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Need For Speed: Rivals – the fast and furious first few hours

Will you live the life of a straight-laced cop or thrill-seeking racer? Need for Speed: Rivals offers you both and asks only that drive fast, play nice with others and don’t take yourself too seriously.

I’m going to be completely honest with you: I’m not the world’s biggest racing fanatic. Anything that’s straight-up racing doesn’t really float my boat; it all feels a tad po-faced and light on actual fun. I’d rather monkey around on Mario Kart than ogle Gran Turismo’s exquisite lines and I’m more likely to be found taking in the festival atmosphere of Forza Horizon than tinkering with the gear ratios of an F1 racer.

As a result, Need for Speed: Rivals has held a certain allure for me since I took it for a spin last month. It has a nice mix of other drivey things to do in addition to all that flat-out racing and boasts a slightly silly narrative that’s delivered with the gruff, f**k you attitude of that James McAvoy film, Wanted. I like the fact that creative director Craig Sullivan isn’t trying to shoehorn an overwrought narrative line into his driving game and I’m looking forward to trying to beat my friends at highbrow tasks like driving very fast past a speed camera and jumping great distances off a ramp. What I particularly like, though, is that I can get straight into the game without having to prove that I know which pedal does what.

Need for Speed: Rivals achieves this by getting you to go out and do stuff in the world in a bid to give you a taste of both sides of the cop/racer divide without locking you into your choice. You can switch between the two at any point during the game to continue the fun and frivolous story, earn Speed Points, unlock new cars and Pursuit Tech, and dabble in the different events available to each driver type.

Progression is achieved by completing assignments as a cop, or speed-lists as a racer and this two-pronged approach is really Rivals’ raison d’etre. It also provides some much needed variety in the game’s early stages because while the whole map of Redview County is unlocked from the start, the majority of the events take place in a relatively small area and so it feels like you’re driving variations of routes along the same roads for the first few hours of play.

The assignments and speed-lists typically consist of three events and are varied by category. For the cops this means Patrol, Undercover and Enforcer with variations on car models available for each and a particular focus depending on the assignment. Some involve getting from A to B as quickly and cleanly as possible, while others require you to take out a racer within a certain amount of time or using a particular tool from the Pursuit Tech arsenal (none seem all together legal but hey, let’s not worry about that bit). Achieving these targets delivers to you a set number of speed points and helps you level-up, which in turn unlocks additional cars, pursuit tech and story chapters.

Playing as a cop, either long term or for a quick blast out on the roads of Redview, is the safe option. There’s going to be very few people out there actively looking to harass you (except for when it forms part of a racer’s speedlist remit) and so it’s a good way to learn the roads, find shortcuts that don’t feature on any map and just take in the scenery.

For the first hour of my play time I pottered about as a cop, driving in excess of 170mph and deliberately smashing into racers with impunity. I unlocked some sexy cars – although being a cop the customisation options are strictly limited to licence plate alterations and pursuit tech loadouts – and hit the open road for the sake of setting off speed cameras and hearing the roar of an engine of a car that looked like a stealth bomber.

After around 90 minutes, though, I began to feel restless and so I switched to the dark side. As a racer things are different. For a start, new cars are harder to come by as they can only be purchased rather than earned. Buying them costs speed points and these are obtained by completing speed-lists and taking on challenges in categories titled Drive, Pursuit and Race. Some of these require you to attract the attention of cops before losing them within a time limit while in others you go head to head against fellow racers for bragging rights and huge paydays.

With the requirement to buy cars comes the added freedom of being able to customise them and so very quickly I was drifting around expansive corners in a lime green Dodge. When you do find a favourite model it can be more rewarding to invest in engine and structural upgrades than continually purchase new models.

However, whatever you do as a racer requires those precious speed points and your accumulation of them is one of the key differences to playing as the good guys. As a racer, the longer you hold off banking your points at a hideout the higher your multiplier climbs and the more points you earn for doing, well, anything. The catch is that if you’re busted by a cop then all of your points are transferred to your rival and there’s no way to take them back. It’s a mechanic that is likely going to result in just as many cheesey grins after nail-biting escapes as it is flung controllers after fatal takedowns.

With AllDrive, the opportunities for this to happen are many and varied. Ghost Games rather cheesily describes AllDrive as “destroying the barrier between single-player and multiplayer,” which in practice means that you can be going about your business in the world and the racers you’re competing against or trying to bust might be AI or they might be human opponents.

You can choose your play sessions to be private and so only joinable by friends, or public so that anyone can drop in. The benefit of playing together is not just the satisfaction of teaming up or going head to head but the fact that with AllDrive will earn you more of those precious speed points for competing with and against the masses. It will take some time to discover whether it works as well as it sounds or leads to a life of griefing but as a concept it makes an awful lot of sense.

After several hours play on PS4 I’m left wanting to see more. Playing with just a handful of other people leaves Redview County feeling slightly empty, as Ghost has deliberately left many of the roads sparsely populated so as to facilitate high-speed antics and uninterrupted speed runs. Similarly, by restricting many of the initial events to a small area of Redview it’s hard not to feel a degree of fatigue when driving the same route back to the same hideout or cop command post.

Overall, Rivals feels bright, breezy and easy to get along with. Its adaptable approach means I won’t have to endure too many straight-up races, while its expanded AutoLog system ensures I’ll always have something to do. There’s a whole world out there and some very desirable cars with which to explore it and I’m looking forward to diving in and playing havoc with EMPs, roadblocks and helicopter strike forces. My racing doesn’t need to be realistic; it just needs to be fun.

Need for Speed: Rivals launches November 19 on PS3, 360 and PC; November 22 on Xbox One; and is a launch title for PS4 worldwide.

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