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Need for Speed Rivals Review

3
  • PC
  • PS4
  • XONE

There's a fantastic game hiding inside of Need for Speed Rivals, but there aren't enough systems in place to draw that greatness out where it belongs.

It's racers versus cops, and the thing you'll quickly learn is that both sides are out of their damned minds.

You might not have noticed, but there aren't too many "arcade" racing games out there these days. A genre that once flourished has been reduced to a fairly small number of contenders, and with the Burnout franchise seemingly on the shelf, many of the minds behind it have been pumping out quality Need for Speed games for the last handful of years. This year's edition is Need for Speed Rivals, a game that attempts to drag everyone online in a cat-and-mouse, open-world take on a lot of the work that you may have seen in 2010's Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Real-life vehicles armed with stun mines, turbo boost, and shockwaves may sound like a great time, and if you're in the exact right situation, it very much is. Unfortunately, the game doesn't do enough to bring players together, resulting in an online game that feels empty, cold, and lifeless.

Unless you explicitly tell the game to keep you offline or connect to a private game, the first thing Rivals does upon firing it up is connect you to as many as five other players, all of whom will be driving around the same world that you are. If you find that they're boring or bad people, you can ditch that game in search of another. But by default, the game is one big online game with career progressions that can benefit from working together... or opposing one another. The game has two separate career paths that you can swap between any time you're not on the road. The racer career gives you races and events where you get away from the cops. The cop career has you busting racers and completing time trials. Each progression works a little differently, too. Racers build multipliers and earn "speed points" while they're out on the road. The longer you stay out, the more you can earn. But if you get busted or wrecked by the cops, you lose all of those unbanked points, making the entire game focus on the risk of losing it all in a flash versus the reward of eking out a few more points. Cops don't lose points--they take points away from the racers they bust. Cops don't have to pay for cars, but they also can't upgrade any of their cars' performance.

Whether they're AI-controlled or humans, the cops are a real hassle.

While the game is working ideally when all six of the players in the world are doing roughly the same thing, with cop players trying to take out racer players and so on, the open roads in Rivals are packed full of AI drivers on both sides of the law. If you're racing, you can challenge any AI racer you see to a quick race. If you're patrolling, you can hit the sirens any time you see a racer and start a pursuit. It's a large world with very few ways to force players together, though. So more often than not, the servers simply give you six players who all go about their own business as they try to complete events and sets of challenges called "speedlists." If players do happen to come together and end up interacting, everyone involved earns more points. You can also use a GPS to draw a map line to the other players, but since those players are probably still driving while you're trying to catch up to them, it's largely futile. The game would really benefit from some sort of way to force players into a single event. Instead you're left to put on your headset and convince strangers that you should all drive to the far side of the map for a race or something. If you have a set of Need for Speed-loving friends, this might not be such a big deal. But if you don't, the multiplayer side of the game feels like sort of a sham.

No matter how you play, the end results are the same. As you complete speedlists you move through chapters of a "story" on both sides of the career. These are edited-together clips of instant messaging chat and fake YouTube as the racer side of the struggle attempts to gain fame while the cops crack down on things as best they can. Even though there aren't many cutscenes to throw to between events, there's still enough dialogue to make both sides sound like lunatics, with the racer constantly sounding like he's just shy of trading his cars in for guns and forming a proper militia while the cop sounds like he took the job just to crack skulls with a billy club. Either way, the writers should probably seek therapy.

If you download the Need for Speed app for iOS or Android you can send nitrous refills or helicopters in to help or hinder your friends, but the constant app crashes and failures to connect made this a real drag.

The truly criminal part about Rivals' inability to bring people together is that it's actually a great game. Conceptually, the career advancement makes sense and makes for an interesting struggle between two different-but-relatively-equal sides. The handling is great, allowing you to weave through traffic when necessary while also letting you just tap the brakes and make minor adjustments to touch off huge, glorious drifts around hairpin turns. It also looks nice, with a frame rate that might not be as smooth as you want out of a racing game, but at least it's stable across PC and next-generation platforms. That said, the notion that the PC version is locked at 30 frames-per-second is especially ridiculous. Even still, considering its higher resolution options, it can be the best-looking version of the game, with the PlayStation 4 behind it. The Xbox One version is roughly on par, but parts of it look a little grimy when compared to the PS4 version. All versions have substantial load times when you enter or exit the world, which can happen pretty frequently, depending on how often you need to change cars, pick a new speedlist, or just escape the cops for a bit.

