Game Overview – Need for Speed Rivals

Game Overview

Written by: Kevin Tom

Need for Speed Rivals – PS4

Ghost Games, Criterion Games

Published by Electronic Arts



What systems are in place to dictate the ‘rules’ of the game? What kind of constraints do players operate within? What do players interact with?

Two Factions, One Map

Rather than having multiple dedicated game modes, Rivals chose to establish a single core mode that houses everything on a single, open-world map. Players participate by joining either the ‘Racer’ or ‘Police’ forces, each with a host of various objectives and gameplay mechanics specific to the faction.


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  • Goal is to rack up ‘Speed Points’ and to play keep-away from the cops.
  • Players will earn “Heat” over time through regular gameplay. A higher “Heat” level indicates that the racer is a bigger threat, thus attracting more attention from the cop faction.
  • Points are gained primarily by completing races and avoiding cops. Risky maneuvering such as drifting, collision near-misses, and drafting (known as slipstreaming in Rivals) also award Speed Points, but to a lesser degree. Taking down other racers also nets points.
  • Speed Points are used to purchase new cars and vehicular tech modules that help the player to avoid cops/disrupt other racers.
  • During gameplay, a racer will continually gain Speed Points by completing various challenges, the points are not awarded until the racer enters one of many hideouts across the map. If a racer is busted (runs out of hit points or stopped by a cop for a few seconds) before entering a hideout, then they lose all of the Speed Points gained throughout the session and return to the main menu with nothing
  • Players can lose pursuing cops by out-maneuvering them and maintaining a good distance for a few seconds. If you are off of their radar, you’ll have a bit of time to breathe.


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  • Goal is to enforce the law and keep the streets safe from racers.
  • Speed points are earned primarily by taking down street racers. Most events are based around this objective.
  • Cars are unlocked and can be used for free as the player progresses through the game and completes campaign objectives (dubbed Speed Walls). Pursuit Tech (basically weaponry) can be used to assist in taking down racers; Speed Points are used towards the purchase and upgrading pursuit techs.



EasyDrive is an integrated in-game GPS system that aids with navigation. It is controlled using the D-Pad and allows players to set specific destination points for desired locations.

– Looking for the nearest command post, hideout, or repair shop? Just set it on EasyDrive and a route will appear to guide you to your destination.

Hideouts and Command Posts

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Both Racers and Police players can get back to the game’s main menu by driving near specific buildings (Hideouts for racers, Command Posts for Police) and entering. This brings the player back to the core menu, which allows them to quickly travel to another location on the enormous open-world map, change factions, purchase cars and upgrades, and more.

Speedlists/Assignments (Career Mode)

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Speedlists are objectives that a player must complete to progress the story. These work like quests; new Speedlists become available as players finish them. The story is composed by cinematic sequences that appear at certain intervals of Speedlist completion.

Completing a Speedlist assignment grants the player access to a new car and a more difficult objective. The cars being unlocked have been predetermined, meaning that individual cars are tied to specific Speedlists.

Each faction maintains a unique set of objectives laid out by the Speedlists that fundamentally opposes the other team. (e.g. Cops will have Speedlists based around shutting down Racers while Racers will focus on avoiding the cops.)

There are 20 speedlist levels for each faction. For each level, players are given a choice of three Speedlist objective categories at a time. Only one set needs to be completed to progress to the following Speedlist level.

Racer Speedlist categories: Race, Pursuit, Drive

Police Speedlist categories: Patrol, Undercover, Enforcer

Drifting and Jumping

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Drifting is easy and seamless in Rivals. Simply tap the brake button as you go into a corner and your back end will kick out slightly allowing you to blow through a turn with ease. Tap the brake button a second time during the same turn and the drift will become sharper at the cost of lost speed. Drifting varies with each car, some cars may kick out a bit more, others may suffer reduced speed, etc.

Specific “Jump Zones” are laid throughout the map for players to take flight. Jump distances are recorded and shared so players can compare with their friends.


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Nitrous Oxide returns to Need for Speed Rivals allowing players to gain a temporary boost of speed at the press of a button. Nitrous is limited, and specific car types will have access to a larger bank of nitrous than others.

Nitrous can be obtained by slipstreaming (drafting), drifting, near-misses, being airborne, etc.

Cops regenerate Nitro over time, but racers do not.

Pursuit Tech (Weaponry)


Used to hinder the opposing force. Cops and Racers each have two slots to allocate pursuit tech; tech varies depending on which faction you play.

Each car has two available slots to allocate pursuit tech to. They cost Speed Points to purchase initially, and additional points to upgrade.

