Game Picks

Game Picks: 'Need for Speed Rivals'

CorrespondentJanuary 2, 2014 

Serious racer fans should be well satisfied with “Rivals.”

Over the years, I’ve watched my grade school kids do a lot of scary things via video games. Explore dangerous jungles. Orbit distant moons. Battle post-apocalyptic swamp mutants. But with learner permits just a few short years away, nothing is more frightening than watching them drive around in cars.

“Need for Speed Rivals” ($59.99, rated E-10) is the latest in a long line of racing games from distributor Electronic Arts and a rotating lineup of developer studios. Do the math on all the iterations, installments and spin-off games, and “Rivals” is the 23rd title in the series, which dates all the way to 1994 and the original PlayStation and Sega Saturn consoles.

The most recent N4S games have focused on combining the straightforward action of the traditional arcade racer with the untrammeled freedom of open world game environments. In “Rivals,” the players get to speed though more than 100 miles of virtual road in and around fictional Redview County. That includes urban downtown environments as well as rural back roads and treacherous mountain two-laners.

It’s a wonderland of delights for any sugared-up and steely-eyed fifth-grader. There’s a real thrill, if that’s the word, in watching your 10-year-old hit 170 mph in a high-speed pursuit with dozens of police chase vehicles. I just hope it gets it all out of his system before the teenage years.

Built for multiplayer

“Rivals” is similar in many respects to last year’s “Need for Speed: Most Wanted,” with a couple of key differences. First off, you can choose to play as either Racer or Cop, with full career progression modes for both (similar to 2010’s “Hot Pursuit.”). “Rivals” also folds in a few narrative elements in single-player mode, giving you a story to follow as you progress through the game.

“Rivals” is really built around the multiplayer experience, though, and in fact is designed to transition seamlessly from solo racing to multiplayer on the fly. With online multiplayer enabled, up to six other players – racers and cops both – can complicate your plans as you bounce around town. While the game will otherwise populate the map with AI cars in solo mode, chasing (or being chased by) a real person really does introduce a whole new level of challenge.

If you coordinate your multiplayer experience with friends, even more options open up in terms of cooperative and competitive play. The “Need for Speed” games have always had a hardcore audience for this kind of thing, with racing teams and factions, but the new options in “Rivals” make it easier for the casual racer to get acquainted with multiplayer.

Extras for PS4, Xbox One

The control scheme is essentially the same as in previous console editions, with a few additional options if you’re using the new PS4 or Xbox One controllers. Also new this go-around is an improved modding system, and a dynamic weather effects system that might drop a thunderstorm on you as you navigate those cliff-hugging curves.

You can speed around Redview County indefinitely, but if you want to earn points and unlock new goodies, you’ll want to participate in the game’s various Events. These include organized street races (Hot Pursuits) in which you chase down the outlaws or flee from the cops, depending on your allegiances. Time Trials award points for precision driving. For the more sober-minded driver, Rapid Response events encourage driving quickly but safely.

On top of all this, “Rivals” adds the equivalent of open-world collectible missions, such as stunt jumps and speed records for particular stretches of road. These encourage yet another level of reckless bravado. I find that I’m too cautious for these activities, even in a virtual world, but jumping a Porsche off a construction crane evidently appeals to the fifth-grade mind.

Because they can be replayed endlessly, the “Need for Speed” games tend to have a good shelf life. Serious racer fans should be well satisfied with “Rivals,” and more casual gamers can marvel at the detailed visuals and motion physics on display. There’s no objectionable content for kids, aside from the obvious – that it’s, you know, inadvisable to drive 200 mph and ram police cars and so forth.

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