Need for Speed: Rivals features a rapturous gameplay having some resemblance to 2010's Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit title in the Need for Speed franchise with exotic cars and high-speed police chases. Players take on the role of a Racer or a Cop, with each side of the law offering its own set of challenges, risks and rewards. Rivalsfeatures eleven upgradeable gadgets such as EMPs, shockwaves and the ability to call in roadblocks. The game takes place in a fictional location known as Redview County. It's an open world and features over 100 miles (160 km) of open road, larger than that of 2012's Need for Speed: Most Wanted, but on the same size as Criterion'sHot Pursuit. The open world features a similar set-up to Most Wanted, with several jumps, speed traps and unlockable cars, as well as shortcuts that are not shown on the map.
Rivals features a dynamic weather system, which makes "the world feel alive in a much bigger sense than any other Need for Speed game". Ferrari also returns to the franchise in full form for the first time in eleven years.
Rivals features a full career progression for both Cop and Racer. When playing as a Cop, there are three types of career that can be followed – patrol, enforcer, and undercover. Progression is by means of Speedlists for Racer and Assignments for Cop, which are sets of objectives which involve dangerous driving, maneuvers, and race standings. When the player completes a set of objectives, the player levels up and unlocks items, and is presented with another set of objectives to choose from. TheAutolog system, a competition-between-friends system developed by Criterion for Hot Pursuit and since used in other titles in theNeed for Speed series, factors into the progression system, comparing how quickly the player complete an Assignment or Speedlist to other players' times and posts them to a Speed Wall for local and global leaderboards.
Rivals features a new social system called the AllDrive, which allow players to seamlessly transition from playing alone, to playing with friends, described as "destroying the line between single player and multiplayer". This allows players to in engage co-op gameplay as well as play against each other. The game also features a dynamic weather system, which makes "the world feel alive in a much bigger sense than any other Need for Speed game."
Rivals also takes on some gameplay styles of earlier Underground titles in the franchise with cues on aesthetic vehicle personalization, as paint jobs, decals, rims and license plates and liveries can be modified, as well as vehicle performance, and various Pursuit Tech gadgets. With the exception of the Aston Martin Vanquish, other vehicles are only available in either racer or police variant. Ferrari officially return to the franchise in full form for the first time in eleven years since Hot Pursuit 2 in 2002 (although they've appeared in 2009's Shift as Xbox 360-exclusive downloadable content) with the F12berlinetta, 458 Spider, 458 Italia, FF, Enzo, and 599 GTO being the only Ferrari vehicles confirmed so far.