Need for Speed: Rivals review

  • Absolutely gorgeous, evolving next-gen environments
  • Redview is replete with both AI and real-life rivals
  • Some of the slickest controls this side of a Burnout game
  • The few reasons you’re given to upgrade your car
  • Impact damage is dealt haphazardly

Need for Speed is what I like to call EA’s most well known “hot-potato” franchise. Every few years it jumps to a new developer--from EA’s own Black Box, to former Burnout developer Criterion Games, to a short stint with Slightly Mad Studios. Ghost Games, the latest inheritors of the NFS series, may not have reinvented the wheel while making this year’s white-knuckle racer, but it has equipped Need for Speed: Rivals with all the right parts to make it a serviceable--and enjoyable--game.

You won’t find ample engine customizations screens here, but you will get to enjoy some slick, easy-to-pick-up controls and one of the most populated environments you’ll ever see in a racing game--a good thing, considering it features an expansive open world. Taking place in the California Coast-inspired county of Redview, Rivals has dozens of events, races, and rivals (Need for Speed’s name for other lawless racers) scattered across its stunning landscape. This all works to its advantage; I enjoyed always having something different to see and do each time I got behind the wheel.

The simple act of driving around is a blast. You’ll drift around bends with a pull of the e-brake, careen off half-hidden jumps, fly through speed traps, and ultimately enjoy every minutia of the overloaded landscape. Need for Speed fans: Redview could potentially be your Skyrim. It’s a world stuck in a constant state of change with events popping up where you least expect them, and the returning Autolog feature making it hard to call it quits when there's just one more challenge to attempt. Just don’t hit pause. A world this full of interwoven events slows down for no one--even those who need a bathroom break.

Thanks to EA’s powerful Frostbite 3 engine, ever-changing weather and lighting patterns help make each race feel different, even ones that reside in areas of the world you've already explored. But don’t think weather will always work in your favor. A rainstorm may mean the difference between first and last in a race, and a harsh bit of sunlight may make you wreck where you otherwise wouldn’t. This touch of real-life racing may irritate some, but I found it to be one of Rivals more endearing surprises.

When it comes to stellar collision detection, however, Rivals doesn't deliver. Where Burnout made the rush of speed and crunching impacts between cars feel like cartoonish fun, Rivals’ inconsistent crashes will undoubtedly infuriate you, especially during pursuits. What I thought to be a debilitating blow to an opposing car, the game considered nothing more than a paint scratch. It’s wonderful when it occurs in reverse and you send a racer reeling into the guardrail with a small tap, but it quickly becomes irritating when it doesn't work in your favor.

All-Wheel Drive

While I didn’t get a chance to check it out much myself (hooray underpopulated servers!), Rivals’ new All-Drive mechanic is a sort of MMO/racing game mash-up that pushes online friends and random players into your world, creating a on-the-fly competitive and/or cooperative experience. Ghost Games claims it’s a seamless transition from single- to multiplayer sessions and back, but for the time being it’s just one claim that remains to be seen. We'll update this review once some fellow racers join the fray.

Like its predecessors Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted, Rivals is divided into two equally lengthy campaigns: cops and racers. Becoming one of Redview’s most wanted is pretty standard fare and feels mostly like an open-world version of Hot Pursuit. You’re given assignments that range from winning gold in a race to taking down other racers in a chase, and while these are a great way to familiarize players with everything in Rivals' spacious world, they do little to keep the game feeling fresh after a few hours.

As it turns out, speeding after criminals through Redview's streets as a cop hardly feels any different. Sure, there are plenty of paths for taking down countless unnamed racers, and busting bad guys is a blast for a while, but it all starts to feel a bit stale as the hours roll by. Win a gold medal in a pursuit, place second or better in a Rapid Response mission--the objectives of Redview's RCPD hardly differ from that of the city's illegal racers (save for the whole arresting thing), which feels like a missed opportunity for something more interesting.

Regardless of which faction you choose to play, completing the various assignments nets you massive amounts of Speed Points, a form of spendable currency that can be put towards cars and upgrades. The tension created by the risk of missing out on or losing that currency adds excitement to each assignment, even when the various options become overly familiar.

