One-Coin Gaming is a new column where I check out a game from the bargain bin and share my thoughts on it. Join me on my quest to find the hidden gems under 500¥ or £5. I started the column in an attempt to broaden the variety of games I play, but also because while some games might be poorly reviewed at launch, looking at them with a lower price tag and a few years or months of patches might change how things come across.
Racing games feel like they define the beginning of a gaming generation for me. It’s a genre that I very rarely feel drawn to, so it’s only ever during the early days of new consoles, when games are few and far between that I start considering dipping behind the wheel. Back in the early days of Playstation 4 and Xbox One, Need For Speed Rivals was that game, the one that I kept on giving the side eye to, thinking ‘maybe one day’. One day wouldn’t come for a very long time. Here I sit writing this post in 2021, having finally caved in and splashing out a full £2.79. Who knows how I’ll pay the bills this month?
Booting up the game, I’m surprised how well it’s held up considering it’s now approaching a decade old. I feel that’s often the way with racing games though – since there isn’t actually that much going on, the developers get to put a little extra oomph into the graphics, helping them stand out amongst the other, usually somewhat ugly early arrivals on a system. Rivals has some nice variation in environments – nothing too wild or out-there, but they don’t look bad at all. The snowy mountain area is a particular favourite of mine. The weather effects are pretty nice – the rain especially so, leaving the roads and cars glistening and gleaming. Time passes in the world of Rivals, as the world moves from day to night. On the curvy wooded roads, I actually found nighttime to be horrendous for navigating at any real speed – incredibly dark and genuinely difficult to see the road ahead of you. I ended up feeling that I was constantly waiting for the sun to come up again during these times (there might actually be a way to change the time, but I haven’t found it).
The driving itself feels very nice. For a racing newcomer like me, I found it sufficiently challenging at first, but I felt like I managed to get the hang of it over time as I unlocked new cars and progressed through the campaign. At the time of writing, I’ve sunk about 7 hours into the game, and I’m still enjoying the rush of hitting 200mph on the open desert highways. There really is nothing quite as stress-busting as zooming past rocky landscapes and other cars as you dart towards the finish line of the race. Thanks to the PS4 and PS5’s ability to play Spotify audio over gameplay, I’ve been particularly enjoying turning on my own tunes and driving around in the world. Living here in Japan, I’m a long way from my family and my calming nighttime drives with my mum, but over the past few days, Rivals has given me a chance to grasp a little of that feeling.
However, this is where my own frustration with the game sets in a little. It’s exhilarating to zip down the roads and high speeds, but I felt there weren’t actually many places you could build up a truly impressive pace. The roads of Rivals are winding and sloping, other cars get in your way and break up your momentum. Weirdly, other races seem not to damage you all that much, while the other cars that appear in the world can end you with what feels like just a light scrape. The police / racer dynamic didn’t quite sit right with me either. While it’s fun to have escape events such as the ‘interceptor’ or ‘hot pursuit’ events, having police interrupt other races or time trials was just infuriating. I get that the developers wanted to create a risk/reward mechanic with experience points, but I just felt that every time I got into a groove, it would be interrupted by some obscenely quickly escalating police chases. This is where the real dilemma of the game comes into play – the cars, the races and the time trials feel like they are aiming to be a racing simulator, more focused on the intensities of driving, while the police cars, the open world and the violence feel like the game wants to go for more of an arcade feeling instead. I do sometimes wish it would’ve committed to one of the other.
Overall though, I more than feel like I’ve gotten my money out of this game. Coming home tired from work this past week, I’ve often felt like I can’t quite commit to sitting down to make some progress on one of the more story-based games in my backlog, but Need for Speed Rivals has managed to scratch my gaming itch well. While I would probably not pay full price for the game, I do strongly recommend giving it a go if you manage to catch it on sale like I did. It’s really whet my appetite for racing games, making me wonder whether I might pick up Gran Turismo 7 when it launches later this year for PS5.