rivals, mostly while playing as a racer trying to win while being chased by the cops, avoiding damage at all costs. The graphics, and gameplay, from the new Frostbite 3 gaming engine also delivers some stunning results, but can only be taken advantage of from more modern gaming rigs. Despite all the positives from the game, Need for Speed Rivals won’t instil much joy for too long. The environment only allows for a maximum of up to 6 other players per region at any point in time, with no ideal method of drawing them all together for a race.
All the suggestions were there that this would have been one of the best arcade racing titles in recent times, but it doesn’t quite complete what it has set out to do. EA has plenty to build on for the franchise going into 2014, which means that arcade racing titles will be around for the near future at least.