List of Pursuit Tech below:

Racer Pursuit Tech

  • Electrostatic Field – Cancels out stun mines and EMPs; also damages vehicles in close proximity
  • EMP – Tracks a racer as you follow behind; shuts off racer tech for a short period
  • Jammer – Impairs another player’s vision and removes UI components (like the minimap) for a short duration
  • Shockwave – A short-range blast that forces enemies in close proximity away from your vehicle
  • Stun Mines – Lay a mine that temporarily shuts stalls anyone that happens to run over it
  • Turbo – No offensive properties, grants a boost of speed that is more significant than the standard nitro

Police Pursuit Tech

  • Helicopter – Autonomous airborne helicopter tracks racers and attempts to slow them by obscuring vision and dropping spike traps
  • Electrostatic Field – Cancels out stun mines and EMPs; also damages vehicles in close proximity
  • EMP – Tracks a racer as you follow behind; shuts off racer tech for a short period
  • Roadblock – AI cop cars set up a road block on the road ahead of your current position
  • Shock Ram – Shoot a powerful shockwave at all targets directly in front of the cop vehicle
  • Spike Strip – Deploy a spike strip behind your vehicle to blow out tires that roll over it

Repair Shops

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Cars all maintain a distinct “Health Pool” that decreases as they take damage. This is represented by a gauge on the right side of the screen. Cars are ‘wrecked’ when the “Health Pool” reaches 0, which indicates a ‘Game Over’ and sends players back to the main menu.

Driving through one of numerous repair shops scattered throughout the city will instantly restore the “Health Pool” of the car. It will also replenish charges on Pursuit Techs.

Car Customization


Taking a page from Need for Speed Underground, Rivals allows all cars to be aesthetically modified. Players can alter body paint and brake color, change what’s said on the license plate, and do some exterior decorating with decals (dubbed “Liveries”) earned by completing various challenges.

Cars also uphold stats unique to the specific model. Various models will excel in particular areas as opposed to others, thus changing the way they maneuver compared to the others. Players are encouraged to choose a car based on their play style preferences.

Racers can choose to upgrade vehicular stats using Speed Points. Each stat category can be upgraded a total of five times, and the improvements will vary in degree based on the model of the car. (e.g. Some cars may give more durability points per upgrade than other cars). The five stat categories are: Durability, Strength, Control, Speed, and Acceleration.

The Police faction is incapable of boosting car stats, rather, they must work with a vehicle’s base stats received upon unlocking the car.

Social Play

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Players can choose between four different multiplayer states: Public games, private games, friend-only games, and single player. These four options give players an opportunity to filter other players based on their personal preferences.

Rivals sports the ‘Autolog’ feature from previous Need for Speed iterations (such as Hot Pursuit) that brings about a seamless leaderboard between a player and their friends list. The autolog presents features such as Speed walls and records that are saved in the system for friends to see and surpass. The Autolog presents a great way for players to compete without having to be on at the same instance.

Competition between friends is encouraged frequently during an online multiplayer session of Rivals. Speed cameras, jump distances, event performances, and even career objective completion times are all tracked and ranked; the rankings are very apparent as you approach a specific event or drive past a speed camera, which only bolsters the likelihood of players competing for the best times, farthest jumps, fastest speeds, etc.

Game Modes

Rivals’ two core game modes consist of the Police and Racer campaigns.

– During gameplay, players have access to various race types that require players to complete specific objectives. Players may earn ‘Gold, Silver, or Bronze’ in these race types based on their performances.

Racer Event Types

  • Races – Standard races pitting players up against 3-5 other racers.
  • Time Trials – Get from point A to point B in a set amount of time.
  • Hot Pursuits – Like races, but with police racers trying to take down race participants.
  • Interceptors – A cop begins pursuing the player as soon as this event starts, the goal of the racer is to escape and lose them.
  • Head-to-Head – Players compete one-on-one against each other in a duel. Whoever makes it to the finish line (determined as soon as the event starts) first is the victor.

Police Event Types

  • Hot Pursuit – Same as the Racer event, except you’re the pursuing entity.
  • Interceptor – Same as the Racer event, except you’re the pursuing entity.
  • Rapid Response – Similar to the time trial, but players have seconds taken off the clock for each collision that they make.
  • Random Encounters – Cops may also switch on their sirens and chase down racers while not actively participating in an event. This can occur in free-drive mode.

Conditions for Victory

Each faction maintains its own story with 20 speedlist levels. Once the 20th level is completed, the faction’s campaign is considered completed. Players will then have free access to complete skipped speedlists and improve the scores of ones that have already been completed.


Gameplay elements derived from the game’s mechanics that provide direct feedback to player actions. Often developed by players as they play. What strategies emerge from gameplay? How do players interact with each other?

