Perhaps it's the default community response only because it's made by EA or because "the old NFS (or the old anything) was better" or perhaps I am biased as Hot Pursuit 2010 is my favourite racing game, and Rivals is the most similar thing to it, too bad Hot Pursuit is not on PS4 though.
I have always preferred Racing+ games, I don't like "dry", no-frills racing, I'm not a big fan of simulation, I want arcade, flashy fun, if you like simulation, why not invest in a real, actual car, make for example rally racing or whatever your hobby? Probably even cheaper than the cost of all the required systems and tools, gaming steering wheels, etc. and way more realistic than the best of digital simulation.
Back to the point, the pluses are the following:
+ Very good graphics, even for today's standards.
+ Rich in particle effects and physics, rain drops, leaves, parts of damaged cars' plastic flying around, destructible environment effects, etc.
+ Dynamic time of day and weather.
+ Open world environment which feels alive, action-filled and dense with diverse activities even in offline single-player.
+ You can challenge random A.I. racers while free-roaming for a one VS one race right on the spot.
+ The controls are good, responsive. Even more satisfying if you properly upgrade your car.
+ No always-online requirement, no micro-transaction loot boxes.
+ Cheap in price due to its age despite still holding up in quality.
+ Minimalist in story telling, no cringy, unlikeable characters with bad facial animations, just some cutscenes with action and little monologue along with it, both in racer career and cop career, some amusing jabs targeting popular culture.
+ Upgradeable cars (in Racer career) both in performance and visual style, upgrades are noticeable and satisfying, free cars in Cop career.
+ Usable weapons, similar to Hot Pursuit 2010, things like EMPs, spike strips, jammers and some new coming tools are here as well.
+ Game rewards you in racing like crazy, taking risks and being good at avoiding, outsmarting cops in Racer career, it adds sense of adrenaline - the longer you hold on and faster, better you do, all point rewards get multiplied (multiplier is similar to wanted level in GTA, for example 2 "stars" in here means you get double points of all actions which reward them, 3 stars - triple and so on) while obviously, higher multiplier means higher police resistance.
And now comes the choice:
1. Do you raise the heat and farm loads of points and risk losing them all you have accumulated in the current session if you get busted or wrecked?
2. Do you rush to the closest safe point to cash in your points when the heat gets a little too high, thus resetting multiplier (wanted level) and securing those points you already got?
You are encouraged to follow the 1st point, because unlike in Cop career, Racers must purchase their cars with these in-game points, unlocking car in Racer career (by advancing in the story) merely mean - available for purchase. Also all the upgrades on higher levels get quite expensive.
Of course, 2nd point also in some situations can be the smartest choice, depends on the situation and how good are you.
However, the game is not perfect, that's why 4 stars not 5, and the minuses are following:
-Needs for patch ASAP, out-of-the-disc version got some frame pacing problems, even back in the day when this was released, patches even after release were included in the "development cycle".. thus, making gamers who bought on release day unpaid beta testers.
-Outrageously overpriced DLC, but it is not necessery to purchase it, there are just some new cars, that's it. However, that DLC is included in the patch, it already takes your previous HDD space! Purchasing it merely unlocks the ability to access it.
-No pause option. Even in offline single player. This was EA's "test" how to push people online, adding inconveniences, getting them used to having no pause as it is online even if you're playing offline. They took it much further with NFS 2015, forcing always online even in single player. Luckily that's not the case here.
-The soundtrack sucks. I know, some say "taste of music is subjective" but I disagree. The music in this game is objectively bad, and even putting tastes aside, it doesn't even match a racing game! Luckily the music can be turned off.
-The cops are completely BS in this game when you play as a Racer. While the IDEA of it is fine, which I described in the pluses, they quite often get extremely aggressive very quickly, also even if you are just free roaming (not participating in a race, hot pursuit, etc.) driving slowly and not hitting anything, merely passing a cop will trigger a pursuit against you which is completely moronic!
You also feel squishy even with maximum durability upgrades.
- When you crash or your car spins out, it does NOT reset position. If you were facing sides or even the opposite direction after a crash, it will respawn in such position. Thus, some crashes, some mess-ups can be much worse than others. Especially if you also got wanted level, get T-boned by cops as soon as you respawn and then get EMPs spammed against you. For extra "fun", combine it with a lot of points accumulated in the current session!
-While overall graphics are very good, distant terrain environments, especially in the desert areas could look much better.. also the snowy mountain area doesn't look visually impressive, the snow in previous game Most Wanted 2010 looked better. Luckily the rest of the game's areas look very pleasing and are satisfying, even exceeding expectations.
-While the particle physics are fine, sometimes actual car physics get wacky. I got a weird crash which made my car fly up straight in the air and "stop" where the game's invisible height "ceiling" was... well, that's how I got an all-time speed record of 700 MPH with an entry-level, un-upgraded car!
-At some parts of the game world it is not clear whether or not the obstacle is destructible or would result in a car crash, also some places got confusing layouts and sharp turns, can be annoying but at the same time, these are very helpful to fool and escape from cops.
-When you select a race, it does not show on the map it's shape, thus the first time for any new race might be a wild ride, especially if it got confusing or sharp turns.
-While this "dark souls" principle of accumulating a lot of points and risk losing them if you get defeated can be fun, in here it is worse than dark souls, you do not get a chance to get them back after messing up the first time. Combined with overly aggressive cops, it can be very frustrating.
In conclusion: This is the last good Need for Speed. It does the most things right and got the least of negatives. NFS 2015 is out of discussion, forced always-online, especially on a PlayStation 4, this is not PC we're talking about, is completely unacceptable and as far as the new NFS: Payback is like, it sucks, there's no fun actions in open world, graphically it doesn't even look that much better than Rivals, it removes your control and immersion from awesome action stunts with a cutscene and it's infested with grinding made especially such way to encourage you to purchase microtransaction lootboxes! To hell with that!
It's a shame that NFS franchise has died and that this rather old game is the last good one, but as I had mentioned, it still holds up quite impressively even for today's standards!