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Why Need for Speed: Rivals isn't just iterating

Need for Speed Rivals is out today, and while we wait for the Xbox One launch to proceed with a next-gen review of the title, there's no harm in reminiscing on a recent preview event, where EA developer Ghost traveled from Sweden to have some of us journalists sit in for some hands-on time with their newly inherited Need for Speed title, dubbed 'Rivals'. One would expect that on the eve of a new console generation, it's hard to find exposure for anything that isn't an exclusive, but somehow it seems the real winners over the next two weeks are going to be the multiplatform titles if NFS:Rivals is anything to go by.

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Starting from a gameplay perspective, life is good at 145 MPH, complimented in no small part by the Frostbite 3 engine's first foray into the world of racing. Just like any initial outing, there's a lot of room for improvement in the NFS future, but as far as iteration is concerned with the NFS lineage, it seem like Rivals is rounding off all the edges of what an open world racer should be like online. Ghost has re-tooled not only the inventive Autolog system (now fully formed as the NFS Network), but have found new ways of incentivizing players to be interacting with each other. Driving alongside your brethren will result in a 20% bonus on any points awarded, and that's just for starters.

Immediate parallels are drawn from Guild Wars 2's method of randomized instances based on player proximity, which managed to keep players passively interested in what each other were doing while allowing continued progression on an independent level, and would be a wise source of influence for cultivating positive online interaction between players. One of the greater problems of playing a game online is that people are inherently fickle about how they want to spend their time, and nudging them in the direction of an ideal experience is at best likened to encouraging a teenager to hang out with their parents.

Rivals hosts a total of six players on one map, which would be an arbitrary number if Creative Director Craig Sullivan hadn't vouched for intensive study at optimizing the player cap for the best experience possible. At any time, players can jump between a respective role as either Cop or Racer and either team up or throw down between themselves and the population of A.I. opponents in the world, creating scenarios where a pack of Cops are pursuing a lone Racer into the sunset– only to see their bounty disappear by virtue of a perfectly maneuvered drift. That, or they may be thwarted by the secondary appendage to Rivals, the NFS Network app.

Intended to run on iOS, Android, and web browsers, the external supplement to Rvials as a full console game comes in the form of primarily an interactive map which can be used to deploy perks to your friends, and menace to your enemies. Along with this are robust infographics for stat tracking and all kinds of numbers to make you feel like a statistician or something. The app's relevance will only be determined as the game's lifespan develops, and furthermore how much utility it can preserve between further installations, since one would assume the goal is to build a hub for tablet interaction, instead of a standalone app for one title.

After the few hours of hands-on time that we got last week, the Xbox One version seemed to be running smoothly with no noticeable difference form the PS4 copy. The major differences players will notice are obviously based on hardware– between the controller feel that an Xbox designed joypad seems to be snugly accommodating for driving games, and the preference of operating system. While the PS4 controller is a major improvement, the Xbox One controller design feels perfect, and is the major reason we've decided to pursue a review on that platform.

It also looks prettier in its next-gen variant, so there's that as well.

Based on the pages which Ghost has ripped out of 2012's SSX, various MMO influences, and a heavy does of Burnout Paradise's continued effect of withdrawal on its fanbase, Rivals' goal is to keep players in the game with a positive mindset: road, road, everywhere, and not a reason to brake.