It’s like they brought me into a room as a one man focus group in 1994 and twenty years later they produced this as the result” – Stan Bowles takes on Need For Speed Rivals

I’m not very good at racing games.

I think I can trace it back to playing Pole Position in arcades as a kid. When I worked out that I could spin the wheel at corners with better results than trying to drive ‘properly’ I unknowingly started down a road (pun intended) that I’d find hard to turn off of. That early experience shaped my abysmal driving technique for years to come. I never braked at corners; very often didn’t even bother to take my foot off the accelerator. I bought the original Gran Turismo and hated it with a burning passion. My main tactic to progress in single player games was battering and barging past the CPU opposition.

Over the last number of years I’ve tried to become a reformed racer. The advent of online racing meant I had to tidy up my game. Braking at corners, avoiding contact with other cars; hell I’ve even started using manual gears in the last couple of Forza games. I’m still rubbish compared to most people I play against, but I look back to how I used to play and hang my head in shame.

What’s the point in this long, rambling intro? Well, youthful me would have fucking LOVED Need for Speed Rivals. Your finger never leaves the throttle, to get round a corner you give the slightest of touches to the brake and your car happily slips into an easily controllable drift. Gears? What are those exactly? And for one side of the game the main focus is to actively smack your car into other cars with the aim of taking them off the road! It’s like they brought me into a room as a one man focus group in 1994 and twenty years later they produced this as the result.

NFSR is spilt into two halves, a 20 level story mode as both a cop and a racer. I say story mode as there’s a terrible plot complete with cut scenes. But what it basically boils down to is ‘smash the crap out of the racers’ or ‘avoid getting smashed to shit by the cops’, depending on who you’re playing as at the time.

You’re dropped into fictional US location Redview County, populated by both AI and real life opponents. Amble around as much as you like, take in the sights, beat your friend’s times in events or stunt jumps. But to progress and get better cars and gear you’ll need to move through the story by completing set objectives. These either involve events dotted around the map, or will be specific to the completely superfluous story.

Playing as a Racer gives you access to a basic risk-reward mechanic – the longer you stay out on the road, the bigger your multiplier becomes; the more money you earn for upgrades to your ever-growing fleet of cars. However, the bigger the multiplier, the higher your Heat level which brings more attention from the cops. It’s a fairly simple idea but it works really well and it raises the tension considerably. Making away with a big haul of cash with only a sliver of health left on your car is incredibly satisfying.

After that, the cop side of life seems fairly dull – on the face of it. The Heat level mechanic has no equivalent, so you just have to progress though the story. There’s no car customisation. The reward for progression is Pursuit Tech – weapons that help you bring down racers such as spike strips, EMPs, road blocks and eventually the ability to call in helicopter assistance. While the options appear limited, I’ll confess I enjoyed playing as a cop much more. My previously documented years of abysmal driving came into their own when tasked with battering those around me. And the satisfaction of car smashing is amplified when you realise that the racer you’ve brought down isn’t AI but another player.

It doesn’t take a huge amount of time to play out either story, but once you’ve reached level 20 you can carry on to level 60. The story progression tree has three events at each level, so once you go through it you’re free to go back and complete the other two challenges at each level. And then there is the fiendishly addictive Autolog, constantly telling you that one of your friends has beaten your time yet again. NFSR is a game that will keep you entertained as long as you’re enjoying it.

This isn’t a game for purists. It’s a cheap racing thrill that is unashamedly unrealistic. The MP integration is interesting but with only six players per session you can forget that you are often playing with other people. The graphics and sounds are great but you aren’t going to go out and buy a next gen console to just to play it.

However as someone who is terrible at racing games, I’ve had an awful lot of fun with it.