Need for Speed is almost a household name nowadays, it’s the epitome of arcade racers and probably the longest running too. Over the past few decades it has come in all shapes and sizes from the gritty street racer simulator to the very professional arena racing sponsorship riddled outing a few years back.

Need for Speed: Rivals is the first game from Ghost Games, a relatively new British developer that is currently under the wing of a large number of staff from Criterion Games. With it being about the 20th entry into the series there is a lot of expectations to be met and Ghost have hit the nail on the head.

Across the lifetime of Need for Speed there has been an intermittent story but as far as I can tell with Rivals there is none. Aside from living out the childhood dreams of being a racer car driver, a policeman and a bad guy all in one with the split racer and cop campaigns. Throughout the campaigns you have small cinematic introductions that accompany the segments between the chapters that either tell you to shut down the bad guys or “GO FASTER!”.

As usual Need for Speed boasts a great soundtrack. It’s the kind of music you might not listen to on a regular basis but will get you pumped for going at break neck speeds. For me it was the perfect accompaniment to my Sunday driver attitude as the boy racers screech past my doting cop car.

In terms of stuff to do, NFS Rivals feels like the sandbox equivalent of racers. There are; speed cameras, speed zones, jumps, racers to shut down, cops to evade, rivals to challenge and speedwall records to smash. A countless number of races with great variety to keep you locked in and interested. My personal favourite being those that task you with annihilating racers with pursuit tech and your own car when playing as a police officer. It kind of feels like a shade of Burnout and it’s deeply satisfying.

The addition of the varying areas of the map and lack of loading seamlessly blends such beautiful scenery into the carnage that ensues amidst the races. With sandy, deserts, open road and thick forestation the map is a delight to traverse. It might be hard to take in as you hurtle through it only recognising the small parts you try to avoid colliding with. It’s certainly worth taking a second look before you career in to that barrier and embrace the scenery as all the other competitors whizz by.

For me the best bit of all the most recent Need for Speed games is the autolog. It’s the hyper-competitive gamer’s dreams come true and it’s your worst nightmare. The autolog is a great device to see which friends are beating you and where. Constant updates on the speedwall and the speed camera leaderboards are something that, ashamedly, grip me more than the game itself sometimes. I always seem to find myself competing against friends on one race until I smash their score and completely forget about all the other races. It’s just that good.

For those of you looking for a more classical approach to the online aspect that isn’t the autolog you might find the odd way in which Need for Speed approaches online to be as innovative as I did. Rivals now has every gamer as a host, here you can have up to 7 friends join your server and compete in your career, sharing their points and rewards. It’s a great idea that is reminiscent of Burnout Paradise. Although therein lies the problem, it’s something I’ve seen before and didn’t like that has been improved. I still don’t like it. There is no direct way to just go online and race that I could see. It felt like I was always waiting for stragglers to stumble in without the option to select a type of race and quickly matchmake my way into a populated race. It’s a staple of online racing. I shouldn’t need to hope people populated my game, it should be an option to go and race. Not join a game and hope they all agreed to participate in the same race as you, if there is anyone there at all. The best bet would be to find friends to invite into your session and meet up.

When it comes down to it Rivals is fun, arcadey and provides hours of entertainment. Albeit the hours you invest might be spent in solitude if none of your friends have the game. A vast improvement on Most Wanted in every way. There is even the ability to customise your car again and to be honest that’s all I wanted. I have the need, the need for speed.