Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit Review
Posted by Sammy Barker
Coming out of Criterion Games, our initial impressions of Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit were tempered by it not being Burnout
We expected to jump into the game, hit ridiculous speeds and twist in and out of traffic with Burnout's trademark controller response. Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit is a lot heavier and slower than Burnout, and it wasn't until about an hour with the game that we realised we had to alter our expectations. Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit is truer to the franchise's namesake than any of its recent incarnations, focusing squarely on its range of exotic sports cars and penchant for high speed.
Of course, this iteration of Need For Speed isn't just about the driving, it's about the aspects of pursuit too. Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit's biggest hook is its double-sided campaign. One route places you as a racer, the other as a cop. When playing as a racer, you'll take part in a number of events involving outrunning police, racing other cars and completing time trials. As is fairly obvious, the police campaign has you chasing down racers and testing out high performance government vehicles. The action takes place across Seacrest County — a pseudo open world environment that's divided into a series of tracks and events. What's great about Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit is the variety — there are lots of different rules and racing types. This is mimicked by Seacrest County itself, which spans a huge number of different environment types and locales. The introduction of weather and day/night cycles also add flavour and variety to the world.
Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit's biggest feature, aside from the racing itself, is Autolog. Building on the foundations set by Burnout Paradise, Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit is a highly social experience. Everything in the game is tracked by Criterion and used to provide dynamic challenges based on your PlayStation Network friends. As contacts challenge your times and eventually beat them, the game will prompt to you to fight back, adding endless replayability.
Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit's single-player campaign will take around 20 hours to complete, but the title's longevity lives within the social network challenges and online multiplayer. [strong][/strong]
There are moments when Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit is beyond sensational. The game's racing model is not the only source of satisfaction — the brutal cop and racer AI, alongside a menagerie of technical weapons make racing as much about wits as it is skill. Elements of combat are introduced by car upgrades including spike-strips and EMPs. It adds a technical edge to the gameplay that separates it from other racers. The racing model is not quite as arcade-like as its closest counter-part Blur, but the satisfaction of knocking a competitor off the track is just as apparent. When Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit comes together, it does so emphatically. The adrenaline of drifting around a corner, deploying a spike strip beneath a cop as it tries to ram you from behind, and then using nitrous to flee the situation, all while rain and lightning crash against the scenery around you is truly unmatched by any other game. Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit doesn't deliver the highs all the time, but it makes them so much more satisfying when they come around.
Aside from all the periphery window dressing, Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit would be a pretty dismal failure if the racing wasn't any fun. Thankfully it is. The cars are much heavier than in Burnout, but Hot Pursuit is still very much an arcade racing game. Gently tapping the break before heading into a corner will push your vehicle out to the side, causing your car to slide almost horizontally before maintaining a forward position when exiting the curve. Driving recklessly earns you nitrous, which is best used in straights while accelerating. It's a fun racing model that borders the extremities of both sim and arcade racers. The weight of the cars also plays nicely into Hot Pursuits combat sub-genre — smashing into offending racers when playing as a cop feels as crunchy as it should. The damage model may be less pronounced than in Burnout, but Hot Pursuit still manages to render some amazing crashes. The game's roster of vehicles also have different characteristics, with each series of cars offering a completely unique set of race tactics.
Screenshots don't really do Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit — nor its fictional world — justice. Textures can be flat up close and the car models, while sufficient, won't be worrying Polyphony Digital's Kazunori Yamauchi. It's when the game's running that it really starts to stand out. The frame-rate is rock solid, providing a silky smooth racing experience that conveys an impressive sense of speed. The world too is extremely varied, taking you through desert land-scapes, snow-topped mountains and carnivals. What's most impressive is when Hot Pursuit's tracks take you on a journey through the world. It all feels so natural. The game's day/night cycle and weather effects can also add a totally fresh tone to same sections of track, with late night races in the rain being a particular favourite of ours. It's a slick game.
Criterion's games have always been brilliant at hooking us. Ever since the original Burnout we've been addicted to Criterion's games from the outset. Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit is no different. We started the game early one afternoon and didn't put it down until it was dark outside. The game does a brilliant job of constantly giving you new things to do, try and play around with. The Autolog feature is fundamental to Hot Pursuit's replayability, but the game has a pretty solid levelling mechanic that ensures you're always unlocking something new. In addition to that, some of H0t Pursuit's single-player events put you behind the wheel of some seriously super-powered cars. While the event doesn't let you unlock the car, it does give you a taste of what you'll be racing later. It's a nice hook that keeps the motivation on the player.
Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit's main hook may well be the game's Autolog features, but it's a shame Criterion couldn't come up with a more serviceable UI. The game's menu system is drab, cluttered and overwhelming. While it's awesome the amount of content Criterion are able to feed into the game, it would have been nicer if they could have developed a better way to present it all.
Races can get too hectic. There are times when Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit feels just right, but there are also times when it gets a bit ostentatious. Helicopters flying over the scenery, cop cars dropping spike strips, road-blocks obstructing the highway ahead — it all sounds awesome, but it can often become so overwhelming that the actual racing part of Hot Pursuit gets in the way.
During our time with Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit we tended to crash a lot. It's an arcade racing game with a damage model, why wouldn't we? One of the single-player events in the cop career punishes you with time penalties for crashing. While this makes sense within the context of the game — you've been enlisted to test the latest police car technology — it's just flipping frustrating getting dinged for every slight contact you make.
Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit's shortcuts are a strange beast. Usually sub-routes are designed to get you ahead of the competition, but in this game some of them take longer. What's more, they're not particularly well sign-posted once you find them. We understand that part of the game's depth comes from learning the best short-cuts, but we just decided to ignore them after a while. The risk definitely outstrips the reward.
Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit is a triumph at marrying the chaotic nature of Criterion's Burnout franchise with Need For Speed's roots. The game is as subtle as it is bombastic, with the core drift-intensive racing providing a steady backdrop for the game's more speculative moments. What's more, through a range of events, unlocks and the game's innovative "Autolog" feature — a social network-esque interface which connects players with their friends — Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit occupies the "one more go" factor with abundance.