Need For Speed Rivals PS4 review – To protect and swerve on the streets of Redview County
PS4 racer Need For Speed Rivals feels like something you’ve played before. That isn’t surprising at all because what’s happened here is that the most popular bits from the last few NFS games – Hot Pursuit’s police chases and weapons, Most Wanted’s asymmetrical multiplayer and so on – have been cherry-picked and placed in a Paradise-like open world with a seamless multiplayer system called Alldrive that has six of you sharing the roads at once. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Really.
Alright, I’m a bit disappointed. I heard ‘open world’ and imagined Skyrim with spoilers; an urban sprawl filled with distractions and challenges, but in reality the landscape’s broadly unengaging. There is one particular bridge you always enjoy when you come across it, because its supporting architecture becomes a fantastic jump when you approach it at 190mph. It’s a great place to nudge cops into the water or set a jump distance record that your friends will see whenever they pass it. But places like that bridge are all too rare in Redview County. There’s little variation in corner types, no discernible downtown area – just miles of open road.
You make use of that tarmac either by working you way through the ranks of the local street racing community, or the cops trying to stamp them out. On the RCDP beat, you unlock shinier cars and new pursuit tech (think Hot Pursuit’s weapons, but… no, you’ve got it, actually) by completing ‘response’ time trials, taking down other racers one-by-one or busting organised events as they take place. As a racer, you’re tasked with the usual time-trials, races and cop evasion missions. It’s an involving but very familiar structure and range of activities to anyone who’s played a Need For Speed title in the last three years. So what else you got, Rivals?
Ghost Games, making an assured if safe début here, would point you towards Alldrive, the mingleplayer online system that populates your game world with five other people, either cops or racers. If you’re connected to the internet when you load the game, this just happens. It’s impressive on a technical level, but there are significant design flaws.
One – six people isn’t anywhere near enough to make the world feel alive. You rarely bump into another human by chance, which detracts from the emergent gameplay open worlds are supposed to yield. You also can’t spawn directly next to someone else, so instead you have to spawn at the nearest safehouse and chase them down.
The gear-gating structure means whoever’s unlocked the fastest car just blows everyone else away. If you’re in a slower ride there’s nothing to do but accept your fate
Which leads us onto two – not many people actually want to race PvP. That’s because of the gear-gating structure, which means whoever’s completed the most solo missions and unlocked the fastest car just blows everyone else away. There are no bespoke online race types like Most Wanted’s well-judged carnage catalysts, just cops and robbers and straight races, so if you’re in a slower car there’s nothing to do but accept your fate.
These are serious mis-steps, but they’re not so severe that you can’t enjoy the parts that Rivals gets right. And what it gets right, it does so with masterful finesse. Handling doesn’t feel a world away from the Criterion model, but it’s been tweaked to allow for easier J-turns and U-turns, which come in handy when you’re either side of a police chase. Subtle angle changes and zoom depth in the external camera really add drama to these manoeuvres. And, of course, the sense of speed when you get past 150 mph is unrivalled. Ha! I just got that one.
Then, there’s Frostbite 3 and its lovely weather effects, tumbling trackside debris and wonderful vistas. Here, more than its net code, Rivals feels like a next-gen title, adding buckets of atmosphere to your drive as a storm cracks the sky open and turns the world blue-grey, autumn leaves dancing in the air ahead of your Bugatti. It’s a beautiful game, but it doesn’t run at a smooth 60 frames per second, and that’s a big deal for Rivals as an arcade racer and a PS4 launch title.
Maybe it’s the victim of unrealistic expectations, or maybe the victim of concurrent development across separate console generations, but Ghost Games’ debut racer lacks focus and fails to deliver anything meaningful from its purported innovations. Expect an open world Hot Pursuit and you’ll be enthralled in the maniac violence of weapon-fuelled cop chases and beautifully rendered exotics. View it as an ambassador for next-gen racing, and it falls a little flat.