While Sony's own Drive Club got delayed beyond the launch of their new console (and thus the next generation), the PlayStation 4, that doesn't mean gamers are left without a racing game. EA's Need for Speed Rivals brings the franchise into a new generation, with the crisp graphics and presentation you'd expect and lessons clearly learned from other racing franchises.
As seen in the launch trailer, and expected for the Need for Speed franchise, the game has you racing fast cars or chasing fast cars, depending on which side of the law you feel like playing. The experience is seamless between the two, letting you switch between missions at ease. With an open world reminiscent of the later Burnout games, you simply drive up to a mission launch, and with a click of a button you're in. The races are designed to take you around the world of Rivals, and the difficulty curve is pretty perfect, with early races starting out easy, getting more challenging as you develop your skills and expand your garage. The best improvement to Rivals compared to a few previous games in the franchise is that you start out with a great car, and you feel like you're driving fast from the first minute that you're playing. It takes the name seriously, and fulfills it right off the bat.
The game's campaign (or rather campaigns - there are two full-featured ones with either side of a broader story, one for racers, one for police) takes you through series of tasks, grouped together as "speed lists" around racing, around challenging the cops, and around just enjoying the drive - or essentially the exact opposite on the flipside. For example, one early set may include "Get a bronze in any Time Trial, Sideswipe two police, Repair your car once." After successfully completing three such groups, you move into the next level of the story, with ever-increasing difficulty of challenges. Through these, the game actually forces you into trying out the various modes of play, all while always offering two main challenges: the ability to, at any time, go head-to-head with another racer, and the omnipresent threat of cops who can start chasing you down at any moment (and, again, vice versa if you're playing the cops - you can activate a pursuit any time you see a racer with the click of a button or by ramming their car).
This is where the biggest challenge comes in: if you are racing, and you get busted by a cop or your car is totalled by another racer - you lose every point you've acquired since the last time you hit a hideout (your base as a racer). This is the primary way cops gain points, by stealing them from racers, so the threat is always there. What we're saying is, especially early on, the second you complete any sort of task that gets you a decent chunk of points, go directly to a hideout (a handy GPS will get you there quickly) and bank your points. You need them for future tasks, buying newly unlocked cars, upgrades, and your cars' arsenal.
The weapons here, called "pursuit tech," are mildly fantastic, but not quite as wacky as say a cart racer. There are several that are built around the concept of an electromagnetic pulse, either protecting you from it, directly hitting another car with it, or indirectly through a mine, the pulse knocks out the car's electronics, temporarily destroying their ability to track where they are going - and where you are going. It's worth noting, you can go back to your respective base at any time, banking points and changing your arsenal, car, doing upgrades, etc. You can also change sides at any base, easily swapping between the two campaigns in order to get the full story.
And here's the rub: because you're actually playing online, the racers and cops you're competing against are by-and-large real people. That means you might have a cop that just screws with you for awhile because they feel like doing so, or have a racer bait you only to turn on the extra burst of turbo at the last minute of a head-to-head and steal away victory. However, it also means you can team-up with other racers or cops in order to complete higher-challenge goals, and reap even greater rewards. Being in a public game does mean that if you have a headset plugged in, you're going to hear a lot of random chatter from people you don't know. A private or friends-only game is about three clicks away, though, so if you don't play well with strangers, you shouldn't have a problem isolating yourself. The only thing this game is lacking in the multiplayer department is a split-screen mode. If you want to race with a friend, they need to be on their own PlayStation 4. Couch sessions need not apply.
Need for Speed Rivals, despite being a cross-platform and cross-generation game, feels like a next generation experience thanks to its seamless integration of multiplayer challenges into single-player campaign, its living, ever-changing world, and of course, the beautiful presentation. The slight arcade nature to the game may turn some racing purists off, but makes Rivals considerably more fun for those who are usually less-inclined to play games about driving fast. This isn't the realistic, tweak-components, fine-tune simulation, and it never tries to be. It is however the fastest-paced and most exciting Need for Speed in some time, and that helps capture the excitement of a new console generation. Need for Speed Rivals is recommended for PlayStation 4 gamers who want to showcase their console a bit while capturing an arcade racing feel and fulfilling, yes, their need for speed.
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10