Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit ReviewMark Ainsworth
Need for Speed is a franchise that has been kicking around for a long time now with no real push forward in any regard; the series has been diluted down again and again in different variations and the most recent efforts have been the equivalent to recent music games. I say this in the sense that it's just same old, same old. Enter Criterion, the developer behind the Burnout series, it seems EA called in the artillery for Hot Pursuit and it shows.
Whisking players away to the fictional location of Seacrest County you are given the choice of being a racer or a chaser, the differences between the two are quite large and it is by no means a non entity' choice that has no impact. You see racers do exactly that, they take to the roads in order to beat each other for respect and pride while avoiding capture by police; whereas the law enforcers do their utmost to take out these speedsters and stop the races from taking place. Both paths progress in a similar manner, due to the fact that completing missions/races for either side earns you bounty for that faction therefore increasing your rank. The maximum of each is 20 and you earn bounty by performing feats like winning races or taking shortcuts if you're a racer or taking down suspects as quick as possible as a cop.
There are of course other different aspects to each side and that can come in the shape of on track assistance as
the racers come packed with jammers, EMPs, spike strips and turbo boosts. The chasers come with EMPs, helicopter assistance, road blocks and spike strips. While not strictly all different, there is at least some variety to keep things fresh. The single player further divides each faction by giving each of them their own races to keep them busy through their career. As a good old-fashion speeding racer you have 60 events to try your hand at and work your way through ranging from time trials, duels, straight races, previews (a race against time in a car you haven't unlocked yet) and then the titular Hot Pursuit races where you take on other racers and the law.
It's strange really that Criterion added in so many different types of races when you'll find yourself wanting to really only play one of them, that being the Hot Pursuit. Yet you find yourself racing against no one but time a lot more than you think and it's a confusing design choice. All the hard work has been done and it's indeed clear when competing in the intense namesake races as you have a genuine blast. It is a shame, however, that you are then made to do these mundane 'lonely' events; of course there has to be something other than one style of race, but when you find it rare' to be involved in races that the game is named after, you can't help but scratch your head a little.
On the flip side there is the police route to get your kicks out of and this path offers a lesser 48 events, yet manages to entertain slightly more in terms of what it has to give. There are still time trials and previews but you get to experience interceptor events' where you are thrown into the open world environment and essentially have a one-on-one Hot Pursuit tracking down your suspect and taking him off the road is exhilarating. When you get to do these and the full Hot Pursuits you can't help but smile.
I've rambled on about the gameplay features quite enough so let's talk about the actual handling of the game and how it plays. Truth be told it plays very well and it's fairly old school as you gain nitrous by driving dangerously but well in terms of driving toward oncoming traffic or taking shortcuts or drifting around corners. Cars all handle as you'd expect and you'll need to practice just a little at drifting large corners to get the hang of it completely but overall the game actually plays very well. You will also be unlocking cars at an alarming rate with a lot of licensed models to gawk at and drool over if you love cars. Even if not you can appreciate the high fidelity here, the only problem is you unlock so many cars with such regularity and little difference in each that you never really find yourself needing that other car. Just pick your favorite and go is the story here it seems.
I may have been a little down on certain single player races but there is actually a remedy for all those point A to B style races and that is of course online. Here you can choose to play Hot Pursuit races till your heart is content with the action never ending and the best bit is that all the bounty earned is accredited to your single player experience. So all online progress benefits your offline progress, neat huh? Aside from Hot Pursuits you can play variations on each that are just as fun, as you get more of a thrill' taking down or beating real players as the sense of satisfaction is higher.
One aspect that makes this game so good is the visuals Criterion has implemented and what they do with them. I stated earlier that the cars themselves look fantastic as indeed they do but it's not just the vehicles themselves that are stunning, environments and tracks are equally well designed and are a joy to tear through in speeding cars. The use of intense weather effects is also brilliant as you will find yourself driving through storms, snow, rain and glorious sunshine. While that may seem a bit standard fare, it all goes to make each race seem a little fresher.
Overall the feeling you get when playing this title is that they've taken Need for Speed back to its roots and that is by no means a bad thing as Criterion has taken what made the franchise great back in the day and injected it straight back into the new game. There are no failed twists on gameplay or locations to be found here; instead it's all just adrenaline speed fueled fun no matter what side you choose for the single player aspect. Online is just as fun if not more so due to the high octane action you experience chasing down real racers or beating them as a speedster yourself. The only real complaint is the heavy use of time based races which need to be refined in the sequel but apart from that you'll have great fun with this if track racing isn't your thing.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.