Your car is beat to hell.  Cops are coming at you in all directions.  You have to make a decision — do you go for broke or play it safe?  Screw it, you go for it.  You burnout in your 200MPH+ supercar and peel away, trying to finish that street race the 5-0 started tailing you for.  One last corner and you can find a safehouse.  The finish line is approaching but all of a sudden your tires are shot from a spike strip.  A cop side slams you into the wall.  The screen says “BUSTED”, someone on the police radio says “10-4 we got him”, and all you can do is try again.

Need for Speed Rivals is a high-octane, arcade-style racing game that is a blast in short bursts.

Cops and racers. Yin and Yang.

  • TL;DR: Adrenaline-pumping arcade racing that can get repetitive
  • Platform: PS4
  • Score: 7.7
  • Hours Played: 8
  • What I Played: Racer up to rank 9, Cop up to rank 5
  • Recommended: If you enjoy a more non-realistic style of racing game

Need for Speed Rivals is the latest entry in one of gaming’s longest running racing series.  I haven’t played a NFS game since Underground for Gamecube, where you take control of an up-and-coming street racer.  In Rivals, you can play both sides of the law — the racer and the cop.  No matter which side you choose, you are set loose in Redview County, a large open world map littered with events and other racers/cops.  Each time out, you are tasked with completing a mission list to earn Speedpoints before coming back to your garage to spend them on upgrades or new rides.

Playing as a street racer is a blast.  You can straight up race against some AI racers, try to evade capture by the police, and complete time trails, to name a few events.  As you play, your Heat Level will increase (think stars in GTA), giving you a higher multiplier to earn Speedpoints faster.  But, higher heat means the cops will come after you harder.  It starts with a cop car or two, but can escalate into spike strips, road blocks, and helicopters.  If you get busted as a racer, you lose all your points, but if you get back to a safehouse, you bank them.  This is what I was talking about at the beginning of this article — if the cops are on you in full force and you only have one mile left in your race, do you risk it all for more points or begrudgingly take what you’ve already got?

Controlling a cop isn’t as fun as a racer, but that’s not to say it isn’t a good time.  There a number of events for the members of the law, but the main attraction is busting racers.  Screaming down the road as a streak of red and blue in a pack of cop cars is just plain awesome.  If you wreck your car, your points are gone.  An interesting twist is that if you bust a racer, you steal any points they had earned.

Easily the best looking cop car I’ve ever seen

Both sides can have up to two Pursuit Techs equipped.  These are Mario Kart/Blur weapons for your car, such as lock-on EMP and stun mines.  Using Pursuit Tech effectively can turn the tide for either side and is very satisfying.  Racing against computer-controller opponents gets boring after a while, though, which is where the AllDrive system comes into play.  It turns every session into a six-player lobby where each player can play as a racer or as a cop.  It’s unfortunate that each lobby can only have five other players in it, though, when the world has over 100 miles of open road, as you’ll still find yourself playing against AI 80% of the time.  Still, it can be really fun to join a fellow cop trying to bust some racers or to try and distract a cop to save another racer.

Graphically, NFS Rivals is breathtaking.  As the world zooms by you at 150MPH+, you can still make out the little details.  Road signs and street lights come crashing down as you barrel through them.  A dynamic weather system helps keep the game fresh.  The soundtrack accompanies the gameplay so, so well.  Most of the time, you’ll be listening to some fist-pumping house/electro/dance music while you blow through road blocks and jump over hills.  It’s the perfect audio for such a heart-pounding experience.

My biggest issue with the game is the forced story line.  It’s hard enough to have a decent story in a game with zero faces, but NFS Rivals tries way way way too hard.  As a racer, you’ll hear that the cops are enemies, not rivals, and must be challenged in an effort to challenge authority.  Cops must uphold the law and fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.  The tone of each “player’s” voice is incredibly forced and doesn’t add anything to the game.  Another slight gripe is the angle of the camera.  If the camera was angled another five degrees up so you could see more of the road in front of you, I feel like I would reduce my random crashes by about 75%.

Drifting through the snow, in a 450-horse open sleigh…

Need for Speed Rivals is a great mix of hardcore racing with arcade-style action.  Street racing has never looked better than it does in next-gen (when do we start calling this current-gen?) and busting a racer as a cop is equally as satisfying.  The story is forced and the world-size-to-lobby-size ratio is off, but there’s a lot of fun to be had in Redview County.

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