After playing a healthy chunk of Need For Speed: Rivals, I got to speak with Executive Producer Marcus Nilsson about the future of the franchise and where he hopes to take it with newly formed studio Ghost Games.
Nilsson and I spoke at length about what defines Need For Speed, what Criterion did to innovate and what Ghost Games wants to do with the franchise’s future, but all you really need to know is that Need For Speed: Rivals focuses on bringing a sense of action-packed racing to the forefront. It accomplishes this by playing off of the rivalry that forms between racers and police officers, even if that rivalry has grown to become so cataclysmic our world couldn’t realistically hold it.
The action you’ll see in Rivals is not completely unlike the intro videos Criterion created for Hot Pursuit’s challenging escapes from the law, where pyramids of Police interceptors or whirling tornados of sirens and lights chased players. The racing in Rivals is so intense it feels impossible. There’s a reason you’ll never see a pedestrian on the sidewalks in-game.
“It’s a cornerstone of Need For Speed,” Nilsson said. “I want people to know what to expect from Need For Speed. I don’t want one year to be about racing around a track when the next year you won’t do that at all.”
Nilsson has been working closely with Criterion’s Craig Fergusson to ensure the transition between Criterion and Ghost Games goes smoothly, to ensure that the arcade action perfected in Hot Pursuit is translated properly into Rivals.
“Rivals is a continuation of the great things that Criterion did, but we’re also looking back before those games and looking into what’s made Need For Speed really great. The All Drive feature comes from knowing that playing with people in a sandbox environment is really, really fun,” Nilsson said.
Nilsson says that arcade racers won’t be the same without an open world where gameplay is largely driven (forgive the pun) by the racers themselves. This phenomenon was not lost on me in my play time. I told Nilsson about playing as a cop and chasing AI-controlled racers until a human-controlled opponent appeared on my screen. At that point, I’d quickly drop the NPC and pursue the human player with everything I had.
“All Drive really suits the open-world environment and it’s not suitable to a track racer. It’s the innovation that I think is needed and it’s timely with the arrival of the next-generation. The All Drive feature is going to be genre defining,” Nilsson said.
All Drive acts as a sort of lobby system. Any single game world can host up to six live cops or racers at one time, but anyone accustomed to massive multiplayer lobbies like those in shooters might feel like this player count comes up short.
“Six players is the sweet spot for this game. When we decided this it was about maintaining the visual fidelity and diversity of activities open to the player, but the game system is intelligent in creating AI bubbles around the player,” Nilsson explained.
Nilsson described the AI/player system in Rivals as reactive. If you’re racing around the world and you draw nearer to another player, the AI system will allow a few NPC cops and racers to peel off and allow you and the other player to mix it up with all the particle effects and speed you’d get playing by yourself. “For this game, six people is the sweet spot, but whatever we do in the future, I don’t actually know,” Nilsson said.
If there’s one thing Nilsson and the rest of the developers at Ghost Games seemed to have learned from Criterion, it’s that you make decisions in service of the player’s experience. “I think Rivals is signaling where the franchise is going to go. We need that action element, the tension between cops and racers, and that’s something every arcade racer needs. Many get it wrong because it’s so hard to get it right,” Nilsson explained.
Read our full preview of Need For Speed: Rivals on PS4 to get the full picture and look out for our full review. We’ll find out if Rivals gets arcade racing right when it’s released day and date with PlayStation 4 this week on November 15th. Rivals will be out on current-generation consoles on November 19th and on Xbox One on launch day, November 22nd.
You can see how Xbox One and PS4 versions graphics stack up against each other here.