Keep your hands at 10 and 2.
[Xbox One Update: I finally got my hands on Need For Speed Rivals for Microsoft's next-gen hardware. I don't have a very large display, so I honestly can't tell the difference between PS4 and Xbox One versions, other than a bunch of friends on one platform and a bunch of friends on another platform. Both controllers feel comfortable in my hands and the triggers have a nice sense of push back. If I had to pick one I'd say I like the firm resistance in the Dualshock 4 for the gas and breaks, but Xbox One's has a pretty wide swing as well. Pick one and stick with it though. The dialog has grown insufferable over the hours, but when you get online with a couple of chatty friends, the hours will fly by as you take turns fulfilling mission cards together. Need For Speed Rivals is arguably the best launch game to have on either next-gen console, even if the PC port has left hardware enthusiasts with a flat tire.]
[Current-Gen Update: Need For Speed: Rivals released on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC earlier this week, so I took the PS3 version for a spin to see how it matched up to the experience I had on PS4. Almost all of Rivals is translated perfectly to current-generation machines. The PS3 version runs well, looks good, and provides the same exciting gameplay in All Drive for up to six players. Without next-gen graphics, being limited to six players hurts Rivals a bit more, but if you have friends on either Xbox 360 or PS3 you’ll still waste hours of time lapping around Redview County and crashing into each other for speed points.
For fans of Need For Speed interested in the PC version of Rivals, know that the title is locked to 30 frames per second and unlocking the frame rate results in some wonky behavior. Leave the frame rate alone and it’ll run as well as it does on consoles, but settings junkies will probably be disappointed. While I haven’t played the PC version personally, there are some very angry PC gamers out there. Please keep it locked to GameRevolution as we'll have an update on the Xbox One version of Rivals in the coming days.]
Brush your teeth before bed. Eat your vegetables. Don’t start forest fires. Our lives have met capacity when it comes to rules. Law and order. You’re either the cat or the mouse, the bird or the worm, the cop or the racer. That makes it sound like racers are prey, but I think you could make the argument for either side. The mouse might outrun the cat, the worm might know of a hidden path, and the racer might lay an EMP mine to stonewall the cops.
Need For Speed has taken a fast liking to this kind of competitive thought. Since Hot Pursuit’s remake in 2010, the franchise has been distracted with simulation and narrative antics, but it seems to have settled into the player-vs.-player nature of cops and racers. What would the cat do next? How would the worm react if the bird took flight just to crash down and snatch the worm up? What could the cop do to bring that racer to justice and steal away the jackpot of speed points for his own? New developers Ghost Games think they have the answer. While Criterion Games has had a heavy hand in getting Need For Speed Rivals up to top speed, Ghost Games show they’ve got what it takes to carry a premier racing franchise for the next generation of consoles.
Freely flow between the cops and racers by switching sides at your local garage or mobile command post. After a brief tutorial, you can pick your side at will and explore all of Redview County. As in Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted, you can continue racing, hunting down various speed cameras and average speed zones to dominate leaderboards or just mix it up with other players thanks to "multi-single-player" All Drive mode. All Drive automatically matches you with others in a lobby system meaning the competition and racing action gets driven by players.
In All Drive, extra points are awarded for sticking together in groups or working with your teammates. Frequently, Rivals will stream AI racers and cops in for added excitement, but as, say, two racers drag race through a canyon, two cops roaming Redview County can interrupt and bust the racers for tons of speed points. Both sides can equip pursuit tech to EMP, shockwave, and generally disarm each other’s vehicles, but it’ll be the gas pedals that decide who wins and who slams into a tree.
Rivals succeeds in bringing the action and sense of speed over from Most Wanted, but it doesn’t have the same charm or wit about the whole ordeal. Cops versus racers makes sense so the whole game feels a bit more grounded in the end. Don’t expect any irreverent race introductions, but do expect bombastic music with each new unlocked vehicle. As far as blockbuster action games go, you wouldn’t expect a racing game to earn top marks but Need For Speed: Rivals satisfies on a "Did you just see that?!" level.
So what if the cutscenes aren't so silly that I couldn’t believe the license owners went for it? Knowing the pursuing officer in your rearview mirror is a real person pays off in exhilarating gameplay you won’t find anywhere else this year. I’m a fan of the series, but I’m still genuinely surprised by how well Ghost Games have pulled the formula off on PlayStation 4. I haven’t played the Xbox One version of Rivals, though I would like to. I’ll have an opportunity to express my opinion on the current-generation version of Rivals soon, but the PS4 version doesn’t look or play like a barebones launch game and benefits from the cross-generational expertise at Electronic Arts.
There are tons of different events to compete in, and customizing your car and license plate make online interactions even more entertaining. That’s right, you got busted by the cop with DONUT on his plates. I tend to get cocky when I’m playing as a racer. Get on the road at home and try exploring casually at first, but after a head-to-head challenge, a race event, and a daring escape from the law and you might have about 80,000 Speed Points built up. If you can get back to your hideout, you can bank those points and level up, but with a high tally comes a high heat level and plenty of cops on your tail.
I kept driving. I wanted to see how far I could push myself as a racer, but I wound up sorely disappointed after taking the cops to a central track in Redview County where both sides can catch a lot of air off ramps. I ended up in the drink and badly damaged once I made it back onto dry land. The cops wasted no time in busting me, which taught me a valuable lesson. Race hard, but get back to your garage before you pass level 6 heat.
In the end, the temptation was too great and I learned to love patrolling the map as a police officer. It’s more fun to play as a cop if you’re going to hunt down every speed camera or explore leisurely since you can take your time and only pursue the racers you really want to bring down. Both sides can have fun with friends, but it’s easy to wind up on the wrong side and with an enemy out of your supposed ally.
That said, there are a few areas Need For Speed can make improvements in following this outing. All Drive only supports six human players at once, but I think the map could support a few more hands at the wheel. That’s a tall order for a game in this position, spread across console generations and early on next-generation gaming networks. But when you know other people are in your game and you still don’t see them very often, it’s easy to wish the lobbies were bigger. Cops can often feel like they’re continually failing objectives if they’re not bringing every racer on screen to justice. Both players and NPC racers have large health bars and a cop on a mission will be taken far off course if he or she can’t let one or two offenders go every once in a while.
It’s just a shame the game has to say you failed a pursuit every time, even if you didn’t come in contact with the other car. It’s a drop in the bucket for a game that makes you feel badass almost all the time. Dozens of hours of gameplay, the only racing game on PS4 at launch, a fantastic showpiece for your next-gen hardware of choice, and a hyper-connected experience—Rivals is one of the best games to own on PlayStation 4. Rev your engines, folks, this will be on hell of a ride.