Like clockwork, another year brings us another iteration of the Need for Speed franchise. Though the series has had a few missteps and a number of developers, the recent efforts of Criterion have really reignited the series. For this year's version, Criterion is once again involved, but the bulk of the work is being done by Ghost Games, a new studio headed up by former DICE manager Marcus Nilsson.
The framework for this year's version is quite familiar for fans of the older games, specifically Hot Pursuit. You can play as either a racer or a cop at any time, with each faction having a set of objectives for each race. For example, the racer might have to come in third for the primary objective and drift for a certain distance or accomplish a certain jump length for the secondary objectives. Meanwhile, the cops are charged with busting a required number of racers or tagging them with an EMP to complete their objectives. In both situations, points are given for completed tasks and performing stunts like drifting through the points aren't kept until the end of the race, giving players the opportunity to lose points — or steal them from other players.
For the most part, this is a reworked version of Criterion's Hot Pursuit from a few years ago. Users can change factions at any time and get completely different pathways to progress. Autolog also makes a comeback, this time with the scoreboards for each event plastered on the event, similar to how time and remaining laps are done in Ridge Racer Unbounded. The multiplayer portion also splits players into both factions, making the mimicry of the older title almost flawless. However, there are two changes that make the game feel different and help it earn the moniker of being "next-generation."
The first area is the graphics. At first glance, you're not going to notice anything truly special aside from the 60 frames per second and the little bits of car detail. However, like most of the next-gen games so far, the particle effects and lighting help define this as something that can't be done on current-gen console hardware. Rain hits the camera at realistic angles and with more randomness than before. The smoke from a crash is more volumetric, and lights produce a good amount of lens flare when hitting the camera. Sparks from grinding against metal are more prevalent and randomized instead of controlled. It's the little things that help this version stand out from previous ones, and with this title being part of the initial offerings for the new Frostbite 3 engine, one has to wonder how much better the titles will look a few years from now.
The other area that makes the game feel different is the modes. The demo only showed off one race, but it was unusual in that there wasn't a dedicated single-player or dedicated multiplayer to be found. Instead, the race is always connected, and your opponents have a 50/50 chance of being human. In the demo, we were shown how one racer rolled up to a designated spot and began the race without a loading screen. Once there, he raced against other AI opponents. On the other screen, we were shown another player who chose to be a cop and happened to be in the vicinity of the other player's race. After activating his sirens, he initiated a chase right in the middle of the other race, automatically calling in his backup to help him bust the racers. Truthfully, the dynamism of the races has been done before in past Need for Speed games, but having it be controlled by human players instead of AI makes it more intriguing. Of course, for those who want no involvement from the online community, the option is always there to turn off the feature.
From what we've seen so far, Need for Speed: Rivals looks like another good entry in a series that has been pretty consistently good. It'll be interesting to see how much the current-generation and next-generation versions will differ and how they all compare to the PC build. It'll also be interesting to see how far the hidden online connectivity will go for those who opt into it. For now, we can't wait to get more information on this title as it ramps up to its November launch.
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