  • Shortcuts – Many optional paths exist off of the main roads that offer players different avenues of travel. These shortcuts are often riskier than the standard route, but potentially yield benefits such as reduced travel time or improved cop evasion.
  • Quick 180’s – Common to many racing games, hitting the E-Brake button will allow players to do a hard stop, which rotates the vehicle, giving people an opportunity to quickly switch directions from a high speed.
  • Side Stalling – Police units can E-Brake ahead of a racer’s path and position themselves perpendicular to the road, which increases a larger obstacle for racers to avoid.
  • Repair Station In’s and Out’s – Racers linger around a repair station and wreak havoc. As they take damage, they pass through the repair station to heal themselves. This is a great way to increase heat levels and accumulate Speed Points.
  • Pursuit Tech Combos – Pursuit tech can be used creatively in a number of different scenarios, for example:
    • Using a Shockwave after physically ramming another car to deal more damage and create a larger impact.
    • Laying spike traps/stun mines in narrow pathways to increase chances of success.
    • Using the speed from the Turbo Tech to increase jump distance or slam another car at a high speed.


Player Experience; is the game fun? Why and why not? Is the play emotionally/intellectually engaging?

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Need for Speed has been around for nearly two decades and will continue to see releases in the future. Why is that? What distinguishes Need for Speed from other racing titles and why is it such a powerful name in the racing genre?

  • Light, Arcadey GameplayRivals isn’t your typical deep, convoluted racing simulator. It’s designed as a lighter, action-packed game that’s easy to pick up and play at a moment’s notice. The learning curve is shallow and the visuals are simple and attractive.
  • Adrenaline Rush – Staying true to its namesake, Rivals uses many visual queues and gameplay elements to simulate the feeling of speed. The rush from weaving through traffic at breakneck paces and performing perfect drifts around tight hairpin turns causes the release of epinephrine into the brain, which in turn elicits adrenaline rushes and excitement among the players. This is a great feeling, especially during tense scenarios like a tight race or attempting to escape the police with nearly no health.
  • Competition Overload  – The Autolog system is one of the most compelling mechanics of the game. It tracks an incredible amount of player data and uses the information to create leaderboard systems that facilitate friendly competition between friends. As you approach an event, pass a speed camera, or finish certain objectives, you are met with blatant in-your-face results from players on your friend list. This scoring system essentially sets goals for players that are dynamic in nature, they are intrinsically changing because players continue to alter the leaderboards in their attempts to overcome their friends’ performances. The Autolog has a lot of staying power as well, since it records and saves all of the data within the system, players won’t even have to be online simultaneously to compete. Simply start playing multiplayer and the game will update you if another player has broken one of your records.

Design Goals; Were They Achieved?

The designers at Ghost Games aimed to bring the unique AllDrive online multiplayer, open-world concept to life in a meaningful and exciting arcade-like racing experience while developing Need for Speed Rivals.

“There’s always going to be the leeway to do exciting stuff, but one of our main focuses, as you said, is to try to reduce the amount of confusion around what Need For Speed is. We want to make sure we can bring it back into what makes the series good, what its tradional core is and where can we innovate and try new things” -James Mouat (Interview with CVG)

“A lot of the other games are focused on more track racers while we’re more focused on big, action-packed moments and arcade style fun.” -James Mouat (Interview with 3News)

Need for Speed Rivals aimed to increase player interactivity and connectivity with the Alldrive mechanic while maintaining the core principles of the Need for Speed franchise (Light, action-heavy, emphasis on speed).

Did they achieve their goal? Kind of. The core makings of a Need for Speed title was apparent in Rivals, the sensation of speed was there and the title maintained an arcade-like feel. Ghost Games however, fell short on the player interactivity front. The maximum limit of six players per session left the map barren and lifeless, I will discuss this more in detail below.

General weaknesses, What would I fix?

Rivals’ incorporation of multiplayer felt shallow when considering the game’s emphasis on the ability to play online and interact with others. When taking into account the fact that the title defaults to online mode from the onset, it’s surprising to see a six-player limit on such an expansive world. Online play feels restrictive and empty, encountering another player is fairly rare and does very little to change up the gameplay. I could barely tell the difference between playing online and offline.

I understand that the entire concept behind Alldrive is to blur the lines between single and multiplayer, but I fail to see the benefits of blending the single player aspects and online play together.

To counter this weakness, I would simply increase the player limit for online servers, 12-16 player slots should be enough. I’d much rather play in an open-world racing game with dozens of player-controlled racers over a small handful of them.

User Interface

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Button Layout

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Bonus Tidbits

  • The social interaction feature, “Autolog” was originally introduced in 2010’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.

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