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Everybody's saying the same thing: Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit is like Burnout. Of course they are - the game is, after all, made by Criterion. It probably uses the same game engine. The slick speed, the way the car sits on the track, the spectacular crashes - it's Burnout Paradise on the interstate freeway. But everyone's wrong. The reason the latest Need for Speed is going to be a return to form is because it's actually much more like something else. Yep, Need For Speed Hot Pursuit 2.
'But how can it be more like its own sequel?' I hear younger readers ask, incredulously. 'It's not even out yet'. Well, of course you'd be right. But I'm talking about the forgotten game of the Need For Speed franchise. The last game in the series before it went all 'street'. Before Carbon. Before Underground. Back when it looked like this:
Yep, the almost completely forgotten Need For Speed Hot Pursuit 2 on PS2 is clearly the game Criterion wanted to remake for current-gen systems (the clue was in the name, surely). With good reason, too - the PS2 game still stands as one of the most action-packed racers ever. EA managed to make the humble PS2 draw huge forests without breaking sweat, before filling the environment with deliciously OTT special effects and unusual gameplay elements.
You've got forks in the road which offer shortcuts. Forest fires that limit visibility. You've even got player-triggered special moves like fireballs which race up the track to show you what's ahead, exploding barrels called in from helicopters and spike strips to stop your target getting away.
Above: The new game (left) next to the PS2 classic. Same scenery, same concept, same awesomeness
One look at the Gamescom gameplay demo will show you that (fireballs aside) the new game embraces these sensibilities, adding all the sprinkles that current-gen tech can add to this already rich racing cake, in particular social networking and 'always on' online integration. Check it out:
The reason everybody loves Trials HD and Geometry Wars 2 is because they like seeing how well their mates did when they played the current level. It gives every race genuine meaning that you simply cannot achieve from racing AI cars alone. Even if you're not racing your mates on the same track at the same time, they'll always be there, taunting you with another ten seconds of being better than you. It's arguably everything Burnout Paradise tried to be, only with more structure and therefore more meaning in-game. Who cares if you're slower down some backstreet in Paradise City? This time it really matters.
Above: Even the cars look more like classic, road-hugging Hot Pursuit vehicles than Burnout's jalopies
So everything's looking great. It's crisp, solid, packed full of incident and drama... In fact, at this stage, the only thing that worries me is the lack of corners. The PS2 game had plenty of turns to navigate - never so sharp you had to slow down, but still enough to keep things interesting. There was barely a turn in the Gamescom stage demo.
Even that was probably a conscious PR decision to show the game's speed in the few minutes they had to demo it to the world. If Codies' F1 2010 and DiRT 3 weren't enough to satisfy your need for speed, then (oddly, considering the name) Need For Speed almost certainly will. I'm in - are you?
19 Aug, 2010