The Need For Speed series has seen its share of ups and downs, but last year marked a tremendous high point with the release of Criterion Games' captivating Most Wanted.  It represented everything we've come to love about the series.  Now Electronic Arts is about to up the ante again with Need For Speed: Rivals, which makes its current and next-generation debut later this year.

Rivals is being developed by Ghost Games with help from Criterion. In Rivals, it's all about building a high number of points and being the best thing on four wheels – and that doesn't just mean scoring first place in each race.  It helps, but you need to do more to increase your point total.

Style goes a long way in Wanted.  Speeding through intersections and on the wrong side of the road – dodging traffic while doing so, obviously – will help, along with performing stunts, like drifting your way around a corner without losing speed or aggressively taking out a driver by ramming into and causing him or her to have an accident – a staple in both the Burnout and Need For Speed games of late.

Best of all, Rivals gives you the opportunity to play on either side of the competition.  You can be an all-out street racer without a care in the world, using turbo boosts and items in the environment to your advantage.  On the other side, you can play as the police, driving along in speedy little Lamborghinis and other vehicles, using such toys as spike strips that can deflate an opponent's tires and make them lose speed, and an EMP capable of shutting down a ride.

With the hands-on demo we experienced, players were divided into teams with the goal of seeing who could get the highest score. In Rivals' racing world, you don't have a pre-set path to follow, though there are events you can activate, whether it's competing against a rival or partaking in a race in a certain part of the city.  It's simply a matter of driving up and hitting the left shoulder button to activate the event.

The open-world racing style really suits Rivals based on what we've played.  Being able to engage in pursuit or getaway driving with the click of a button is fantastic, and you can change rivals at any time if you feel like someone will deliver a greater challenge after you've wrecked your opponent.

There's a risk and reward system with earning points in Rivals, as you can easily lose all you've accumulated by getting wrecked or pulled over by the police.  Thankfully, there are checkpoints where you can choose to "bank" your points, taking the safe route and then getting back on the road to earn more.  You just need to make sure you don't have someone in hot pursuit when you get there – last thing you need is to get robbed of your rewards when you're so close.

With the AllDrive system, you're able to challenge anyone in the world, whether they're AI drivers or online opponents.  This is a great system, though we didn't see many computer drivers in the demo we played.  The developers did assure, however, that the world would be highly populated with challenges.  

Finally, let's talk about the gameplay.  Ghost Games learned a thing or two from the team at Criterion and Rivals handles very well. Utilizing secondary options like the EMP and turbo boost are relatively easy, and the controls work flawlessly with the PlayStation 4 controller – which was used for the demo – when it comes to drifting and maintaining high speed.  You still run the risk of getting into an accident if you're not careful, but as you play on, you learn the layout of the city and can easily use it to your advantage to wreck others.  

Rivals looks like a fine next gen introduction for the long-running racing series, while still serving up some free-wheeling fun for those who own current systems.  The AllDrive system should definitely increase your chances for competition, and those police do have some wonderful cars.  We suggest taking them for a spin.

Need For Speed: Rivals will release for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC this November, and for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One shortly thereafter.