Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is from the celebrated Burnout Paradise developers at Criterion, and it marks a return to form for the classic Need for Speed series. For this console generation, the majority of games that have been released under the Need for Speed title have been a little lackluster, and while I had some fun with Need for Speed: Most Wanted and the more recent Need for Speed Shift, Hot Pursuit is the boost of energy that Electronic Arts' flagship series has needed. There's also some interesting online integration with the addition of the Autolog feature.
In the fictional location of Seacrest County, which is known for its incredible road designs, racers take their exotic cars and battle it out in races. Of course, all of this activity is technically illegal, so the police force has outfitted its cruisers with super-fast vehicles to deal with the ever-increasing amount of speeder tourists. It's pretty much a page out of a car nut's fantasy book, and the story line is just a flimsy excuse to get behind the wheel of really fast cars, but I like the minimalist approach. The story never interferes with the gameplay, and aside from the simple introduction to the scenario, it's never really brought up again. This tackles one of my issues with some of the previous Need for Speed titles on the Xbox 360 and PS3: They kept trying to make them lite versions of "Fast and the Furious." Thankfully, they don't bother with it in this outing.
You choose to take on the role of the Seacrest cops or the speeders. You can switch back and forth between either side at any time, so you're not locked into your decision for the entirety of the game. The overworld map offers various races and other gameplay modes, and each location has a number of unlockable race types. As you advance in rank, of which there are 20 for each side, you'll unlock more race types. You can also revisit previous races if you're looking to improve your score or medals.
Hot Pursuit has an interesting feature called Autolog, which is a persistent online presence — provided you have your console hooked up to either Xbox Live or the Playstation Network. Autolog tracks your progress in relation to your friends, but this isn't just a matter of having online leaderboards like other games. Instead, you'll have an option referred to as Wall (similar to your wall on the social networking site, Facebook), where you can post your best times for your friends to see, including a little bit of text if you want to do some trash-talking. If your friend checks his wall and sees your post, he can select your post, and it'll take him right to the track or race in which you just bested him, and he'll directly challenge your best score. It's a neat feature that works really well, and other online-focused titles should take note.
Another interesting feature of Autolog is its ability to match you up with other Hot Pursuit players from around the world. If your friends list is a little devoid of anyone who owns the game, it'll scout your friends' friend lists in an effort to widen the scope so you can add some people to play with and compare scores. This is a little more interesting than suggesting random people, since you have the slight connection of a common friend. It certainly makes for less awkward introductions, and it's definitely a nice feature to have.
Of course, this wouldn't be much of a Need for Speed title without an emphasis on cars, and Hot Pursuit really delivers on this front. At the outset, you'll have access to some cars that might be affordable and attainable in real life, but it quickly spirals into the more exotic brands, like Ferrari, Maserati and Porsche. There are a number of cars to choose from, and you'll unlock new vehicles almost after every race. This can be a slight complaint since you'll rarely spend more than a few races with one car before having something else new and shiny placed in front of you, but the sheer number of awesome cars more than makes up for that. It's still possible to have favorites when you go online, and your garage is split into five categories to ensure that you're always racing against vehicles that are at least within your class range so you're not overpowered. To give you a sneak peek at some of the available car models, here's a short list:
- Alfa Romeo 8c Spider
- BMW Z4 Sdrive35is
- Maserati Gran Cabrio
- Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X
- Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet
- Porsche Boxster Spyder
That's just a small sampling of the cars in Hot Pursuit, and they all handle extremely well. There's enough of a difference between each vehicle to make them stand out from one another, and while I'd label the physics of Hot Pursuit as being more akin to arcade racers than simulations like Sony's Gran Turismo series, there's still some challenge when it comes to drifting and keeping up with your competitors. It's not so difficult that you'll have to carefully take each turn with precision, but you'll need a certain level of control over your speed and braking in order to be successful.
Whether you're playing as the cops or speeders, each vehicle in Hot Pursuit also comes equipped with a small arsenal. Cops have a spike strip to deploy for racers behind them, road blocks that can be set up at a point ahead, a helicopter that will fly ahead and deploy a spike strip, and an EMP that can lock on to vehicles and temporarily disable them. The speeders also have a spike strip and EMP, but they also come equipped with an extra turbo ability (beyond the normal boosts) and a jammer that disables weapons on the opposing side for a short period of time. Playing as either side in chase races can be a hectic experience right down to the last second, and available weapons make that even more thrilling. No single weapon feels particularly overpowered, either, so they all have very specific strengths and weaknesses.
Some of the most fun I've had with the title was in the online mode, which has a limited number of modes, but one in particular is a lot of fun. Besides a head-to-head race scenario for two players, where one is a cop and the other is a speeder, and a basic race mode for up to eight players, there's a third mode dubbed Hot Pursuit that pits four cops against four speeders in a race to the finish line. If you're the cops, you're trying to knock the speeders out of the race before they hit the finish line, and if you're a speeder, you're simply trying to finish the race. Each side comes with all four weapons at their disposal with some limited uses, and it's a really fun and challenging mode for everyone. Points earned at the end of each multiplayer race go toward your single-player levels, so it's entirely possible to level up through 20 ranks by playing nothing but multiplayer if you choose to do so. This means that you can unlock all the vehicles in the game without ever touching the single-player portion.
If you couldn't tell by now, I really enjoyed Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, and it's certainly one of the best racers I've played this year. It's a great game by the developers at Criterion, who once again show that they know what they're doing when it comes to racing. The online integration is really well done, and I have high hopes for the series moving forward. Even though Gran Turismo 5 is now available, Hot Pursuit is absolutely worth checking out for racing fans.
More articles about Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit