The Need for Speed series has been downright awful for several years now. The wannabe “edgy” street racing scene that the games have been focusing on combined with the cringe-worthy live action cutscenes have really just been a huge bummer. Thankfully, all of that has come to an end. Criterion, the developers behind the amazing Burnout Paradise (which I poured a relentless 50 hours into) have brought back the Need for Speed series with their own personal touch, and it works great.
Just to get it out of the way, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is an extremely pretty game. The tracks are extremely varied; you’ll be racing through snowy mountains, sandy beaches, arid deserts, a very impressive forest, and more. All of these locations look great and it’s very tempting to admire the scenery at the risk of wrecking your car in the process.
Not only that, but Hot Pursuit features some absolutely amazing weather and lighting effects. The fact that the rain in this game looks so good even at the absurd speeds you’ll be traveling is very impressive. The lighting is similarly impressive. When playing as a cop, passing through a tunnel causes your siren lights to flicker on the walls in a very impactful (and, again, distracting) display.
I mentioned that the game’s visuals hold up really well despite the high speeds at which you travel. This is another thing that Hot Pursuit handles extremely well: the sense of speed. It seems like of the hardest things to nail down in a racing game is visual style that actually makes you feel like you’re traveling at 200 miles per hour. The blurring of taillights and passing objects as well as the decline in handling at high speeds really brings out this feeling of speed that’s actually kind of freaky the first couple times you experience it. Mix that in with the sound of building engines and the rumble of your controller when you hit the turbo and Hot Pursuit will leave your jaw dropped.
The game works around two separate paths of advancement: racers and cops. As a racer you obviously will be trying to win races. When cops aren’t involved, playing as a racer is definitely reminiscent of older Need for Speed games. It’s no racing sim, but it’s not as loose as Burnout either. The cars feel like they have a lot more weight to them and every car truly feels unique. Drifting is easy to learn and absolutely essential.
Playing as a cop offers a much more Burnout-feeling experience. You’ll be trying to wreck the racers using roadblocks, spike strips, and downright violent driving. As such, you’ll typically find yourself picking beefier cars like the Charger rather than quicker, weaker cars like the early-unlocked RX-8.
This cops versus racers mechanic is the real strength of Hot Pursuit’s online mode. Add in the fact that you can get all your progression and cars unlocked by playing online against other people and it becomes obvious where the strongest area of the game is. Then again, it should be no surprise that the idea of rival teams benefits largely from the skill of real players competing rather than playing against AI. Thankfully, Criterion added features that encourage the player to experience the single player content as well.
The game’s “Autolog” feature (an in-game Facebook of sorts) is constantly fostering competition between you and the people on your friends list who also play Hot Pursuit. You are constantly being made aware of your friends’ times on the various tracks and events and therefore will often feel motivated to try and best them. The Autolog feature also allows for easy photo sharing and inviting friends to online games.
Sadly, there’s not a whole lot to Hot Pursuit. There are the races and the cop versus racer events, but that’s about it. Looking back on it, the game is rather shallow with regard to how many different types of experiences or modes it offers. Weirdly enough, this is not detrimental to the game’s quality whatsoever. I could play cops versus racers online with random players for hours on end and never get tired of it. In short bursts, Hot Pursuit is a game that could potentially last you a very long time.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is a game that offers a fairly basic and straight-forward experience but does it so well that you will never feel like you you’ve been short-changed by the purchase. The game is full of exciting moments that will have you tensing or shouting in awe as well as rushing to tell your friends. Not only that, the game runs rather cheap these days (despite being only a month or two old), so it’s a sure-fire way to kill time until the 2011 releases kick in. You haven’t lived until you’ve done a power slide around a corner and ended up sliding right through the narrow opening in a police roadblock.