Late to the Party: Need for Speed Rivals & The Crew

Hey everyone, the new Need for Speed reboot just came out, and so far reviews are spectacular. What could be a better way to celebrate by talking about the last game and its competitor? I was recently able to obtain both Need for Speed Rivals: Complete Edition and The Crew: Non-Complete Edition for a pretty decent price. It’s been close to a year since Crew came out, and much much longer since NFS:R launched. Both of these games feature a sort of MMO-lite element similar to Destiny where you get to play on a map that’s occupied by other players you may or may not encounter, and may or may not bother interacting with. How do they hold up to newcomers? Is their multiplayer community still thriving? Let’s start off with the old one.

Need for Speed: Rivals is dogshit, first of all. I don’t know how or why the NFS franchise fell from grace so hard, but this game is an exemplar of all the bad design decisions of recent titles. The racing physics are sloppy and unfun to start with, and nothing really feels fast like it should be. The second problem is that it has the crash physics from the Burnout games, which works out fantastic… in the Burnout games. Having my car crash from tapping a nearby fence post and then facing the wrong direction when I respawn is not fun. Also on top of the not-fun list is the absurd difficulty curve.

Playing as a cop gets frustrating fast as cars you need to arrest bolt ahead of you for miles and the game just doesn’t bother giving you the courtesy to just call it off. When I’m in a pursuit and the car I’m supposed to be pulling over is 3 miles ahead and I don’t even know which direction it went, I’m not having a good time. As for the racing mode, it’s just plain boring, and when the pursuits kick in, things get worse as you realize how ill-suited the world map is for trying any single method for escaping the cops other than just driving really fast and hoping they don’t teleport in front of you. The biggest problem with the game is the structure, as there is none. You just pick whether you want to be a racer or a cop, and the game just farts a generic selectable set of missions you have to do to advance to the next level of a generic selectable set of missions you have to do.

That’s a mouthful, and I didn’t get to the multiplayer yet. But… that’s because it’s really not there. I didn’t look into what the big deal Rivals was supposed to have to begin with, but what I got was underwhelming. You just pick a spawn point, do your random quests, and there are other real people on the map also doing random quests. You can join the people doing random quests by… doing… something. They don’t make it clear, pretty sure it has something to do with starting a quest while nearby another car? Either way, after finally managing to join a quest while playing as a cop, I just run into the usual problem of the racer being 3 miles away and me not giving a damn after chasing for a solid 20 minutes. Only this time, I have a real person helping me. And by help, I mean getting infuriated with me, and ramming my car until I explode. That was a thing that happened. Either way, every time I launch the game I see about six people on the map, so… game’s dead.

So, let’s talk about the The Crew instead, which is better in every single fathomable way. Racing physics are fun and speedy, respawn system after crashes is balanced and functional, difficulty curve is solid, police/enemy pursuits are challenging but fair, and the map is kinda really huge to an alarming degree. But it’s full of good design and keeps the long drives between area entertaining by littering the roadways with mini-challenges that grant you upgrades. If there’s one good example of a game with a huge map where the map does more than just serve as an annoying commute, it’s this game right here.

The story mode takes you on the adventures of… well I don’t remember his name but he’s voiced by Troy Baker so we’ll just call him Troy Baker. In The Crew, Troy Baker is a grisly white dude out for revenge after someone killed a member of his family, because this is a game made by Ubisoft. But all kidding aside, the plot lends itself to a level of minimalism that optimizes the random opt-in system for the early multiplayer system. Any single story mode race can be done solo, or you can send out an invite to everyone nearby to see if they want to play too. This is physical proximity too, as there actually ARE other people on the map playing the game while you are. After about 20 seconds, if nobody joins, you can make a second request or just play solo. If you’re playing for the story, the race cutscenes work out, as all races open and close with 5-15 minute vignettes that gives you plenty of context, without having to bore you or your challenger(s) if you do manage to snag a quick co-op. Gotta say, early on in the game, hits are scarce, but as you get further into the game, you find more players will to either take you on or help you out.

Primarily, you either have to win a race of sorts or take down an enemy car. I’m pretty great at racing but not so good when it comes to attacking other cars. Whenever I get a random join for these “Raid” missions, I’m pretty happy because they usually do the most work and we both get points for taking the target down. As for the races, pure fun, as you get to race against the AI and your challengers at the same time. To beat the mission, you have to make sure you defeat the other AIs, so the secondary challenge comes in as you try to make first place against your fellow racers. That’s double the thrill. Not going to brag but based on my track record, I can safely say that I will smoke EVERY CHALLENGER I ENCOUNTER. Not that it happens all that often, the random joins usually work less than 20% of the time.

As with typical Ubisoft games, the story is overly long, I have a million collectibles to obtain, have to find radio towers, and the game overall feels like an endless tutorial (even after 15+ hours of gameplay). But even if you’re not up to anything interesting, the other players are, as another player will zip by you in a high speed police chase while other racers help out, so it is quite lively. I’m sold on The Crew though, and I did not even play any of the major tier Crew PVP/PVE events yet. I don’t need to, the quick co-op alone is satisfying enough.

So there you have it. I can’t even find NFS: Rivals on store shelves anymore but that’s a good thing because it wasn’t worth the $15 I spent on the so-called “complete” version. Meanwhile, buying a twenty-dollar vanilla copy of The Crew has given me a solid arcade racing game with a great multiplayer experience with no foreseeable end in sight. That said, maybe the ending isn’t in sight because I bought Halo 5: Guardians and don’t have time to play The Crew anymore. I’m sure I’ll pick it up again later. Maybe.

~~Halo 5 has fantastic multiplayer, by the way.~~

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