Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit
OverviewPlatform: Xbox 360
Can the team behind Burnout Paradise fuel-inject new life into the Need for Speed series. It’s cops and robbers time!
Since the release of Need for Speed: Most Wanted EA has crashed its once brilliant racing franchise off the edge of a twisting mountain road. After the utter brilliance of Hot Pursuit II on PS2, we were forced to suffer through countless chavtastic rip-offs of The Fast and The Furious movies and even a misguided attempt to conquer the simulation market. At last though, EA have finally seen sense and given the franchise to Criterion, a developer that understands arcade racing like no other. The result is a brand new Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, which comes close to setting new standards in high speed thrills.
When it comes to the pure rush of driving at insane speeds on wide sweeping roads, Hot Pursuit rises head and shoulders above the competition. The open-world of Seacrest County provides ample opportunities for insane drifting and monumental top speeds. It is a boy-racer paradise, with twisting mountain roads, long desert straights and enormous wide highways. It’s such a shame that you aren’t given more incentives to simply explore the game world. Every event in career mode takes place on a closed course, with plenty of shortcuts to use, though even those are clearly marked out on your mini-map. The biggest missed opportunity is that unlike in Criterion’s last game, Burnout Paradise, there are no missions or objectives to accomplish while in free-run mode. In fact, the game doesn’t even want you to know that free-run mode exists. You can only access it by pressing Y on the mission select screen and the prompt to do so is tiny and hidden in the corner of the screen. It’s a huge waste of the environment’s potential.
For the most part, the game’s 100 or so events are great fun. They are split between Racer and Cop challenges. As a racer your goal is to beat your rivals to the finish line and also avoid being busted by the boys in blue. As a Cop your focus is purely on stopping the law-breaking Racers by any means necessary. Each side of the law has different tricks at their disposal too. Racers can escape cops by using an insane turbo system that can see you reach close to 300 mph in the faster cars. You can also use a jamming device to stop Cops from using their weapons. As a Cop you can call for road blocks and air support. Both sides also have access to an EMP to temporarily disable other vehicles and spike strips to damage rivals’ tyres and ruin their handling.
The world of Seacrest County is gorgeous to look at. Coming over the crest of a hill to see the road falling away in front of you through snowy mountains, hot deserts and huge redwood forests never gets old. The visuals take many cues from the original Hot Pursuit games, with detailed car models and idyllic scenery. Throw in a few gratuitous crane shots this NFS would look like a cross-country race on Top Gear. It captures the mood of open-road driving almost perfectly. The soundtrack is also suitably brilliant with contributions from artists such as Pendulum and Weezer. It’s not quite the comedic nu-metal of Uncle Kracker and Hot Action Cop that fans of Hot Pursuit II will remember, but that’s what custom soundtracks are for!
When Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit gets the balance right between the tension of a high speed police chase and the thrill of open-road driving it is an absolute joy. Though when the emphasis is on surviving larger police chases the fun gets a little left behind and the difficulty is increased in a way which can seem arbitrary. There are also a few fundamental design issues which should not have made it into the final product. The game sometimes doesn’t offer a restart option after events, forcing you to load back into the main menu and then load the race again. It also is infuriating when you lose a race because of the rubber-banding. That said, the driving itself is incredibly rewarding, the online races between Racers and Cops are great fun and the joy of a perfect drift is unmatched in any other arcade racer. If consider yourself to be a true speed-freak then you should definitely play Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. By returning to the franchise’s roots Criterion have created a racing game that, despite its flaws, should not be missed.