Need for Speed Rivals Xbox 360 Review
Publisher: EA Developer: Ghost Games Genre: Racing Players: 1-6 Age Rating: 12+
Other console/handheld formats: PS3, PS4, Xbox One
At the end of the last generation I reviewed Need for Speed Carbon on the original Xbox. And now as the generation changes the latest Need for Speed also straddles the generations. This is the 20th title in the series, developed by a new team with help from Criterion and the Frostbite engine. Like other recent games, it requires installation to the hard drive of some assets before play can begin.
Recent games in the series have given the chance to race and chase on both sides of the law, with Hot Pursuit’s Autolog giving the satisfaction of battling friends. The principle returns here, with the tutorial allowing the player to learn the basics as both cop and racer. Once the game proper begins, the new AllDrive system kicks in. This blurs the line between single and multiplayer. Each online game contains up to six players and you can race (or smash into) them. Alternatively there are events to complete to advance through the ranks of the single player story. Navigating the world is done with the mini-map and the EasyDrive GPS. This can be set to guide the player to an event, a repair shop or other players. Nearly everything has its own Speedwall to compete on, and the GPS will recommend challenges based on what your friends have achieved.
As a cop, assignments are divided into Patrol, Undercover and Enforcement. Completing a set of assignments and returning to the Command Post advances the player by a rank, unlocking new cars, livery and pursuit tech. Finding a racer in the open world means a pursuit can start, by switching on the lights and siren. Speed points are earned while in pursuit and are spent to upgrade the cars.
As a racer, the Speedlists are divided into Race, Pursuit and Drive, again offering different tasks. Returning to a Hideout banks the Speed points and advances rank when the current Speedlist is complete. However, being wrecked or busted wipes out the player’s speed points. It also resets the Heat level, which acts as a score multiplier. Racers have to spend points to acquire new cars, but can also customise them (improving durability, strength, acceleration, top speed and control) as well as buying pursuit tech. Other racers can be challenged to a head to head race when encountered, the route to race on appearing on the GPS.
Every vehicle has two pursuit tech slots, and at higher ranks there are more types of tech available. Cops can drop tyre spikes, call in roadblocks or use EMP (cutting electrical activity in the target car). Racers can knock cars out of the way with a shock wave, drop a stun mine or shield themselves with ESF (electrostatic force). Each type of tech can be upgraded to increase its effect or the number of charges.
Spread around the world of Redview County are events for both racers and cops. Time Trial or Rapid Response, for example, require a route to be driven under a certain time without collisions (which add an increasing time penalty). As the player ranks up, the events become tougher and the target to earn the medals goes up. Thanks to AllDrive, starting an event will include nearby players – and when you are near other players, a bonus multiplier comes into effect for all actions.
The action and the environment blend the best of Need for Speed and Burnout, creating a good looking world. However, there are flaws. Frame rate can struggle and there are small glitches (including the age-old favourite of falling through the floor). The worst part is the stability of online games. Being thrown out of a frantic chase to a host migration message is frustrating. For once the story does not detract from the action, providing a good framework and throwing some extra variety into the mix – such as when the FBI’s elite VRT team steps in. Cops are limited to routine patrol with no pursuit tech for a while and racers face a tougher level of pursuit.
Perhaps the biggest problem is the disparity in difficulty of the two careers. Cops get a straightforward progression, made more interesting by the changing story chapters. Racers face heartache as their hard-earned points are taken away yards from the safety of a hideout by aggressive cops, sometimes even when they were chasing someone else and came across your car in the pursuit. And while the EasyDrive GPS allows events to be quickly restarted (an option that the open-world Burnout Paradise was lacking), the D-pad can make choosing a GPS option somewhat haphazard while driving. Mastering the pursuit tech is important to make progress. But just driving around triggering speed cameras and getting into head to head races is fun in itself.
At its best, Need for Speed Rivals recreates the thrill of the chase and the excitement of so many movies. With 60 ranks to gain in each career there is a lot of gameplay, enhanced by competing with real people. If only the online aspect remained more stable, it would be a must buy for either console generation. It’s certainly much better than Need for Speed Carbon ever was…