The Need for Speed franchise has seen more ups and downs than a thrilling roller coaster ride. The fabled EA series has been through so many changes that some thought it eventually would fall into oblivion at some point. Of course when you hand off your big name racing game to one of the prime developers of the genre, good things are bound to happen. That is exactly what EA has done. Hot Pursuit is a mix of classic NFS action mixed with the thrills and crashes of the Burnout series thanks to new developer Criterion. Consider this latest entry a reboot for the series, and also one of the finest racing games to launch since Burnout Paradise.
I will be the first to admit that the classic Hot Pursuit (on PS2 mind you, that Xbox version was a totally different game) is one of my favorite racing games of all time. Hearing that EA was reviving it was enough to get me excited. Throw in that Criterion was at the helm and you have a combination for epic-ness. The premise is simple; two types of races, both visceral to no end. Racers are speeding down long stretches of highway fighting for first place and attempting to avoid the police. As the police it is your job to take them down using various methods. Both campaigns are mixed into one giant map that lets you play either side at your discretion.
One of the biggest omissions that I actually highly approve of is the divorce of a story. There are no annoying actors or cheesy cut scenes. This game is race after race with some free roam and online challenges thrown in, and quite frankly I enjoy that. Trying to mesh in a narrative into something like this really draws me out of the action. This let the team focus solely on the action at hand, and when I say it is nearly flawless, I am not exaggerating.
Basically the game gives you a large map that hosts all of your events. They are separated by race or cop mode, and each one has a series of challenges. As you progress you unlock new cars and events, as well as leveling up either side. New events unlock offering up spike strips, radar jammers and road blocks, but the core concept remains mostly the same. Both careers keep things fresh because as soon as you tire of one, you can simply switch to the other for a nice change of pace. Racing is good, but too many events don’t feature cops, which is the thrill of the game. The cop side is more intriguing and definitely the brighter side of the package. I also had issues in the race mode when cops were involved as they seemed to focus solely on me and ignore the other racers.
Probably the most addictive part of the game though is the Autolog. This social network style of interface lets you keep tabs on every single thing your friends are doing. Keeping tabs on their fastest times and posting bragging rights to your wall quickly becomes a game in and of itself. It also forces you to become a better player, which is a sneaky way to keep players interested long after they have completed the core game.
In addition to the single player game you can also hop online for a host of events. You have standard race which is fun for a bit, but ultimately wears out its welcome too soon. You also have the two player Interceptor mode where you race head to head against another racer where anything goes. The most prominent and enjoyable online mode is the Hot Pursuit mode. Here you can join an eight player game that breaks you down into teams of two. Each side has the same goal as in single player and the game auto balances between rounds to keep things fair. This is by far the most played mode and certainly the one that will keep you coming back for more. The online structure is also great with hardly any lag during our play tests as well as smoothly transitioning lobbies that make getting into, and staying in a game, much more streamlined.
Visually the game is a tour de force of effects. The weather effects are some of the best I have seen to date. When it rains the road shines so vividly. Thunderstorms rock the track with flashes of lightning and watching the dust roll across the road at 180mph is truly immersive. Cars also take some nice damage when smashed into things, but not quite as realistically as in Burnout Paradise or any other non-licensed racing game. The audio is good with some nice engine sounds and great cop chatter with a soundtrack that is as diverse as it is catchy.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is a fantastic reboot of the series. Fans of the original Hot Pursuit are in for a treat once they get past the insane amount of setup when you first bootup the game. Still with the minor hindrances I cannot recommend the game enough to fans of the series. This is how I remember the series when it was in its prime, and it feels good to get back to the core of enjoyment. With the series in the hands of arguably the greatest arcade racing game developer on the planet the future of the NFS series is looking bright. Do not hesitate to pick this game up if you love the thrill of the chase.
Review copy provided by publisher.