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January 22, 2014 / Jett

Need For Speed: Rivals Impressions

Aside from one attempt at a Need For Speed iPhone game, I’ve never played any of the games in this franchise. I’ve never held any sort of grudge against it, though its particular brand of racing action hasn’t really grabbed my attention, either. With Rivals, EA caught me at just the right point where their latest entry built up a lot of positive word-of-mouth during a weak console launch. Is this the game that hooks me in for good?
Rivals is an open-world cops vs. racers game. All of the action takes place in one persistent world with event markers strew across the map. Your progression is broken up into chapters, which give you a series of objectives to hit in whatever order you like. While this sounds a whole lot like Burnout Paradise, there are two key factors that differentiate it. One, the cops vs. racers mechanic is constant throughout. Whether you’re in a mission or not, racers can challenge other racers, or cops can try and take down racers, both of which can be done on the fly with the press of a button. The other, more progressive change here is that the world is always online. When you boot up the game, you’ll join a world with other live players that are deep into the action. From there, other players can join you on your quest or try and mess you over.

The persistent world is a gift and a curse. When it works as advertised, the single player and multiplayer elements blend together well. The best parts of that game occur when you randomly come across another online player and you engage in an event on the fly. However, due to the size of the world and the limited number of players, this doesn’t happen all that much. It’s most heinous offenses occur when the servers can’t consistently keep a room together. In these rare instances, I found that I was repeatedly kicked out of my room every 5 minutes or so, which caused me to lose most of my progress in whatever event I was doing. In one particular instance, I was being chased by the cops until I got disconnected from a room. When I migrated to a new one, the cops immediately busted me before I even had a chance to move.

The game won me over immediately with its gorgeous visuals. Everything is rendered out with great detail and it runs at a consistent frame rate. As I started to grow tired of this one particular area I had spent much of my time in, a race randomly took me to a snow-capped section of the world that looked very different and equally stunning. At times, certain background objects harshly pop in, and there are other rare instances where certain cars in front of you will completely disappear, but they don’t take away from how impressive the game looks overall.

As someone who isn’t particularly good at any sort of racing games beyond Mario Kart, it did take me some time to get a hang of the controls. In particular, finding the feel to maneuver my way around corners took some work, though I feel like I’m good enough now to get by. Also, once I started unlocking better cars (which happens quite frequently), I was able to find other vehicles that suit my driving style. By the halfway point of the racer’s campaign, I felt like I had a good grasp on it and could confidently drift around corners.

I greatly enjoy the thrill of barreling down public streets at well over 100 miles per hour. The challenges, while fairly standard, are fun to achieve while moving the silly story forward. However, as a racer, the constant cop pressure is a double-edged sword. It’s great when cops take out your fellow racers, leaving you to cruise to a first place finish. On the other hand, the likelihood of you suffering that same fate is equally high. If you get boned too far into the race, the easy restart feature is disabled. At that point, you must leave the event, then either drive to another event marker or find a hideout to reset things, all while you’re getting chased down by the cops. Because of this, the agony of defeat can be an especially tough pill to swallow.

The Need For Speed: Rivals experience has a lot of holes, but EA has built a solid foundation. At its core, the racing experience kept me hooked for awhile and the action is always exciting. If they decide to come back with a sequel and they manage to solve its many shortcomings, this subset of the Need For Speed franchise could blossom into something special.

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