For one moment, the gap between playing a game on PC and on console seemed razor-thin. I played Need for Speed Rivals on both PC and PS4 and the two versions of EA's upcoming racing game were virtually indistinguishable. What I saw was impressive no matter what machine it was running on.
There are caveats, of course. The footage above was captured from a hands-on demo I played when EA brought Rivals to town last week. It's from a PC build of the game that was running side-by-side with PS4 builds. (Note that I'm not the one behind the wheel there. The driving in the clip is being done by EA's Marcus Nilsson. I am in the session, though, playing on PC with a PS4 controller under the Rivals_Whisky username.) There was no Xbox One version on hand at the demo session. And you should keep in mind that specs for the PC version weren't available and I have no way of knowing if Rivals was running on Ultra settings.
For the most part, though, the two looked essentially the same. Take in the videos in this post and you'll see the kinds of reflective surfaces, chaotic particle effects and dynamic lighting that serve as hallmarks of cutting-edge game-making. The team making the game is made up of creators from the DICE and Criterion shops, meaning that they've worked on Battlefield and Burnout games in the past.
But it's easy to point to visual sizzle as evidence of improvement. What's really next-gen about Rivals? Nilsson — who's heading up the Ghost Games dev studio making the game — told me that it was Rivals' AllDrive feature, which lets players seamlessly drop in and out of each other's games. While features like this have been in NFS games before, Nilsson says that AllDrive as part of a rising trend for next-gen games that blur the line between single-player and multiplayer. Rivals, he said, sits alongside games like Titanfall and Destiny in how it presents an open world with dynamic challenges that be handled solo or with co-op partners. "We thought about how we want to play games in the future and this is where we wound up. It's delivering all sorts of unexpected experiences, which are a different kind of fun."
Need for Speed Rivals did feel wild and unpredictable when I played with members of the Ghost Games team. We took on the role of cops and just jumped in open-world play with a single , for example, were yelling at each other to cut off a racer who was pulling away. Regarding the PS4 version of the game, Nilsson says that the controller's Share button will pull footage from the session you're playing in. (This functionality wasn't live in the version of the game I played.) Rivals won't be using the DualShock 4's touchpad, though, as Nilsson said that the developers wanted to "use what makes sense" when it came to the console's available features.
Watch the short cutscene after one of the pursuits above and you'll see an ominous tone from the police side of the game's split narrative. When I mentioned that to Nilsson, he said part of the storytelling challenge that the team has been tackling has been to craft motivations and a backdrop where all of the game's over-the-top racing action fits into a particular logic. "It's a little bit darker and it's a deliberate choice to go and see how far we can take that," Nilsson said.
Shiny graphics. Darker tone. A high-speed playground where friends can join you as they please. Will this mix be enough to rev players up for Need for Speed Rivals? Hard to say, but my time with the game has taken it from 'not paying attention' to 'definitely waiting for this one' category.