Rivals feels like it's on the cusp of greatness. The pieces are all there--the handling is exciting, the soundtrack is solid, and the systems that surround the multiplayer help build meaningful battles between racer and cop. But with just six players driving around the entire world and no good way to pull those players together for some true multiplayer activities, those pieces go absolutely nowhere, leaving behind an empty world that might as well not even be online at all. It's a real shame.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
94 Comments
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Posted by Nefarious_Al

Was hoping this was better.

Posted by slyspider

I really like this game, shocked to see it have a low score, but well written review as always!

Posted by ICantBeStopped

This is a review

Edited by MooseyMcMan

I've been playing it, and I'm really enjoying it, but Jeff is spot on about the world feeling empty. The couple of times that I've managed to bust a player racer have been great, but it's only been a couple of times.

But I only play a racing game every couple of years, so I'm happy with my purchase.

I do wish the game had more options with the soundtrack. I'm used to Burnout Paradise, which lets you turn off individual tracks, but this doesn't, so I ended up turning the music off altogether because there's enough stuff in there that I can't stand.

Posted by ripelivejam

next gen = 3 starz

Edited by Fitzgerald

Unfortunately, the game doesn't do enough to bring players together, resulting in an online game that feels empty, cold, and lifeless.

Yup. Totally agree. I think the game should've had a better implemented Voip system. I have no idea who's talking, and I have no visual cue that I'm broadcasting or just talking to myself. Often people are broadcasting without even knowing it.

Also, it'd be nice if there was an indicator that a Racer has set You as a waypoint, or vice versa. I often set another Racer as a waypoint to try to do a 'Head to Head' but they don't realize I'm driving towards them and don't wait up.

Other than that, it's an "okay" game and so far the best disc-game I've played on the PS4. 3 stars is appropriate.

Posted by Nasar7

Figured as much. If checklist: the game is to work the online needs to be phenomenal. 5 players is way too few.

Posted by Solh0und

Well looks like I'll go buy Most Wanted now.....

Edited by therealminime

Yeah the world definitely feels empty at times but I am loving the hell out of this game.

Posted by bassman2112

Honestly, I do really enjoy this game. After reading the review, I understand Jeff's reasoning; but I still derive a ton of enjoyment from the game - especially when playing with a friend or two. I am with Jeff, though - throwing you into multiplayer immediately kind of blows. I wish there had been an initial choice, a toggle, in which you could choose to start playing with other people or simply play alone for a little while.

Overall, good game, I like it a ton; but I totally understand Jeff on this. <3

Posted by djou

Yup, you hit it on the nose. This game desperately need 8-12 players in the world to give it any life, maybe more.

My one other gripe is the environments, the map is huge with varied scenery: snow, desert, suburb, small town, but I miss the large cityscape from Most Wanted. Doing crazy jumps to land on rooftops was one of the best things about MW and Burnout.

I guess there's always next year. I just wish EA allowed this to be a next gen only game. They could have done so much more with it.

Posted by depecheload

Also, you can't pause a single-player race ever no matter what.

This is a shit version of Most Wanted or Hot Pursuit, less features than either game, tons of interface issues. Three stars is generous IMO.

Posted by adamdorsey

I'm enjoying it too, but Jeff is right. It seems weird that Burnout Paradise got racing multiplayer right so many years ago, but they keep forgetting it in these recent Need for Speed games.

Posted by RTBL1990

I love the hell out of this game so far, but I can't really argue with what Jeff's saying. It's also rough when the internet tweaks in and out - you're prone to losing SP (money) and it can pin you to a wall without a moments notice.

Posted by RoyaleWifCheese

I like it, but I've been largely ignoring all of the online aspects for all of the reasons Jeff listed.

Looks good on next-gen, though.

Posted by msavo

So you would say greatness is still waiting?

Edited by Chaos

I been playing it on the ps4. I really enjoy the game, but I do agree the multi-player is lacking. While having more players race at once would help. I noticed just about everyone I race with does there own thing. I ran into times where the game feels empty while I'm driving to the next event.

Edited by AlexGBRO

maybe next year nfs ..... will manage to fix the isues with this version and let more players come i think 16 will be ideal 8 cops, 8 races

Posted by Gold_Skulltulla

@mooseymcman: that was my experience with the music too. I just shut the whole radio off.

Also when you're driving in this game, you really need to focus on what's in front of you and anticipate turns and obstacles, but unfortunately the best way to do this is to look at your GPS in the corner. So for most of this game I've had to dart back and forth between a tiny circle in the bottom left and the rest of the screen, and gotten into dozens of crashes because I was looking at the GPS. Maybe there's a secret "don't text and drive" message hidden in there somewhere.

Posted by VarkhanMB

@mooseymcman: that was my experience with the music too. I just shut the whole radio off.

