Rivals features a career progression system for both Cop and Racer.Progression is made 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 new content, and is presented with another set of objectives to choose from.
The Autolog system, a competition-between-friends system, developed by Criterion for Hot Pursuit, lets 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 allows players to transition from playing alone, to playing with friends, described as "destroying the line between single player and multiplayer". This allows players to engage in 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, such 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 for the Aston Martin Vanquish (and several DLC vars), all vehicles in the game are only available in either racer or police variant.