It's an interesting approach, and for the most part it works, lending you both reason and reward for exploring Redview County. It also ensures you're not simply driving from one "mission" to another to advance the story. This is most fortunate, because what little story there is takes itself more seriously than Masterchef.
It's also important to note that the world you inhabit while playing Rivals is a meld of Single and Multiplayer. No wait, don't drive away just yet, this actually works pretty well. Redview county is populated by up to seven other players, who for the most part drive around following their own thread. Occasionally though, you'll encounter one of them, and the results can be quite spectacular.
For example, a fellow Racer might challenge you to a head-to-head race, which sets a random finish line on the map and says "Go there fast!" So you'll be jostling for position, slamming into one another, using Pursuit tech (more on that in a moment) in an attempt to hobble the other Racer, when out of nowhere a player Police car will appear, lights flashing, sirens blaring. Suddenly your head-to-head race is now also a pursuit. The AI police are setting up roadblocks and spike traps ahead of you, and the player cop has also called in a helicopter that blinds you with its searchlight. And, then, as if things couldn't get any worse, a thunderstorm breaks overhead, its needle like raindrops lashing down onto your screen, further obscuring your vision.
The Rivals has a tendency to escalate like this, generating increasingly absurd and thrilling situations out of its interlinking systems. This is especially the case if you're playing as a Racer. Racers have a multiplier on their Speed Points (the in-game currency) for the longer they stay on the road, but at the same time they have a multiplier on their Heat level, which attracts more police, and if they are Busted or Wrecked before they reach a hideout, they lose all those accumulated points.
Playing as a Cop is less electrifying but more satisfying. Nailing a racer after a particularly long chase makes you feel awfully smug. Even better is completing a "Hot Pursuit" mission, which involves taking down several Racers at once before they can complete their race. Aiding you in this quest for vehicular justice is your pursuit tech, deployable weaponry that ranges from the aforementioned spike traps to an EMP that temporarily makes a Racer lose control of their car. But Racers have their own arsenal too, including the best Pursuit Tech in the game, a "Shockwave" that sends cops and racers alike slamming into nearby obstacles.
This bleeds into a more general issue with NFS: Rivals, the fun is weighted just a little too much in favour of the Racers. Cops can't upgrade their vehicles. They drive what they're given, and a few of the challenges are a bit dull, in particular "Rapid Response" which is essentially a Time Trial where you aren't allowed to hit anything. This is logical, of course, but this is also a game where all the cars have a nitrous button and are brimming with on-board weaponry, so that isn't much of an argument.
But a more pressing problem for Rivals is that it's all a bit wayward and frivolous. The lack of any real purpose to the proceedings means it is unlikely to hold your attention for long periods of time. On the other hand, it's also very easy to dip into, so it's a useful game to have in your library when you've only got half an hour and don't particularly want to get involved in some sprawling epic with soul-crushing moral choices.
Need For Speed Rivals spins a lot of plates, letting you play as both Racers and Poilce, interweaving single and multiplayer, precariously balancing itself between absorbing open-world simulation and quickfire casual racer. Some of these it definitely spins better than others, but at the same time it manages to avoid any of them toppling, smashing on the floor and spraying the audience with deadly ceramic shards. And at the end of the day, that a game doesn't accidentally kill its entire audience is all we really ask.