Fans of the Need for Speed Underground series will feel right at home with Rivals.
Electronic Arts’ Need for Speed line has produced a lot of great racing games over the years. The theme of the games has changed here and there, and recently . the Need for Speed name has been squarely attached to import tuner-style street racing games. The subset of the series, known as Need for Speed Underground. Done a good job of capturing the thrill of late-night illegal street races while including all of the parts and customization. Now, EA is bringing its nitro-powered racer to the Sony PSP and its stripped-down take on the series fits nicely onto the new handheld.
NFSU Rivals offers a stout variety of race types. The most obvious race–a multi-lap circuit race–is the cornerstone of the game. Rally relay races put you on the same tracks, but you’ll change cars between laps. Once you get away from lap completion as a goal, there will be four more types of events. Nitrous run challenges you to make your way around a track, crossing gates. That adds time to a constantly draining clock, and refilling your nitrous oxide tanks.
As you play through these different races and win trophies, you’ll earn upgrade points and unlock visual add-ons for the cars in your garage. Unlike the previous games that bear the Underground name, in Rivals, there’s no benefit to tricking out your car with spoilers, vinyls, rims, neons, or hood scoops beyond simply making your car look as crazy as you want it to look. There is a great deal of available visual upgrades, so you’ll always be unlocking something new. Performance upgrades are meaningful enhancements. Your car is broken down into 10 different categories of upgrades, including engine, drivetrain, chassis, brakes, and suspension.
These upgrades are kept pretty simple, as well. You’ll drop into a category and see a few upgrades you can make in each area. Each one boosts a meter that is devoted to that category closer and closer to 100 percent. Also, you’ll only have to purchase each upgrade once to use it on all of your cars, but unfortunately, you’ll still have to wade through multiple upgrade menus to get each car up to speed with your latest changes. The upgrades should have been automatically applied to all cars.
You’ll encounter more than 20 licensed cars in the game, like the Dodge Neon, Toyota Celica GT-S, Pontiac GTO, Mazda RX-8, and more. The variety of cars is good, and the cars feel different enough to make your vehicle choice meaningful.Also, you’ll only have to purchase each upgrade once to use it on all of your cars.But unfortunately, you’ll still have to wade through multiple upgrade menus to get each car up to speed with your latest changes. That can be a little annoying, but it doesn’t happen all that often.
In addition to steering, gas, and brake, you have an emergency brake. which doesn’t come in handy all that often until you get into the really fast cars. You’ll also have a nitrous button, which boosts you up to high speeds and is accompanied by a great-looking blur and shake effect.
While the car models themselves look a little flat, the environments in NFSU Rivals are excellent. You’ll also notice little details, like neon reflecting off the street. The reflection of the sky and nearby buildings in your car’s tinted windows. But when it comes to the racing genre, all of those things take a backseat to how well a game can convey a sense of speed.
You’ll run into some random spots where the frame rate takes a serious dive, but for the most part. The game runs smooth enough to make you feel like you’re flying down the pavement, especially in drag races and nitrous runs.
Also on the subject of music, NFSU Rivals uses something that EA calls EA Pocket Trax. This mode is just an overblown music player that lets you listen to the songs in the game. In one case, you can actually watch a music video for one of the songs, which is a neat bonus. It would have been nice if you could just access the game’s soundtrack from the PSP’s music menu instead.
If you played a lot of Need for Speed Underground 2. You probably couldn’t help but notice the constant bombardment of product placement. The good news is that, for whatever reason, Rivals doesn’t contain any of that nonsense. In fact, since you can’t choose the brands of upgrades you install anymore, the game almost seems slightly stripped down. You can still access licensed vinyl from various car parts and stereo manufacturers. So if you’re partial to, say, Brembo, you can fly your company colors with pride. This sort of optional branding is much less invasive than the nonstop advertising that made NFSU2 feel so cheap.
Fans of the Need for Speed Underground series will feel right at home with Rivals. It gets rid of the overblown, big-city atmosphere of the recent console release. And puts the focus on getting into races–the best part of the series–very quickly. Though a few minor tweaks would have made Rivals a bit better. There’s enough fast-paced driving action here to satisfy race fans.