Also when you're driving in this game, you really need to focus on what's in front of you and anticipate turns and obstacles, but unfortunately the best way to do this is to look at your GPS in the corner. So for most of this game I've had to dart back and forth between a tiny circle in the bottom left and the rest of the screen, and gotten into dozens of crashes because I was looking at the GPS. Maybe there's a secret "don't text and drive" message hidden in there somewhere.

Right here with you. I'm glad we got the 30-day free trial for the music app Sony has, 'cause I really dislike the in-game soundtrack. I've been listening to my own stuff and it's great.

Would I be wrong in saying that there's a mixture of both human and AI players in the world? I feel like I've seen a lot of AI racers, and let's say one whose name actually appears on the screen and gives bonuses like Jeff said. While it does feel empty, when you have more than one human opponent, it's amazing.

To be honest, I'm not sure what drives me crazy the most: the emptiness of the world, or the repetitiveness of the different courses. It seems like I'm always driving on the same roads even in a completely different event...

Edited by jowinstonsen

@mooseymcman: I completely agree. Picked it up a couple of days ago and have barely had any interaction with other players. Most of my time is spent doing events against the AI despite five other active racers. The driving is quite fun, but I keep wondering why I'm even in a match with other players. Worse yet, I've been in the middle of a race against AI only to be interrupted by a "migrating to a new host" screen halfway through. It felt wrong.

Posted by Atwa

The 6 player limit online kills this game completely.

Posted by DBrim

The multiplayer being broken is a huge bummer, but I still had a lot of fun with the single player. I still enjoyed my time with the game quite a bit.

Posted by Chtasm

Gotta admit that car sweat technology looks really good.

Edited by bybeach

I know it is apples to oranges, and that this is pure opinion on my part, but that header sentence sounds like what might have been appropriate for Syndicate. If I see the right things in this review, I eventually might get this game. I want a racing game and I am a novice. (Edit-nope, but good review)

Just to say it, I did get Syndicate after the price drop. Had to...

Posted by Flappybat

This is exactly what I feel. They totally fumbled the ball when it comes to the online infrastructure. It needed a higher player cap to start with, six is anemic for the world size. It's a next gen only game so the main suspect is the poor peer to peer netcode and frequent host migrations. Six could have worked if it could pull all those players together for events but as it is the best you can hope for is a cop player intercepting a racer player during one of their events.

The next biggest downside is the load screens are inexcusably long for going in and out of the HQ menu which you will need to do every mission.

Posted by whatisdelicious

You guys, just play it like it's any other offline racing game, but with the occasional Dark Souls-esque invasion by an enemy player cop or racer. It's way more fun that way and you won't get bothered by the lack of interaction. Or just use a hideout to fast-travel near another player, draw a GPS line to them, and force interaction. Either way, it's a really fun game.

Edited by Giganteus

I'm having a lot of fun with this game, but Jeff is right. It could've been a lot better if it tried bringing players together more often. The world definitely feels a bit empty, as well.

Online
Posted by jimmyfenix

Is it possible for 64 players in a NFS gamw 32 vs 32 !!!

Edited by csl316

I had a great time with it, but I honestly miss the structured lobby games of Hot Pursuit. Spent a ton of time online with that one, but this is just a bit too chaotic for mp.

Looks nice on the PS4. And after completing Resogun, this has been my game of choice (which may change after Battlefield's patched up).

But again, it's really, really fun. I stuck to single player but every race felt incredibly intense.

Posted by Xeiphyer

Still waiting on that greatness before I get a PS4 =/

Edited by ThatOneDudeNick

I agree with much of what he said. I'm having a blast with the game. The "story" is laughable bad. At one point, a news clip comes up that a cop is in the hospital after a crash, and the racer guy basically says "Well he shouldn't have fucked with me while I'm racing!"

I wish there were more options for matchmaking (getting destroyed as a Racer when it groups me with cops that have everything maxed out and better cars). I rarely run into another player out in the world. Getting any strangers to meet up at the same location for a race is next to impossible.

I find myself turning off voice chat since the game doesn't indicate when you're being heard (which leads to hearing other people's game in my ear). Pretty hard to communicate with voice chat off...

A good use of the touch pad would have been a communication menu with simple "yes," "wait," "follow me," ect. commands would have been super useful. The game simply requires more communication than it allows, if you want the full experience.

I would love the ability to just start a race through the menu with cars of the same class. I like multiplayer races, and it seems strange that it's hard to actually get a full race going in a game that's built around it's online environment.

If anyone is looking for someone to do events with, send me an request on PSN (NMeck702). The game is much better when grouped with friends that are willing to run events together.

