Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Review

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Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Criterion Games

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC
Reviewed on PlayStation 3

Seacrest County needs to invest in some speed bumps. Given the number of times that I've wrecked sports cars costing over half a million dollars in pursuit of illegal street racers, I'm thinking that a couple hundred bucks of asphalt would be a far more effective solution to Seacrest County's illegal racing problem. Of course, it wouldn't be nearly as much fun as pursuing perps at over 200 miles per hour, or racing the competition and the law simultaneously on SC's tightest curves.

Kyle Ackerman

I have to keep reminding myself that Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is not a Burnout game. It is developed by Criterion Games, the developer of the Burnout games, but it's not a Burnout game. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is, however, my favorite Need for Speed game yet, with amazing crashes, (mostly) spectacular events and more car porn than any concept car show fan could ever need.

Cop or Criminal – You Decide

Racing down the highways and dirt roads of Seacrest County in cars that cost over a million dollars is purely awesome. If any single thing makes Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit a great game, it's that it makes me feel like I am the best driver to ever take the wheel of a car, even when swerving back and forth across the highway like a rabid badger behind the wheel of a Porsche. The game offers just enough assistance and behind-the-scenes help to make me feel like a winner – as long as I don't face off against other human drivers.

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is all about racing cars, but is fundamentally two different racing games. Half the game casts me as an illegal street racer, competing against the craziest drivers, often with police cruisers and helicopters doing their best to run me to ground. The other half of the game lets me take the wheel of a top-of-the-line (and often entirely hypothetical) police car, striving to bust illegal street races and shut down those who drive more than, say, 170 miles per hour over the speed limit.

A County Filled With Race Circuits

Some missions need to be completed to unlock newer and more difficult missions, but Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit offers a lot of different missions at any given moment for both cops and racers. While there is a degree of role-playing-game-style advancement for both the cop and racer careers, there's nothing stopping gamers from playing either style of mission, hopping back and forth to their heart's content.

One of the few complaints about Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is simply that loading screens do take a while, so as easy as it is to switch from racer to cop, whether switching sides or just picking another mission on the same side, it takes a moment to actually get into the race. The game also has some impressive cut-scenes that lead into races, giving you a running start for every event. That's great, but it adds to the already-long lead-in, and even pressing the button to skip the scene only does so after a while.

Once you get into a race, everything looks positively spectacular (and extra shiny). The cars are lovingly detailed, with so many models that nearly every time I ran a race I was unlocking yet more high-end vehicles. There's tons of historical and manufacturing detail on the various cars, although the game could stand to include more performance data to help car novices select the best car for a given race or mission. The scenery is particularly impressive, and Criterion clearly enjoys staging the time of day so that the sun sets sets spectacularly as you approach the finish line. It's gimmicky, but it works really well to add an even more impressive finality to each victory.

Call in Back-Up

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit veers more toward arcade-style racing than simulation. There's a big payoff in learning to properly brake, drift and corner, but the game is playable and winnable for those who want to use guard rails and other cars as corner guides. There are also weapons to keep things interesting. Both racers and cops can drop spike strips and fire electro-magnetic pulses that damage other cars. Racers can jam cops' equipment and use a massive turbo boost. Cops can call in road blocks and helicopters that drop spike strips to slow racers. The weapons are only vaguely realistic, but extremely entertaining. They also provide a lot of variety for missions, as many missions change the challenge by restricting access to certain weapons.

My favorite missions were those in which, as a police officer, I had to bust multiple racers before they reached the finish line. Even the straightforward races and one-on-one pursuit missions were fun. In fact, all the missions were great... except the missions in which I had to deliver a police car, undamaged. So much of the fun of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is racing at top speed, occasionally bouncing off the sides of the road. Aside from the illegality of it – and the fact that my car would shake itself apart long before reaching those speeds – the main reason I don't cruise down country roads at 200 miles per hour is that I would fishtail back and forth across the highway before flipping over the divider and crashing, probably into a bus full of orphans. If, in a game, I get to drive a Lamborghini Murcielago, decked out as a police interceptor, down a rain-slick road at night, I want to be able to carom off the road barriers and concrete dividers as I make hairpin turns.

That's fun. Learning to navigate properly and take every corner at exactly the right speed is work. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit already has limitations in place, it shouldn't penalize me further for sloppy driving. The cars can only take so much damage before wrecking and failing a mission, so there's already an incentive to avoid damage. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is also constantly harassing me about how my friends are better drivers than I am, so if I want to beat their times I need to practice and get better at taking corners in my absurdly overpowered police car. Sometimes, I just want to barely pass a mission so that I can unlock further events – I don't need penalties stopping me from that. Such missions are a small enough portion of the game, that it's ultimately a minor complaint, but these missions were something I came to dread as I played through the game. If I wanted to drive perfectly, I'd be playing a different racing game – the kind where I tune my suspension and worry about break response.

Why Don't You Meet More Friends?

I'm not sure whether to admire or fear the social aspects of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. They're certainly well implemented, although I hated going to the "Autolog Recommends" section of the menu and having it tell me that "Autolog Recommends" I get more friends. Once you have a few friends on tap, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit taunts you with your friends' times and successes, nudging you to replay old missions to beat your friends' times, even offering trophies for attempting such. The game did a great job of poking me to try to awaken the competitive beast in me, but sometimes I just want to race the AI and feel good about myself.

The social aspects of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit's Autolog were impressive, but undermined the game's impressive ability to make me feel awesome. Apparently, I really was good at busting racers when playing as a cop, but my solo races, particularly those cop missions that had me avoiding damage, where hardly impressive. I'd finish the mission, barely passing the required time, but feeling absolutely awesome (having taken 11 miles of course at more than 200 miles per hour). Then the Autolog would point out my "friends" had beaten my time by 40 or more seconds. That undermined the whole feeling "awesome" aspect of the game. Regardless of how the Autolog sometimes failed to stroke my ego, it does a great job of linking players, creating a feeling of community and making it easy to get into quick online races.

The online races are the final, excellent aspect of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit to mention. It's possible to simply race, have a racer and cop compete one-on-one, or have groups of racers pursued by groups of cops, all populated by human players. These racers can be amazing, especially when populated by players of similar skill. I never failed to have fun, even when spike strips were flying and roadblocks constantly busted racers. The races don't "rubber-band" players back into the action after a crash as significantly as in the single-player game, but the competitive aspect of the cops vs. racer action keeps everyone involved and makes sure things stay entertaining.

There are minor flaws with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (including its lack of support for certain racing wheels), but its raw fun once you finish waiting on the loading screens. The graphics glisten, and the racing action adapts itself well to drivers of all skill levels. Whether competing against human players or AI opponents, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is filled with driven driving.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on November 22, 2010 10:21 PM.

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