There isn't much of a story in Rivals, but what is there can be played from the perspective of both a street racer and a cop. When you play the Racer career you're Zephyr, a street racer trying to get as many other people involved in street racing as possible. Zephyr's attitude is best summed up in one of his quotes from the game, They say speed kills, but if you aren't speeding, you aren't living.
On the flipside, the Cop career is all about busting street racers and bringing a halt to this dangerous pastime. Although the two careers are separate the story is common to both, so a twist in the Racer storyline is mimicked in the Cop career. Once you've chose which career you want to play (don't worry you can flick between the two from your garage at any time) it's time to hit the road.
Once you're out in the open you're given your first Speedlist to complete this is a series of challenges, things like getting a gold medal in any event, earning X number of Speed Points, ramming X number of racers or cops, and so on. Speedlists give you something to focus on, but there's plenty of other stuff to do on the world map.
While driving around town you'll also come across plenty of speed cameras, speed zones and jumps to speed through or jump over. The faster and further you go through these, the more speed points you get as a reward. As you drive you'll also come across other Racers, human and AI, who you can start a head-to-head even with. If you're a Racer it's a sprint to the finish, if you're a Cop you have to take them down before they finish. All of which means you'll be kept busy almost all of the time you're on the road.
Completing Speedlists advances the story, which improves your rank, and unlocks new cars, pursuit tech and liveries (if you're a Racer). Racers have to buy any new car they want, but Cops have them automatically unlocked as they become available. If that seems to skew the balance towards the police, fear not, because Racers have a score multiplier that has them earning speed points much faster than Cops.
The score multiplier also adds a risk/reward element to your driving adventures because the speed points you earn aren't locked in until you return to a hideout. All the little things you do, like whizzing through speed cameras and speed zones, or driving on the wrong side of the road boosts your multiplier, but the longer you stay on the road the higher your Heat Level goes. The heat level dictates how aggressive cops are in taking you down, so the longer you're out there, the more dangerous it becomes.
Pursuit tech are items that help you take down your rivals. You can equip any two at a time, but every new car your drive needs new pursuit tech you can't share between cars. Some pursuit tech is available to both Cops and Racers, such as the EMP, which locks onto a rival's car and temporarily shuts it down, making it easy pickings for a few seconds. The Turbo tech is for Racers only, while Cops have roadblocks and helicopters that drop spike mats in front of street racers all to their own.
Some of the other tech is extremely effective, shockwave, for example, sends out a wave of force that damages anyone nearby and also throws them off course. The electrostatic field (ESF) puts a forcefield around your car for a few seconds, and anyone who rams it (or is rammed by it) is going to feel some pain. The Jammer is a great defensive tool as it protects you from tech hits and interferes with the HUD of anyone in the area. All in all there's a good selection of tech available, and while you'll likely fall back on one or two favourites there should be something for everyone.
We haven't yet discussed the multiplayer, but Need for Speed: Rivals is always online by default. What this means is you're not on your own when driving around, rather you're tossed into a group of six when the game loads up. It's not overly invasive you can avoid the other humans if you want to (they're displayed on your world map) and in fact it's handy when you're in the mood for some proper online racing. Anytime you start an event, any human-controlled players in the vicinity are automatically invited.
There's no doubt the multiplayer aspect is fun, but I have to mention the game-freezing bug it causes. Anytime I load up the game while signed into the PSN the game freezes as soon as it is loaded. It turns out this is a common problem, and from some internet sleuthing I think it affects more than just the PS3 version. A patch is on the way apparently, but in the meantime the workaround is to start the game offline, then turn it online once the game has started.
Aside from this game-freezing bug, there are a couple of minor issues with the game. The Cop career simply isn't that much fun, largely because you don't earn speed points quickly absent the multiplier Racers get, and really all you can do is take down other cars. That's fun for a while but it runs out of legs well before the career is over.
One other issue is that occasionally after crashing your car is restarted facing either the wrong way. The mini-map on your HUD is absent for a few seconds after a crash, so it's not always obvious you're pointed the wrong way, and the few seconds it takes to right the ship can be all it takes to guarantee you don't win a race.
On the downside, the game will completely freeze every now and then (possibly for loading) for a second or so, on one occasion my car fell endlessly through the ground upon restarting, and occasionally the colours go completely haywire the sky turns red instead of blue, the environment goes bright orange, that kind of thing. None of these are major issues, and may be caused by changing to the Frostbite 3 game engine (Most Wanted was powered by the Chameleon engine), but they are noticeable and have some impact on the game.
The sound and music is pretty much what you'd expect from a Need for Speed game, with sirens and crashing sound effects prevalent. The soundtrack features a few songs I'm familiar with, but is made up predominately of electronica and dub-step. The music is pitched to background level by default, so that you can hear the police chat which constantly gives update on the status your chases. The police chat is informative, though it does wear thin after a while.
Need for Speed: Rivals is another polished entry in the series, but aside from enhanced (embedded?) multiplayer there's nothing here that really pushes the series forward. Still, what is here is good fun so if you're in the market for some high-speed racing Need for Speed: Rivals might be just what you're looking for.
Review By: Mike Allison