Posted by JoeyRavn

Do you guys remember when everyone was saying that the "next-gen" would bring better console ports to PC? Yeah. I can't believe we fell for the lie.

Edited by fisk0

@joeyravn said:

Do you guys remember when everyone was saying that the "next-gen" would bring better console ports to PC? Yeah. I can't believe we fell for the lie.

Welcome to 1992, when games made for an 386 ran way too fast on a 486. It's hilarious that something like this could still happen, I really can't recall that happening, beyond maybe some menu animations, since 1992-93, since the 486 and Pentium era games have been able to perform quite well on hardware way beyond what was available at the time they were made.

I guess the Quake III engine games like Q3A and Call of Duty had some framerate related bugs, but not affecting speed like this, just the game's physics (you could jump higher and survive longer falls if you played them at 120-200 fps than at 60).

Edited by Benmo316

I've enjoyed my few hours with Rivals so far. Getting to cop level 10 was pretty easy. And for an arcade racer I'm disappointed I can't customize any cop car, not even the undercover ones. So after switching to a racer I like the deeper customizable options. I agree with Jeff that it is difficult to get people in one are and play together. Maybe playing with friends would be more fun?

Edited by bkbroiler

What is this, Giant Bomb, or Reviews Bomb? How am I supposed to read all this!

Posted by Snail

Nooooooooooooooooo. Criterion is supposed to make good games! Good games! That's why they got Black Box off of this franchise!

Posted by jkz

This is probably my biggest fear with the "THE WHOLE GAME'S A MULTIPLAYER LOBBY" trend that's getting pushed so hard. It requires a lot of cooperation to get people together when they're all free to do what they please in a giant open world, and if you CAN'T get them together (or, god forbid, you sometimes prefer playing games alone), then you're stuck with exactly that: a multiplayer lobby, which by design is going to be far less dense with activities and NPCs and dynamically generated events and such than a singleplayer world.

But maybe I'm just getting crotchety with how games are changing and maybe it'll be great. I've just yet to see it proven.

Posted by ep_driver

As others have said, spot on review in regards to the multiplayer aspect. It's been worthless to me and when there are host issues it will drop mid game which is super annoying. One thing Jeff didn't touch on is how often you're scrambling to get back to your garage/safehouse before your car explodes so you can bank your money. I find myself doing 10 minute stints, then having to go back to my garage and sit through loading screens and SUPER self serious writing/dialogue. It's a fun game, but after playing for 30 or 45 minutes I find myself shutting it off to go back to playing Battlefield 4.

Posted by MooseyMcMan

@jowinstonsen: I've run into a couple of host migrations, but not during events. I bet that would be quite upsetting!

Posted by Bistromath

Car sweat Tech.

Edited by wsowen02

Been playing it this weekend and I really like it, but Jeff is totally right. There is no easy way to party up and complete events with friends. Couple of buddies and I tried for a good hour to race together but more often than not, even when you do find each other, an AI cop will come out of nowhere and start pursuing you or one of your friends making it impossible to start anything.

Posted by NoodleUnit

I don't care about seeing other players all the time, so this'll be fine for me. I just want a cool racing game for my spiffy new console.

Posted by InfamousBIG

@fisk0 said:

@joeyravn said:

Do you guys remember when everyone was saying that the "next-gen" would bring better console ports to PC? Yeah. I can't believe we fell for the lie.

Welcome to 1992, when games made for an 386 ran way too fast on a 486. It's hilarious that something like this could still happen, I really can't recall that happening, beyond maybe some menu animations, since 1992-93, since the 486 and Pentium era games have been able to perform quite well on hardware way beyond what was available at the time they were made.

I guess the Quake III engine games like Q3A and Call of Duty had some framerate related bugs, but not affecting speed like this, just the game's physics (you could jump higher and survive longer falls if you played them at 120-200 fps than at 60).

Dark Souls does this too if you unlock the framerate.

Posted by Silentsnake510

The opening to the game is the absolute worst. The tutorial drags on for like, 20 minutes. I KNOW HOW TO DRIVE A CAR, LET ME DRIVEEEEEEEEE

Posted by Gold_Skulltulla

@jukezypoo: Truth be told, Rivals is actually pretty well populated with stuff offline, but the multiplayer integration overshadows it. I don't want to start a head-to-head thing with an AI when I know there's a human player somewhere else on the map.

Posted by Zojirushi

Goddamnit, maybe it's just these launch games not being as hot as we hoped them to be but the bombcrew really seems jaded as fuck these days, even more so than usually :(

Edited by BeachThunder

This would be a 5 if the game has crowd sprites.

Posted by aerobatics

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