Need For Speed Rivals: The Handling, The Gadgets, The Cars, The Secrets
We were just going for a drive.
Taking a break from the racing missions in our hands-on with Rivals, we were cruising down a coastal road in a bright yellow Porsche Cayman, gazing out at the perfect blue of the sky and the sea, when suddenly the flashing lights of Johnny Lawman appeared in our rearview.
Perhaps we’d busted an indicator in an earlier shunt, and sure, we’d gone through that petrol station a bit nippily, and technically not paid for the service we’d received – but in seconds the cop was alongside us, hammering his squad car into us and bumping us towards the edge of the cliff.
Surely there’d been some misunderstanding.
But five minutes later, half the squad cars in Redview County were slithering after us through a dynamic snowstorm while helicopters buzzed overhead dropping spike traps, and we were making a frantic dash for a Safehouse that the map assured us was just around the corner. That was the moment that Rivals started to feel like the next-gen Need For Speed we’d hoped it would be.
Need For Speed Rivals – ‘Best Handling In Need For Speed Games, Period’
The first thing we noticed, before we’d even put foot to pedal, were the visuals. The shift from Criterion’s Chameleon engine to Frostbite 3 – last seen glinting on the faces of Battlefield 4’s sweaty soldier protagonists – doesn’t just make the cars prettier, but also allows for the dynamic weather described above.
As you drive along the coast, a storm might push in and blot out the sunshine with dark clouds and hammering rain. In the desert, you might drive head-on into a sandstorm. Day cycles into night, making chases through dense woods tense and twitchy as you avoid ploughing into tree trunks in the gloom.
But the engine switch affects more than the visuals.
“We redid the handling from scratch,” says Rivals’ creative director, Craig Sullivan. “I think the handling in Rivals is the best there’s been in Need For Speed games, period.”
And while it’s difficult to put your finger on exactly what’s changed, we have to agree. Most Wanted’s cars were already precise and responsive, even at high speeds, but there’s just something different about the way they drive in Rivals that feels smoother, which in gameplay terms translates into less pranging of priceless sports cars into lamp posts five seconds before the end of a race.
There’s a balance between what feels realistic and what’s fun – losing control at 150mph isn’t the death sentence it should be, if your reactions are quick enough. Feeding into this new handling system is a close relationship with the manufacturers.
“We really wanted Ferrari back in the game,” says Sullivan. “They allow us access to the CAD [computer aided design] models for the cars so they look exactly like the real cars do. They give us all the performance data like gear ratios, breaking abilities, acceleration abilities…”
The upshot of these mountains of data is realism, but also consistency: if you unlock a favourite ride from an earlier Need For Speed in Rivals, the skills you learned driving it in the older game should transfer over.
“There’s Koenigsegg Agera in this game,” says Sullivan, “and there’s one in Most Wanted. There are Ford Mustangs and Porshces. The performance stats will be pretty much the same, the handling characteristics will be pretty much the same. Top speeds will be the same. The Agera in Rivals and the Agera in Most Wanted will have lightning fast acceleration with a very, very high top speed. They will have the same feeling, but in our game they will be a little bit heavier, a little bit more authentic.”
“Unfortunately, we don’t get to drive every single car in the game,” says Sullivan. But the sound team do get to take cars like the Ferrari out to the Top Gear test track to get the engine notes just right. Like any car nut worth their motor oil, the Rivals team is fetishistic about detail. Rivals’ singleplayer mode is a story of two sides: the cop and the racer.
While Most Wanted’s ‘story’ could be summed up by ‘you’ve arrived in a city, go drive round it’, Rivals has ambitions beyond that, with a named racer battling against a faceless lawman. Anti-climactically, those are all the details of the plot that we know, except that you can switch between your cop and racer careers on the fly – whether you play one first, then the other, or switch between them as you go is up to you.
Playing as the cops is the less risky of the two career choices, and was the mode we were shown first. As in previous Need For Speed games, you still get events that show up on your world map, but as cops tend to frown on point-to-point sprints and ramping off city property, their missions all relate to shutting down racers and nabbing their Speed Points – more on which later.
