The Need For Speed franchise has had a couple of bumps in the road, but the series’ evolution has been pretty fascinating. Whereas just about every other annual sports title updates rosters and adds a feature or two, Need For Speed has taken to completely reinventing itself year in and year out. Look at this oddball track record:
From Left: Cholos, X-Games, Live Action Criminals, Simulation, and Hot Pursuit
Barring 2008’s Undercover, the NFS series has gotten stronger with each entry. Whatever EA’s reasoning is for throwing the baby out with the bathwater every year, it’s certainly not because the last game sucked. Hell, people like me were a little miffed when we found there’d be no follow up to last year’s phenomenally simulation-oriented NFS: SHIFT. That is, until we played Hot Pursuit…
As much as we’ll miss experiencing the true-to-life thrill of accurate physics and neck trauma, it’s not like this season needed another “driving simulator” with Gran Turismo 5 on the horizon (and SHIFT will reportedly be back next year). Besides, Hot Pursuit cares significantly less about impressing gearheads and is instead far more concerned with being awesome right when the light hits green. This is arcade racing at its best, a true revolution of the highest octane. While many games in the genre have tried to bridge the gap between hardcore thrills and casual accessibility, no one has done it quite as splendidly as in Hot Pursuit. They’ve even managed to tackle the difficult task of enhancing the experience online.
Familiar with Burnout? Of course you are. Even players who care little for racing games have joined in the pursuit of automotive mayhem simply because it offered all the streamlined intensity a Triple-A game should, without bogging the affair down with menus, stats, and unnecessary car minutia. So, in case you didn’t know by now, the same developers behind the Burnout franchise, Criterion Games, are the folks moonlighting behind this Need For Speed game and you’ll find evidence of their pedigree everywhere. High speed takedowns, simple controls that’ll help you drift turns for miles, driving recklessly to charge boost, and more all make finely tuned appearances in Hot Pursuit.
Nobody we played with had trouble jumping into the game and “getting it” immediately, and you too will find yourself instantly rocketing through the gorgeous vistas of Seacrest County an experience truly worthy of a racing title in 2010. But don’t get too comfortable… the police don’t take kindly to kids tearing up their town. Beating the clock and other racers encompass a mere fraction of your on-track woes, and the cops are outfitted with exotic roadsters just as expensive and up to the challenge as yours.
You can try and wreck them, but your best bet is to avoid them altogether. Shortcuts don’t just save time, they momentarily put you out of Smokey’s way and you can even use a Radar Jammer to throw them even further off your scent. Yeah, Hot Pursuit’s also brining weapons into the equation, racers can use a Turbo boost to evade, and can launch invisible magnetic missiles to disable the engines of both cops and opponents. And would you look at that? Racer’s can even beat cops at their own game by laying down spike strips to shred the tires of those on your tail.
As if things weren’t shaken up enough, the other half of the game involves you playing as the police. You’ll have separate profiles and Bounty (XP) for both classes, yet you can switch between the two seamlessly. Just like Racers, Cops also come equipped with spike strips and EMPs, but since their goal is to stop races and not win them, they’ve got their own special brand of obstructive justice.
Call in a Helicopter to go where you can’t and drop spikes directly in front of fleeing vehicles or roadblocks set up ahead of racers with the push of a button, because a line of parked vehicles and concrete vehicles can stop just about anything. However, blockades generally come with a random sweet spot through which careful racers can squeeze through. But as you get better, you’ll start to find superior locations on the track to call them in, as placing them just after turns and tunnels makes threading that needle much more difficult to negotiate.
And our absolute favorite part about the game is what the cops alone will do for playing online. You know those dickheads who either fall behind and give up, or simply just hop online to drive backwards and ruin the fun for others? Play as a cop, douchebag! It’s part of the game now, you’ll earn Bounty and increase ranking to your integrated on/offline profile, and fewer people will hate you. Assholes great and small: Hot Pursuit has a place for you. Which brings us to…
Initially we were turned off by the split focus online, since we’ve been largely turned off by racing online due to piss poor matchmaking, cheaters, and being pitted against people we’ll never beat in a million years. That’s hardly an issue here in Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit. There are probably other modes online, but none of them matter to us anymore after playing a fully stacked race of Hot Pursuit mode with real people. It’s not just about playing who you want, when you want, it’s that separating races into two teams of any number of cops and racers fosters rare racing teamwork and can essentially yield two winners per race. Plus, the fact that weapons are divvied like loadouts means that unlike other games with random item pickups, luck takes a backseat to skill, strategy and timing. There is no Blue Shell here, so if someone pounds you with an EMP meters before the line, it’s because they risked life and limb to hold on to it.
The Autolog feature is also a godsend of an online addition. Most of us don’t bother to look at leaderboards, because let’s be honest, nobody cares if they’re ranked 20,000th in anything. Instead, the Autolog is basically a Facebook wall where you can see who of your friends beat who and what mode, with what car, when and by how much. At any time in the game you can take a picture of the events onscreen by clicking right analog stick and essentially “talk shit” with a screenshot by posting it on a buddy’s page.
Even if you aren’t actively using it, the Autolog is still working overtime. It’ll subtly show you your friends’ records below single player events so you can achieve micro-victories offline, even while your friends sleep. So whereas other racing games pad their roster with time trials and other superfluous modes, Hot Pursuit can keep the challenges coming all year long based on what your friends accomplish dynamically.
Is it better than…?
Burnout: Paradise? Yes, if only because it skips the open-world tedium of driving from race to race. Hot Pursuit adapts all the things that make Burnout wonderful into a more streamlined experience with an emphasis on driving prowess over of demolition derbyage. HP’s not as silly, but it thankfully doesn’t take itself too seriously either. Hopefully, Criterion will keep up its record of releasing consistently fun, often FREE, DLC too.
Gran Turismo 4? Yes? By this point we all know what Gran Turismo is, and it’s everything Hot Pursuit isn’t. HP doesn’t demand you know the inner workings of an internal combustion engine just to win, and instead delivers high speed thrills AND licensed vehicles at a mile a minute. It might not be the technical showpiece of car porn, but it makes up for that with hours of fun anyone can dive right into.
Need For Speed: SHIFT? Yes, but it’s but just like comparing it with Gran Turismo, the comparison isn’t altogether fair because Hot Pursuit has different goals in mind. While SHIFT was far better olive branch extended from the hardcore sim to midcore wheelman than Turismo, Hot Pursuit does it even better and it doesn’t come at the loss of becoming a better driver.
Just for you, Metacritic!
With so many modes and diverse rewards to uncover in Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, it almost feels like 2.5 games in one package. Plus, the fact that the online component works so incredibly, and we still can’t pick a favorite between playing as a cop or racer speaks volumes to the game’s quality. Quite simply, there is no better, more accessible racing game out there.
Nov 10, 2010