'Need for Speed Rivals' Review--Changing Lanes

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I fought the law

If your idea of a good time is challenging a friend to an impromptu race, speeding off-road into a dusty shortcut, getting chased by cops and slamming an EMP to stagger your pursuers, "Need for Speed: Rivals" is the game for you. This raucous racing experience for current and next-gen consoles blends the best parts of "Grand Theft Auto, "Mario Kart" and its predecessors to deliver the franchise's best installment yet.

Gameplay and Story

"Need for Speed: Rivals" uses arcade-style gameplay within an open-world environment. Players earn Speedpoints for completing challenges and pulling stunts, such as jumps and death-defying near-misses with other cars. The game's risk-reward system entices you to go for big score multipliers by completing consecutive feats, but you can lose it all if you're caught by the cops or total your vehicle.

Fans of racing games will have no issues shifting into gear with the familiar control scheme found in "Rivals." On the PS4, the R2 and L2 buttons are your respective gas and brake pedals, while the X button is used to activate a nitro boost. The Triangle and Square buttons activate any power-ups you have equipped to your vehicle. Unfortunately, you can't use third-party steering wheels.

Staying true to its namesake, this game boasts an incredible sense of speed. You might find yourself involuntarily tilting your head as you drift through turns, weave into shortcuts and dodge other cars at the last second for extra Speedpoints, which are used to unlock and upgrade items.

As with most racing games, there isn't much of a story to "Rivals." You can play as both a racer who tries to elude the cops in pursuit of high speeds, or switch sides and try to take down speedsters as the police. There's a bit of cheesy narration in between levels, in which the racers sound like a group of hacktivists and the cops are stereotypically stiff.

Thankfully, "Rivals" is such a joy to play that it doesn't need any narrative padding. Once you choose between being a racer and a cop (you can switch sides at any time), you select one of three Speedlists, which are a simple checklist of objectives based on how you'd like to play.

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Racers can choose among Race, which consists of standard 1-on-1 objectives; "Pursuit," which will have you completing goals based on evading the cops; and "Drive," which rewards you for reaching high speeds and pulling flashy stunts.

Side with the law, and you can choose among Patrol, Undercover and Enforce Speedlists, which task you with taking down racers with different levels of aggression.

You're never tied to one type of Speedlist, so you can try to beat a time trial in Race for one mission and have fun breaking your jump record in Drive for the next.

Environments and Graphics

"Rivals" borrows bits of the open-world structure of last year's "Need for Speed: Most Wanted," and it's all the better for it. The game takes place in a fictional town called Redview Valley, which consists of 100 miles of open road surrounded by dirt and lush foliage. The game has a dynamic weather and time-of-day system, so you'll be racing on a clear, sunny day one session and fighting through a dark, rainy night the next.

Though the game is available for the PS3 and Xbox 360, "Rivals" is best experienced on PS4 or Xbox One due to the sheer graphical quality of the new consoles. The game runs at a smooth 1080p resolution on both PS4 and Xbox One, allowing for an extra-crisp level of vehicle detail and more realistic weather effects.

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With the help of EA's Frostbite 3 graphics engine, "Rivals" uses just enough motion blur to make you feel as though you're truly going full-throttle down miles of asphalt. The game's cars are gorgeously detailed, as are the devastating slow-motion explosions that occur if you wreck your vehicle at full speed. "Rivals" is the type of game your friends will gather around the television to watch.

Michael Andronico

Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.