For a franchise that originated on the veritable oddball that was the 3DO way back in 1994, the Need For Speed franchise has come a long way. Newcomer Ghost Games – under the guidance of arcade racing talisman Criterion – has produced a title that is deep in both graphical power and gameplay, as well as being an admirable start for the franchise on Xbox One. Although, the key feature of the game – the AllDrive system – may leave a few people wondering just what all the fuss really was about prior to the game’s release.
Ghost has managed to perfectly encapsulate the carefree attitude of Need For Speed: Most Wanted and the hyperactivity of Burnout: Paradise to create a game that is firmly rooted in the ‘bit of a laugh’ arena, although it does owe a little to the hardcore. Fans of Forza and the fairly brutal Codemasters F1 games will be impressed with the handling of the vehicles in Rivals, as they feel weighty, temperamental and realistic as opposed to the papier-mâché cars inherent to the Burnout series. Naturally, you still have the drift and nitrous oxide abilities at your disposal – and the actual vehicular handling of Rivals holds up well and provides some wonderful feedback when you hit that perfect line through a corner or come within a hair’s breadth of careening into another car.
Graphically, Rivals is very pretty indeed. There’s nothing groundbreaking here in terms of vehicle models, but the environmental factors that come into play – namely the dynamic lighting effects – just wouldn’t be possible on your old 360. Rivals is built on Frostbite 3, which is the same engine as the equally beautiful Battlefield 4 and does a solid job of creating a vibrant and immersive world that acts as an excellent advertisement for the power that has been built into Microsoft’s new machine.
Strong gameplay and visuals aren’t the be-all and end-all, however. Where Rivals falls down is, unfortunately, where it seemed destined to succeed. The much-touted AllDrive system, which offers players a persistent online world in which to wantonly disregard the Highway Code feels under-developed and, dare we say it, a little last-gen. It has all the promise of being a wonderful feature, one in which you are placed in a seamless online world with a bunch of other real-life players. Unfortunately it feels a little lightweight, with the small player cap and fairly limited number of options available to you in the form of races and pursuits sullying an ambitious and exciting idea. The idea of being able to pick whether you’re a cop or a racer and then going to war with your mates in some silly cars was one that filled us with anticipation, and yet experiencing it first-hand left us wanting. Not to say that it doesn’t work, it just doesn’t feel as engrossing as we would have liked.
Ghost has managed to sneak in a narrative of sorts that runs throughout your time with the game in the form of chapters. It’s the sort of uninspired but harmless plot you’d probably expect in an arcade racer, and at least provides some sort of context to your deeds on the streets. The ongoing war between the police force and the racing conglomerate creates a nice backdrop for the always-online action that is available.
It’s in this conflict between the two factions where Rivals excels. When starting the game up for the first time you are subjected to the usual drivel that NFS tutorials purvey, but it’s in these tutorials that you’ll begin to get a feel for whether you’ll spend your time shredding the laws of the road as a racer or punishing some criminal scum as the law.
The police have the luxury of unlocking cars as they progress by completing certain objectives every time they leave their command post, such as rapid response missions or ramming lawbreakers off the road using their impressive arsenal of gadgetry. Racers, on the other hand, have the slightly more interesting prospect of a risk versus reward scenario, wherein points that are accrued through completing races and performing dangerous manoeuvres have to be ‘banked’ at a hideout to count in the long-run. If a racer is busted by the police then all of the points they have accrued during that particular session will be lost.
Having two strong factions that you can play as at any time gives Rivals its USP, and the differences between the two offer more than enough replayability. Yes, the social features aren’t quite what we hoped, but at its base level Need For Speed Rivals is very much the benchmark for arcade racers going forward into the Xbox One’s (hopefully) long life. Superb, rewarding gameplay mechanics, a host of customisation options and some damn fine visuals combine to create a deeply satisfying racer that, despite a few issues, is a solid launch title.