Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Review

by on November 28, 2010

Game: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit

Developer: Criterion Games

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Wii and iPhone (Xbox 360 version reviewed)

From the recent release of Shift to the slightly older Underground, the Need for Speed series has gone down many routes since its inception back in 1994. Thanks to the name, the series has always been quite successful in terms of sales, but not every direction taken has yielded critical success.

It’s quite fitting then that the latest addition to the series is a title that aims to take Need for Speed back to its 3DO roots. The racers, cops and chases are all back. With Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, EA have drafted in Criterion Games (the team behind the Burnout series) to bring some genuine thrills and arcade style fun back to the series. Have they managed to achieve their goal? Read on to find out.

GRAPHICS: Every single visual aspect of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit looks great; it’s actually quite hard to pick out a single glaring flaw. The fictional location of Seacrest County consists of some gorgeous looking environments and, whether they are moving or stationary, the vehicles themselves are just stunning to look at. Whether you’re charging down a slope as the sunlight bounces off the body of your shiny Lamborghini or illuminating a tunnel with you flashing lights as a cop in a mean looking Corvette, you will know you’re playing a great looking game.

The visual style is actually quite similar to Burnout Paradise and that is something is to be expected seeing as the same development team is at the helm, but everything in this particular title is just that little bit better. Also, taking into account how good the game looks, it is great to see the on-screen moving along at a brisk pace. You won’t notice any sort of drop in the frame rate and, quite frankly, that is a fantastic achievement on the part of Criterion Games.

SOUND: The soundtrack in Hot Pursuit is an acquired taste, to say the least, but as a companion to the on-screen action, it works well. As a racer you will be treated to a mix of pumping rock anthems and energetic hip-hop beats. When playing as a cop, however, the focus shifts from actual songs to dramatic music. Couple that with some very believable radio chatter and playing as a cop becomes one highly charged, immersive experience.

It’s fair to say that Hot Pursuit isn’t the most realistic of racing games, but the engine sounds are authentic enough to make you believe you are driving some of the most powerful cars in the world. For instance, take control of the Bugatti Veyron in the game and the roar emanating from the engine is enough to make you believe you’re driving around in this beast of car. Sound effects such as rain and thunder are also fantastically recreated, especially the latter.

Stop signs don't mean much in Seacrest County.

GAMEPLAY: As far as arcade racing games go, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit handles like a dream. Much like the visuals, Criterion Games have taken the Burnout Paradise blueprint and improved on it. The handling is ever so slightly more realistic than the aforementioned game, but still remains firmly in arcade territory. Criterion Games seem to have found that sweet spot between the two different styles of racing games and Hot Pursuit embraces it quite brilliantly. It might take a race or two to get to grips with everything, but after that you will be drifting around corners like a pro. Speaking of which, the feeling you get when you nail a perfect drift around a sweeping corner is filled with pure gaming bliss. That feeling is amplified when you emerge from the drift unscathed and boost your way past a rival into the lead.

The fun arcade handling would be nothing without content to go with and thankfully Hot Pursuit has plenty of that. The career mode, which can be alternately played as a racer or a cop, is packed full of a myriad of highly enjoyable and progressively challenging events. As a racer it’s mainly all about trying to win races and keeping the cops at bay, something which gets quite challenging later on in the game. On the other hand, as a member of the SCPD your main goal is to shut down races by taking out those pesky racers. Even though these events are accessed via a Burnout Paradise style map, they are not based in a fully open world. You do have the option of driving around Seacrest County as a cop or racer (Freedrive), but you do not have the ability to trigger events as you do this. Variation comes in the form of time trial events which give you access to super cars that otherwise are only available in the latter half of the game. These events are a welcome addition and serve their purpose as a nice little break away from the madness of the races and pursuits.

In fact, talking about the madness of the races and pursuits actually doesn’t do them justice. You have to partake in these events to understand how over the top, fun and immensely immersive they are. The idea of racing and getting away from the cops or taking down racers is simple, but the execution of these aspects in Hot Pursuit is brilliant. You would be forgiven for thinking that being the cops is the best way to play this game, but that is certainly not the case. Taking down racers is certainly fun, but the core gameplay is very well balanced and that makes stepping into the shoes of either side a huge amount of fun. The racers are armed with unique upgradeable abilities such as turbo and jammers (very useful), whereas the cops have access to road blocks and helicopters. In addition to that, to keep things even, both sides have access to EMPs and spike strips (these can be upgraded too). Every single one of these abilities has a counter and therein lies the beauty of the chase/escape mechanic included in the game. On the surface everything seems very simple, but when you pop open the hood you will be greeted by a surprising layer of depth.

Driving a super car between two heavy duty police vehicles, easy peasy.

When we spoke to Criterion Games back in October, we were told that their aim was to provide fans with a game that included super exotic cars, epic drives, brilliant police chases and the ability to play as a cop. Well, on all the counts, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit succeeds quite spectacularly. The chases and ability to play as a cop have been discussed, but what about the super exotic cars and epic drives? Well, the game starts you off with them and then regularly rewards you with better ones as you earn bounty by completing events and certain tasks. There’s none of that starting out in reasonably priced car and slowly working your way up to get your hands on a proper drive. Hot Pursuit is all about giving you access to the fastest cars in the world and then letting you drive them around the fictional setting of Seacrest County at break neck speeds; it’s like a boy racer’s wet dream.

MULTIPLAYER: Even though Hot Pursuit includes an excellent fully-fledged online mode, the real star of the show is the games Autolog system. This “always connected” system takes the idea of an online leaderboard and turns it into something rather amazing. Rather than comparing you with random people across the globe, Criterion Games have realised the only people you want to compete with are your friends. This is where Autolog comes in; it takes people on your friends list with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit and brings them directly into your game. Every single time you boot up Hot Pursuit, Autolog informs you about the progress of your friends in comparison with you. The system encourages friendly competitiveness and even if you’re not someone who is usually bothered about such things, you will get caught up in it. The moment you see that a friend has beaten a time of yours, you will want to get some revenge and get back above him/her as soon as possible. It’s almost like a second career mode which is always evolving depending on what you and your friends are doing. Simply put, Autolog is a fantastic addition to an already amazing game.

Also, rather than taking advantage of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, Autolog creates its own little network within the game and it works really well. You have the wall where you can leave messages when you beat a friend’s time and you also have a section for photos where you can share memorable moments such as crashes or takedowns.

As mentioned earlier, Autolog aside, Hot Pursuit does feature a fully-fledged online mode and it’s fantastic. The modes on offer are similar to those in the career mode, with the obvious difference being the participation of human players. The 4 vs. 4 online matches (cop against racers), in particular, are a huge amount of fun and surprisingly intense, especially when you’re the last racer remaining. Just try keeping your cool with three human cop players on your tail as you approach the finish line, it’s a hard task to say the least.

Not much to say here really, so let's just marvel at the beauty.

LONGEVITY: With a career mode consisting of over 100 events, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit should keep you going for a good 12-15 hours. However, when you throw the fantastic Autolog system and online play into the mix, the game could sink its teeth into you many hours beyond that. In fact, if you have friends that own the game and play it regularly, Hot Pursuit could keep you going for a very very long time.

VERDICT: You know you’re playing a special game when the only “fault” you can find relates to skipping cut-scenes and restarting events. Every other aspect of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is so expertly crafted that it is hard not fall in love with it; it’s just an incredible amount of fun.

Not only does it live up to its title, it surpasses it with considerable ease. Without a shadow of a doubt, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is the quintessential arcade racing game of this generation. Ironically, the only title that comes close is Criterion Games previous effort, Burnout Paradise.

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