The Need for Speed game series had been lagging behind for some time after Most Wanted hit the scene in 2005. It wasn't until last year's Need for Speed: Shift by Blackbox that the series started coming to life again. This year, the game series has changed hands to Criterion Games, which is mostly known for the Burnout series. Just like Blackbox did with Shift, Criterion has given the game a massive overhaul. The game's name, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, might conjure up memories of one of the classic entries in the series, but this year's version has the potential to supersede it in every way.
There were several points of interest the producers wanted to emphasize during our hands-off session with the game. The first, and potentially game-changing one, is called Autolog. In just about every area except for the actual races, the game will give constant updates on the world around you. In the demo, the producers showed Autolog informing you of the total number of bounty points that have been accumulated by either the cops or the racers. As the demo progressed, these numbers were updated to reflect the performances of the players who were testing the game just outside of the press area. (The stats showed that the cops were winning by a decent margin.)
The Autolog becomes a more effective feature when your friends get involved. The game scans your friend list and sees how many of them have played the game, which modes they're good at and which modes they've beat you in. The information is constantly fed to you, and if you see that someone on the list has beaten you, you can directly take on the challenge without having to set up anything. The information from the friends list is updated in real time, and in an attempt to make it like a social network, players on the list can upload their own photos both in and out of the game, use their own photos for their profiles, or post their own tiny messages for others to read.
The second point is the ability to race as a cop. Apparently, the ability to race on the right side of the law was an often-requested feature by the fans, and this game will fulfill their wishes. Like the racers, the cops will get the same exotic cars but with their own custom paint styles. The various challenges that can be had with car combinations are extensive, and one group won't get an advantage over the other based on cars alone.
The level seen in the demo was the same one presented at EA's E3 press conference a few days ago, as was the game mode Interceptor set in the fictional area of Seacrest County and filled with blue skies and giant redwoods. After an opening cut scene showing the racer breaking through a police barricade and the cop in pursuit, the race was on. We saw the spike strip weapon used before in the presentation, but now, we saw the cops' other weapons in the race. The police chopper can be used to keep track of the racer no matter where he or she is on the map. An extra police barricade can be called in, and an EMP blast can also be deployed to slow down the car. While all of the police weaponry is of the offensive nature, the racers have a few defensive weapons of their own. For example, the radar scrambler messes up the cop radar for a bit, so it becomes harder for them to read their maps. The decoy sends out another dot on their radar and is mostly used whenever there is a fork in the road. Each of the weapons on both sides can be recharged over time, so if both players are very good, you can expect to see the same weapon unleashed multiple times before it all ends.
Just as the past games, the speed was blisteringly fast and there wasn't a visual hiccup in sight. Aside from some great detail seen on the cars, you could also get a visual representation of how bad your car looks after hitting obstacles or trading paint with the opponent. As bad as the twisted metal of a car looks in real life, it has some beauty in the game. The sound also adheres to some of the series' ideals. Epic chase scores, piercing tire screeches, and loud engine hums blasted through the speakers to make the chase more exciting. Even though the title is months away from release, those who are looking for Criterion to pull out the technical stops won't be disappointed.
Overall, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is shaping up to be another memorable entry in the legendary series. The Autolog feature really feeds in to the whole mentality of trying to play just one more match in order to best your opponent. It also brings with it the sense that everything you do counts in the game world, making the return of car chases much more exciting for both sides. More information about the other on- and offline modes will be coming in hot as the November release date approaches.
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