I never gave the “Need for Speed” franchise much thought until Criterion Games, makers of my beloved “Burnout” series, became stewards of the annual racer with 2010’s “Hot Pursuit.” I was going to skip this year’s iteration as it was being created by a different developer, Ghost Games. I’m glad I didn’t, because “Need for Speed Rivals” has one of the most addictive gameplay loops ever.
“Rivals'” gameplay is similar to “Hot Pursuit.” You race expensive cars and evade the police or you play as cops and takedown street racers in an open world. The delicious hook is that you earn SP (essentially experience points) by completing races and other events to upgrade your car. As the racers, you can build up an SP multiplier by racing as long as possible before heading back to your hideout. As the cops, you arrest racers and take their SP. It creates these ridiculous risk/reward situations where you think “should I try one more event?”
Besides earning SP, “Rivals” has some other RPG-like features (turning it into a caRPG, as the guys at Penny Arcade called it) including Speedlists which give you objectives to complete like “Drift for 50 feet.” These are somewhat analogous to quests in full-blown role-playing games, and you also earn Ranks similar to leveling up. All this turns what would’ve been a generic game into an addictive gem. The Library owns “Need for Speed Rivals” on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.