Need for Speed Rivals review
- Looks absolutely stunning
- Stonking soundtrack
- Alldrive is clever
- Gameplay lacks depth
- Annoying camera
- Unresponsive controls
And it's good news.
Arcade racers used to be a staple of your average high street games retailer - Need for Speed, Burnout, Ridge Racer, Midnight Club and countless others used to line the shelves. If arcade-style racing started with all these names on the grid, it seems now that Need for Speed is the last man standing.
More recently, the humble arcade racer has taken a bit of a backseat to semi-simulation racers like the brilliant Forza Horizon, and the full fat racing simulation of Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport. Driving and racing games are as varied as they have ever been, and thankfully Need for Speed Rivals will continue to contribute to that... by doing the same thing it has always done.
"Need for Speed should be about balls-out fun, drifting around a corner at 200mph in a million dollar sports car being chased by the police and surrounded by traffic." says Rivals creative director Craig Sullivan. "That's what Need for Speed was then, and still is now."
The message is loud and clear, but can Rivals - and Ghost Games - really deliver the goods? We dropped into their HQ in sunny Gothenberg for a chat, and a little playtest.
Need for Speed Rivals: Gameplay
Need for Speed Rivals is an open-world racer. Not surprising really, as it's been a long time since this franchise was about out-and-out circuit racing, but also because a significant number of Criterion staff have been exported to southern Sweden to carry on their good work. And in Craig Sullivan, Ghost has (or technically, is borrowing) a man who was lead designer on Burnout Paradise - arguably the game that launched the open-world racing genre as a whole.
The gameplay revolves around playing as either a cop or a racer, and completing the relevant tasks whether that's winning races and avoiding cops, or taking down reckless teenage speed junkies. Essentially what we're talking about is a mixture of Need for Speed Most Wanted and Need for Speed Hot Pursuit, with a few new bells and whistles.
Everything you do will get you 'Speed Points' - your universal currency to spend on all your car customisation, upgrades, new weapons ('pursuit tech') and all that good stuff. When we played the game, pursuit tech was limited to a spike rack deployed behind you, an EMP burst that locked on to a target in front and a powerful nitrous boost, but Ghost reckons there will be between 10 and 20 different weapons in the final game, which should allow for some sneaky tactics.
Here's the catch - you're earning speed points for everything you do on the roads, but you have to stash your points at safe houses around the map to keep them.
The longer you're out on the roads, the higher your speed point multiplyer will get. But raking in the big bucks comes with significant risk - if you crash (or get busted by the cops), you lose everything. Also, racers who have been out the longest will have the highest bounties on their heads, so generally speaking, if you've been out on the streets for a while, the cops will be coming for you.
Need for Speed Rivals: Alldrive
Alldrive has the potential to be a total game changer. Imagine a world like Burnout Paradise or Forza Horizon's single player modes - an open world with traffic, computer controlled opponents to race, and events scattered around the world.
Now imagine that some of those computer controlled opponents are actually other players around the world in their own 'single player' worlds, completing their own challenges and progressing through the story arcs. That's the essence of Alldrive - it completely removes the line between single and multiplayer.
Matchmaking options will of course let you choose how you want to play. You can play on your own if you want, or you can play with friends or you can play with the world, but there's no separate single and multiplayer experiences - Rivals is what it is, you simple choose who you want to play with.
Combined with the returning Autolog - which records your fastest speeds and times at various speed cameras and road races around the world - Alldrive adds another level of competitive gameplay to the mix. If you see that a friend is currently beating all your times, you can jump in as a cop and deliver some timely justice.
Equally, if a friend is having some issues with the cops, you can jump in as a racer and lend some assistance. Or just let them suffer and do your own thing, it's really up to you.
Ultimately, the idea is that your individual game will merge seamlessly with someone elses, creating totally unique, exhiliarating experiences every time you play. And we can see that working, but there's definitely a question of balance. Currently there's a maximum of six players in any single game, but the numbers may change between now and release.
Need for Speed Rivals: Graphics
We got to spend some time with a pre-alpha version of the game, which Ghost assured us was more in line with what the game will look like on next-generation consoles. There's still some graphical work to be done - we're told - but it's already a thing of beauty.
Typical Frostbite hallmarks are there - there's plenty of lens flare as you crest over hills, and typical motion blur really adds to the sense of motion and sheer speed. For most of us, Frostbite 3 is inexorably linked to Battlefield 4, but the engine has a lot to give to racing games too - even if Need for Speed: The Run didn't do much to prove that.
Both current and next-gen versions of the game will be running at 30FPS. Granted, this sounds a little bit low but in practice it wasn't noticeably slow, and the whole playtest was very smooth. Bear in mind that all though Forza Motorsport 5 will be running at 60FPS, Forza Horizon only ran at 30, and that played like a dream.
Need for Speed Rivals: Tablet gameplay
Need for Speed Network is a companion app, available on iOS, Android and also as a separate website. Calling it a companion app is a little misleading, as it can be played as a game in it's own right.
Sure, it displays all your latest Autolog info in real team, and you can look at any of your friends' latest achievements and records. You can also use the app as a second screen - much like Smartglass and Forza Horizon - using a live map to set waypoints and markers.
Here's the cool part - It also lets you watch your friends driving around the map in real time. You can even jump into their game, and drop things on them from above. For example, you can jump into a friends' game if they're about to beat one of your times, and place a police blockade in front of them.
Alternatively, you can refill their nitrous if you're feeling friendly, or restock their pursuit tech. It's all pretty clever.
Best of all, you don't have to be connected to your console to do this. So you can interfere with your mates game from the safety of work, the bathroom or even potentially from another country.
Need for Speed Rivals: Verdict
There's plenty to be excited about here. Rivals already plays really nicely indeed, taking all the best bits of Hot Pursuit, Most Wanted and predecessors like Burnout Paradise, and pulling them together into a single package. Mix that with an imaginative new app companion and the Alldrive concept, and Rivals is poised to cause a bit of a stir when it arrives.
That said, what Ghost is trying to achieve here is an experience that feels natural, rather than being set up. The idea is that you will just stumble across other players as you're trying to achieve your story-based objectives, and thus, what was single player suddenly becomes multiplayer.
That concept relies on the game being perfectly balanced. All the pursuit tech needs to be balanced, the game world needs to be the right size, the number of players in a game needs to be perfect... it's precarious stuff. But if Ghost can nail this, Rivals could be something very special.
Need for Speed Rivals release date: November 2013
Need for Speed Rivals price: TBC