Originally published November 24, 2010 at 8:30 a.m., updated November 24, 2010 at 8:30 a.m.
For whatever reason, maybe it’s the fact that I’m a typical guy or my specific personality, but I’ve always dreamed of having a consequence-free car chase against the cops. I have no such inkling when actually on the road, but there’s just something exhilarating to me about high-speed chases. Although it’s been more than eight years since the last Hot Pursuit, this branch of wide-reaching Need for Speed series is reborn with some of today’s most impressive vehicles. Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit allows me to live out this fantasy on both sides of the law. With the help of Burnout Paradise developer Criterion Games, Hot Pursuit impresses thanks in equal part to gorgeous graphics and high-tension arcade racing with only a few hiccups along the way.
Hot Pursuit has always been about the dichotomy of illegal street racing with performance vehicles and the equally equipped law enforcement trying to put a stop to it all. To compliment this there are two campaigns, one for the wanted racers and one for the police, each playable from the beginning and on the same map, allowing you to change campaigns at any moment. Each side has a persistent leveling system, which unlocks vehicles, weapons and upgrades along the way. The criteria for how you gain XP (Bounty) relies mostly on your performance in a race and your ability to obtain the goal, which allows you to level up in both campaign and online multiplayer at a consistent rate. This means that no matter what you do in the game, every action leads to the overall goal of leveling up and breaks down the walls between campaign and multiplayer. Throughout the campaign you will participate in races, either trying to win them or breaking them up, as well as traditional time trials and cops versus racer “hot pursuit” missions. It seemed a little odd that time trials and even head-to-head races (sans police) are even in the game considering that the whole police/racer dynamic is the main hook of the game. As a result, these particular missions feel lackluster compared to main event races and hot pursuits. There is definitely no lack of space in Hot Pursuit either, with tons of locales for racing, each roughly 4-11 miles in length.
Of course no racer should go up against another unequipped. Both sides get four weapons that slowly unlock through the campaign allowing you to drop spike strips from behind your car on an unsuspecting tailgater or set up a roadblock to wreck your prey. These weapons put a twist on the traditional race and give racers more of a fighting chance when compared to the faster and stronger cops. I still can’t help but feel that law enforcement is the preferred campaign because your goal is to arrest or wreck your opponent. As you crash into things your car shows all the signs of the abuse you’ve put it through, to say nothing of what it looks like when it all finally falls apart. Criterion’s influence from the Burnout series shines when you take out an opposing vehicle or crash with a slow motion cut scene of the vehicle crumpling to bits. There’s nothing more satisfying than taking out another car and watching the action delay for the impressive crash. Certain skills like driving into oncoming traffic or drifting are rewarded with nitrous oxide boosts that can be saved up or used immediately, but the more you have when you punch it, the larger the impact.
Hot Pursuit is not without its fair share of gripes, however, the first one being the spotty impact detection. Slightly tapping into certain objects may result in the usual cosmetic damage, or it may total your car. I have blitzed through a roadblock, smacking into the backend of a car along the way before continuing on my way, only to have a small fence post bump my left side and result in a momentous explosion of bits and pieces. Controlling the vehicles can be a bit tricky because Hot Pursuit tries to toe the line between simulation and full-on arcade racer. Tthe result is a loosely controlling vehicle that makes staying in any lane on the road a near-impossible task. It’s not that you can’t control the cars well or go on to win the race, it just takes some time to get used to how these cars seem to float on air, even if there’s no precipitation on the road. Deployed spike strips also lack any hint of reality with the way they seem to slide slightly towards you as you approach the vehicle that drops them, which requires you to make large swerves to avoid getting disabled. It’s not really a big deal to those focusing on races and hoping to get the most out of online play, but for campaign perfectionists these problems greatly magnify.
Where Hot Pursuit rightfully shines is in a full-blown race with police trying to apprehend the racers in a dangerous game of cat and mouse on the road. While the campaign does an admirable job of recreating this, online multiplayer is something no console version of this series has had before and definitely benefits from. There are four online race types to choose from, but they all ultimately focus on the same point. Whether you’d prefer to take on another friend one on one, cop vs. racer, or a complete eight-car race you will be able to race time and time again against other people. So far the community seems to be abundant, no problems finding or connecting to games, although chatter has been almost nonexistent. I didn’t notice many cheap players or glitches, although some inexperienced racers try to stay behind the police instead of doing the race, which makes for annoying backtracking if you take everyone else out.
I also couldn’t quite tell how the game decided whether you were a cop or a racer when setting up matchmaking, but for one reason or another I seemed to be a cop most of the time. There’s also a strong influence from Facebook with the main menu being more of a profile page with a wall –– yes, they actually call it your wall –– and several other meta options like contests, news and photo sharing. It was awesome that this game allows you to snap a screen grab at any time by simply clicking down on the right stick, making it intuitive and simple to catch the action without ruining your race. Anytime you enter a mission you can see the times of each of your friends, or the top five if you have a bunch of friends, and even see challenges and where you rank overall. They even integrate your friends’ times into races and occasionally you will race a virtual version of your friend. As part of its ongoing initiative to promote gamers buying new copies of their games, EA includes a code to online play in every new copy of the game. Unfortunately, this means that everyone renting out there or buying the game used will have to shell out $10 to get online with it, which is basically the main drive for this title in the long haul. You’ll be able to play two days for free to get a taste of the game, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind if you intend to play online and you’re not buying the game new.
In any racer, the stars of the game are clearly the cars and no franchise understands this more than Need for Speed. Each entry into the series spotlights amazing vehicles that anyone would jump at the opportunity to drive and even the more common vehicles like a Subaru Impreza or Ford Mustang are the special edition models that more than triple the vehicle’s value and performance. To compliment these impressive vehicles are equally impressive graphics that capture every detail in their sharp and colorful glory. Each car gets the opportunity to be part of a “dream vehicle” photo shoot that gives you control over a floating camera to examine any and everything about it. Each track is also filled with realistic details that put in more elements than you would have expected, especially on a shortcut that most racers are sure to miss. The soundtrack consists of a slew of high-energy electronic beats that get you into the racing mood, but if those don’t satisfy you’re always welcome to use your own. Most songs are more than eight minutes long so they will sustain a race or two before you move on to the next and I don’t notice many repeats in the several hours I’ve already put into this title.
It was great to see that Hot Pursuit was getting another iteration, especially after all these years and two console generations. Most of the features of today’s consoles, namely online play, are exactly what the series needed and handing it over to Criterion made for a style that is unmatched. I can’t say that I’m in love with the fact that we’re seeing so many Need for Speed titles coming down the pipe, but this particular iteration is one that stands out from the pack and carries the series in name only. For those that grow tired of the same old arcade or sim racers on the market, this can be a breath of fresh air and more approachable than either. There are some gameplay choices and event types that I can’t understand and keep this title feeling more like the same old story, but they are overshadowed by what Hot Pursuit does so well. Online play adds an abundance of replay value, although it is annoying that the game’s strongest feature is also one that many will have to literally pay to use. Fans of the classic series and those taking interest for the first time owe it to themselves to give Hot Pursuit a try.
First Play: 8.0
Replay Value: 8.0