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December 10, 2013
Need for Speed: Rivals - PS3 Review
Release Distributer Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
21/11/2013EA GamesEA GamesGhost Games12-6
Media HDD Install Resolution Move Controls Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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These are NFS: Rivals next-gen screens, but the PS3 version looks very similar.
Need for Speed remains one of the most enduring franchises in all of video games. In fact Need for Speed: Rivals is the twentieth game in the series – a huge effort by any standard. That figure is slightly buffed by Electronic Arts' determination to release as many of their games annually as possible, but considering we enjoyed last year's Most Wanted we don't mind too much. This year development duties have switched from Criterion to Ghost Games. How have Ghost Games performed on debut? Read on...

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.

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Being chased down the highway.
There are all kinds of events to participate in – Hot Pursuits, Interceptors, Time Trials, Rapid Responses and Races to name just a few. Most of the events can be played as either a Racer or Cop, though the objectives are necessarily opposite. Take the Hot Pursuit event as an example, as a Racer you want to get to the finish line ahead of your rivals while avoiding the cops. As a Cop you're trying to take down all of the Racers before the finish line. There are at least one hundred events between the two careers, ranging from easy to medium and hard difficulty.

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.

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A police chopper gets in on the action.
As a Racer you'll need all the extra speed points, because not only are cars expensive, but their upgrades are even more so. Cars have five attributes that can be upgraded – top speed, acceleration, control, strength and durability - all of which can be upgraded five times. The upgrade process is as simple as clicking a button – there's not F1 or Gran Turismo-style depth here.

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.

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Taken out by the road spikes...
Multiplayer races are tough, but also great fun. I often felt at a disadvantage when playing as a Cop because Racers have turbo at their disposal and it often flings them miles ahead, but it's still good fun. There's no doubt human races are tougher than the AI events littered around the map, but that also makes them more rewarding. If you can get some real friends together, rather than the randoms you're assigned by default, races get even more intense.

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.

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NFS Rivals is a very solid racing game.
Visually Need for Speed: Rivals is pretty to look at, but it does have its fair share of issues. Speaking of the former first, cars look great, polished until they're gleaming. Much of the environment is destructible and it flies apart as your car tears through it at close to 200 miles an hour.

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

GRAPHICSGenerally the game looks very pretty, but there are a few glitches making it a slight step back from Most Wanted.
SOUNDYou'll hear a lot of police chat, so it's lucky it's useful. The sound effects are fine, and the music fits the game well.
GAMEPLAYRivals is a lot of fun, particularly when you find a good group of people to compete with. It's still entertaining offline.
VALUEThe two careers would take quite a while to complete, but the Cop side gets boring half-way through. The speedlists will keep you busy for a week or two.
OVERALLNeed for Speed Rivals is fun, fast-paced driving action. It's geared more towards online multiplayer, but however you play you're in for a good time.

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