Back in 1998 EA released Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit. Taking what was learned from previous games and adding a new challenge – police – EA created a winning combination which spawned a squeal in 2002. Fast forward to 2010 and EA has a new Hot Pursuit to sink your teeth into. This time EA allowed the people at Criterion Games to take a crack at it. The results are not to be taken lightly. This Need for Speed game fulfills the potential hinted at from the very start of the franchise. With the advent of new technology and amazing social features it has never been more fun to race exotic cars and narrowly escape the police.
Criterion has managed to take what they learned in the Burnout series and refine it for Need for Speed. Criterion Games are best known for their work on the Burnout series and most recently Burnout: Paradise. These games created a fast and fun sense of speed that kept you and your friends trying to beat best-times, crash cars and earn points. When you crash in Need For Speed, you experience a visceral spectacle of a $200,000 car hitting another at 200MPH – a feature Burnout was renowned for. Criterion has not overdone the visual splendour of such a massacre, but they have mastered the fragile destruction of racing.
Hot Pursuit takes place in the fictional setting of Seacrest County. This is a strange place that exists only in a car enthusiast’s dreams. Everyone here seems to only drive the best of the best when it comes to driving vehicles. Alpha Romao, Lamborghini, and Bentley race at top speeds down the coast with little reason other than to experience the speed. The police in this place are not left out. They are outfit with state of the art speed machines as well. Throw in some gadgets on both sides of the law such as spike strips and EMP and you have a racing wonderland fit for exploration.
Criterion does an amazing job of creating a beautiful landscape to explore. There is an extreme level of detail on all aspects of the racetrack. Multiple paths to the track, weather effects and night and day driving conditions make every race fresh and new. With the large map to use for locations it lends itself to many hours of play and it will take that to really get the best out of the tracks. You can even explore in a freedrive mode that allows you to see all the aspects of Seacrest County with little to no consequence. Weather will change, the sun will rise and set and you will have any car unlocked at your disposal. None of the stuff done in this mode carries over to the career, but it is simply a great way to explore the tracks or just drive around and see what Criterion has done with the world.
Unlike Burnout: Paradise this is not an open world driving game. The freedrive mode is really only there to allow you to snap a few shots or explore. The real game is seen in the career mode. This will give you the choice of police or speeder missions. You can choose to rise through the ranks in each and both present very different ways of playing. You will be presented with a selection of race areas and a selection of events for each. To unlock events you will need to gain bounty. This can be done by winning races, crashing, avoiding the law or catching speeders (if you are playing the police missions). The more you rank up the more you can do in the world. You will also unlock car and weapons as your rank and bounty increases. There will always be something new to try and you are given these rewards very steadily so the sense of accomplishment is always present.
This is not like past Need for Speed titles; it is not about collecting cars or lichened gear. It is about getting into the races and driving really fast. This is what Hot Pursuit does so well. The way the menus work allows you to see exactly what you have done in the career and what is left to do. Little icons representing the Police or race missions are easy to follow and with a few button clicks you can be behind the wheel of an exotic car going 0 – 60 in no-time. The controls also help ensure there is little stopping you from enjoying the game. If you have picked up a racing game in the last 5 years on consoles you will already be familiar with the controls. If you have not, it will take you about 10 minutes to get the hang of it. That all being said, this is not a Burnout game, it has an arcade feel to it but the cars also have some resemblance to the real world in regards to weight and balance. You will need to use your brake and acceleration with some finness to come away with gold. But even without full control you can still manage some close races and have a great fun doing it.
Beyond the single player Criterion have created Autolog. This aspect of Hot Pursuit allows players to keep track of all aspects that go on with friends in the world of Seacrest County. You are constantly notified of the friend with the best race time on a track or if they have levelled up. This is a great addition to the game. The only issue I have is that with very few people playing the game on your friends list there is little activity in the Autolog. This could be rectified with some Facebook integration, but since it is a new title, with more people playing the game you can expect this feature to really spark rivalries among friends and will lend itself to some tough completions.
The online aspect of the game is just as fast as the career mode. With all aspects even online working towards your overall rank it makes these online parts even more welcome. Racing against cops with friends is great fun and can be a real challenge. It is a great place to take the game once you’re done with the single player offering, or if you want to mix it up for a new challenge. There is a good selection of cars on both sides of the law to choose from and the more you race the more that is unlocked. The online seemed smooth and with a large community already it should only get better with more people playing.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is a title that should re-invigorate the franchise and excite previous players of the series. This game is sure to bring smiles to any car fan playing it, and with some friends the online features create a world of limitless possibilities. You will lose many nights to this game before the new car smell wears off.