Need For Speed Rivals – Gadgets To Fight Crime
How you equip yourself in your fight against crime is down to you. Each new car a cop unlocks comes in three configurations: the regular stock car, the Enforcer (toughened up with armour and bull bars) and an unmarked, undercover model.
Before you leave the garage on patrol, you’ll have to choose which car most suits your mission. Do you take something lightweight and fast like an undercover Aston Martin, perfect for creeping up on unsuspecting joyriders? Or something better suited to running them off the road and over a cliff, like a Mercedes Enforcer?
Yes, the good men and women of the Redview Police Department are, in typcial Need For Speed fashion, utterly unconcerned for the physical wellbeing of the racers they pursue.
Each car has, in another departure from Most Wanted, a set damage threshold, and battering this down to nought is how cops arrest perps in this violent, automotive dystopia. Nothing’s off the table: shunt a racer over a cliff, force them head-on into a building, clip them so they skid into oncoming traffic causing a massive pile-up…
You break the motoring laws of Redview county and you’re going down – by any means necessary. Any means necessary now also includes gadgets. Each car (cops and racers) comes with two equipment slots, and as you earn Speed Points – the in-game currency you earn by completing events – you’ll be able to trick out your wheels with the sort of stuff that they would definitely, definitely not be allowed to have on Pimp My Ride. Forget 10″ TVs in the headrests – the cops in Rivals get an EMP ram that covers the car in a crackling electricity field, dealing extra damage while active, and a projectile version of the same that fires lightning bolts – so long as the target to remain in the crosshairs while it charges.
Finally, there’s our personal favourite: the good old fashioned stinger. Because if prior Need For Speed games have taught us anything, it’s that nothing says ‘Protect and Serve’ like throwing down a spike trap, blowing out all four tyres on a crim’s Marussia at 200mph and laughing as they cartwheel end-over-end into a petrol station.
Need For Speed Rivals – Not A Massive Departure From Most Wanted
The way the racers’ world works is a little different, and a lot more tense. While cops collect Speed Points for serving out justice to hapless commuters who honestly officer just didn’t realise how fast they were going, racers rack up points by doing anything at once automotive and illegal.
Completing races, performing stunts – even driving on the wrong side of the road, which being British we’d been doing by mistake – all increase your score.
These points can then be put toward upgrading your car’s speed, handling and durability, as well as its gadgetry and aesthetics. The nasty twist for the racers is the Heat Level. The more events you pull off successfully without returning to your Safehouse, the more police attention you’ll attract.
Cops will call in backup the longer you evade them, setting up roadblocks and even calling helicopters to drop spike traps in your way. But your Heat Level also acts as a points multiplier – so long as you don’t get busted, any stunts you pull off will rake you in extra points. Make it back to a Safehouse and you can bank these points to spend on cars and upgrades.
But get busted before you make it to safe ground and you’ll lose them all – all your efforts coming to nought.
The final new addition to Rivals is the game’s social system, called AllDrive. This is essentially Most Wanted’s Autolog system upgraded for next-gen consoles: every challenge you complete in the game, be it finishing a race or flying past a speed camera, gets tallied and thrown up on a scoreboard of your friends. But AllDrive also lets other players slip seamlessly in and out of your singleplayer experience.
Gone are the lobbies and matchmaking of yore; in Rivals you can race with friends or strangers, dropping into their game as a cop or a racer to help or cause chaos.
Rivals isn’t a massive departure from Most Wanted – and it isn’t trying to be.
What it is is a tune-up, a tightening of bolts under the bonnet, a welcome oil change, and other such tortured car metaphors. It’s just better. The cars look better, they drive better, and with new mechanics like the Heat Level and on-the-fly switching between cop and racer, the game as a whole just feels tighter.
Rivals has many competitors on next-gen in games like Driveclub and The Crew, but if Rivals is any indication, racing on next-gen is off to a flying start.