As the latest installment in the long running Need for Speed series, Need for Speed Rivals simultaneously has a lot to live up to and a lot to prove. While the new studio developing the game, Ghost Games, might technically be a new studio they are made up of the people who worked for Criterion on Need for Speed games in the past, but that matters not, they still have to prove themselves as a worthy developer for the Need for Speed franchise.
To be sure, Ghost Games has really tried to make the series their own with Need for Speed rivals, implementing a number of new features that seem to change how the game is played completely, although the truth is a little far away from that. With Rivals, online play has become a core part of the entire game. Whenever you start up the game you are immediately forced to join a server with up to 5 other players, and put into an open world. The problem is that this world is absolutely massive, and six people cannot hope to even begin to make it feel populated.
Every once in a while youll zoom past another player going 200 miles per hour, but even those occurrences are rare and out of the ordinary. The fact that youre on a server with other people never really matters until you are inevitably disconnected from it, meaning you lose all of your progress since the last time you visited a base. Honestly, after this happened a few times in quick succession, I chose to play offline instead of deal with the constant progress loss.
The game feels a whole lot like the Hot Pursuit reboot from a few years back when it comes to the actual racing. The events are split right down the middle by a distinction between racers and cops, a choice that you make right off the bat but can switch at any time.
Instead of Hot Pursuits strategy of using no narrative at all, Rivals weaves a strange and disturbing story about a racer who is basically an anarchist and a cop who sounds like he just wants to murder every single racer on the road. Both of these characters, which are only given silly racing names, are made to look like they are absolutely crazy, and sometimes I would often feel horrible about even playing as one of them. Neither of these characters is sympathetic in any way, and the story just feels utterly unnecessary for what still remains a very similar racing games to those in the past.
The actual driving mechanics, while virtually unchanged from past entries in the series are beginning to feel a bit stale. Every single car choice feels extremely similar if not absolutely identical in the way they handle, with each car's top speed and acceleration being the only variations.
It is rather sad that the internet issues and the other niggling issues with the game keep it from greatness. Need for Speed Rivals is an extremely fun racing game, and if youre looking for an arcade style racer its still a whole lot of fun. Racing for the top of leaderboards is as fun as it ever has been, especially with the ability to race against people near you instead of just people that are on your friends list. Nonetheless, its hard to ignore the immense amount of wasted potential within the online features that Need for Speed Rivals promises, especially as this kind of always-on multiplayer becomes more common and more advanced.