As a racer, your points are always on the line--if you get busted by the cops before you cash-in at one of the many safe houses scattered across Redview, you’ll lose everything you’ve (illegally) earned. And remember: Pursuits can happen anytime, anywhere. If you’re not ready, Redview’s RCPD will get the best of you. While playing as the police, you won't have to worry about losing points you've already gained--but miss that big bust, and your income will take a hit. It's just a shame speed points aren't quite as valuable as they initially seem, though, as I rarely felt the need to upgrade to a new car when I could just as easily achieve gold ratings by using an upgraded version of the introductory auto.

Still, that disappointment won't sully your experience for long. With an impressive open world that's a blast to explore, and some enjoyable--if not repetitive--missions, Need for Speed Rivals sets the bar for what next-gen racing games. It's fast, it's fun, and while its paintjob is marred by a few scuff marks, it's a worthwhile offering for would-be street racers. Let’s just hope developer Ghost Games decides to keep the potato for a little while.

More Info

Release date: Nov 15 2013 - PS4, PS Vita
Nov 19 2013 - Xbox 360, PS3
Nov 22 2013 - Xbox One (US)
Available Platforms: PS4, PS Vita, Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox One
Genre: Racing
Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: Ghost Games
ESRB Rating:
Everyone 10+: Mild Violence

Need for Speed: Rivals is a wholly enjoyable open-world racer. The driving is solid, its streets are a joy to explore, and its racing assignments--though a bit repetitive at times--are incentive enough to keep you coming back for more.

This game was reviewed on PS4.




  • ryan-deal - February 20, 2014 8:03 p.m.

    What most if not all these review sites fail to mention is the fact the game is FILLED with bugs. I mean, this thing is a sieve. I'm constantly being disconnected from games because of changing hosts and then that happens... Lose all the points I've yet to bank. If it's not that... The camera angle will just randomly swivle around or the map will pop itself up for no reason. Then theres the glitching and being able to drive up underneath the ground. Yeah, it looks nice and the controls are smooth when they are working... But SAVE YOUR MONEY!
  • blanco-rivas - November 23, 2013 2:29 p.m.

    Keep your money. A driving game with no steering wheel controls. Outrageous. Played it for less than 1 hour and it's coming off already.
  • patrick-woolard - December 23, 2013 11:08 a.m.

    The game is fun, beautiful, and engaging. It's almost a perfect arcade racer, and unless the lack of a cockpit view REALLY matters (who uses cockpit view anyways?!) to you then I wouldn't hesitate to pick up this gorgeous, open-world racer.
  • FadetoBlack23 - November 15, 2013 5:15 a.m.

    A lot of the Criterion team worked with Ghost Games on this, and are now actually part of Ghost UK (including the Creative Director from the last two Criterion NFS). Also, it's just Ghost that will be working on Need for Speed from now on. Interview with the CD here -
  • taokaka - November 15, 2013 3:20 a.m.

    I'd only buy this if I could demo it first to see how the driving feels. I only recently managed to finally put my finger on why I didn't love the last couple of need for speeds, the cars were too easy to drive. When compared to the racing games I love like burnout 3 and NFS: most wanted (original) I have to fight with my car to get it to do what I want on top of dodging traffic while in criterions hot pursuit and most wanted I found the driving to be too simple and that the only challenge came from extreme rubber banding. I wanted this to look towards NFS's better years for inspiration but instead it seems like it looked towards the most recent games so I'm skeptical. As I said I'd like to try it because I love arcade racers and the dwindling genre needs as many supporters as it can get but if it's just like criterions NFSs I'll pass.
  • blanco-rivas - December 24, 2013 10:38 a.m.

    Don't even bother with demo.
  • NeoHumpty - January 30, 2014 8:22 p.m.

    I don't think you will like it. I thought it was extremely easy to control the vehicles. I actually enjoy that better, though. Makes it easier for me to pull off some fun sliding through oncoming traffic moves. It is very glitchy, though. And the crash mechanics are just sorta "off" somehow. I feel that their plan is to get the racers to focus more on using their special defenses to attack rather than just ramming each other.
  • Sinnott - November 15, 2013 2:52 a.m.

    Criterion Does it again.
  • Sinnott - November 15, 2013 3:43 a.m.

    scratch that

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