With 2008’s Burnout Paradise, Criterion Games solidified its spot as the king of fast-paced, arcade-style racing. So when Electronic Arts decided it was ready to take the Need for Speed series back to its early roots -- with its high-speed, open-road chases -- it was smart to tap the Guildford, England-based developer for Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Let’s get it out of the way right now -- Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit feels and plays like a Burnout title in almost everything but its name. Hot Pursuit tries to straddle a thin line between realistic car handling and accessible arcade racing, and while it definitely nails it, it’s unquestionably closer to the latter. It’s basically car porn, with slick and exotic rides, and the handling and feel you’d expect from high-end vehicles. It’s never so demanding that folks who aren’t interested in hitting that perfect line will feel left out, but is instead a game that encourages you to revel in maximum velocity at all times.
Events on either side of the law are broken up into a few basic categories, like straightforward race events, timed events (such as a “Time Trial,” or the police version, “Rapid Response”), and so forth. “Hot Pursuit” races are the highlight, a typical race with the wrinkle being that cops are looking to shut it down by any means necessary. As a racer, these events are nerve-racking, with police cars aggressively trying to take you out as you speed towards the finish line against other racers. As the police, these events feel a lot like Burnout’s “Road Rage,” only you’re attempting to take out a finite number of racers before they reach their goal.
Spicing things up a bit, both racers and police have their own sets of equipment, which adds an interesting Mario Kart-like layer of offense and defense to each event. As a cop, you’ll have access to police department backup, such as roadblocks and helicopter support to slow down fleeing racers. As a law-breaking bad guy behind the wheel, you’ll be able to jam police communications, basically a defense against anything they have in their arsenal. Both sides can use targeted EMPs or throw down spike strips to slow down vehicles and get a pesky pursuer off your tail. Each event doles out equipment differently, and they’re all available in limited amounts (with “cool down” times for follow-up use), striking a nice balance on both sides. Outside of Hot Pursuit’s balls-to-the-wall action racing, these tools add an exciting layer to the gameplay that set it apart from events in the Burnout series and other racers.
So Hot Pursuit has all of its core elements in place, with its fast cars, dynamic events, and breathtaking speeds. But where Criterion really takes things to the next level is the game’s social aspects, which truly bring Hot Pursuit to life like no other racer. The key is the game’s “Autolog,” a consistent experience that has you competing with your friends 24/7, constantly keeping you up to date with their game progress, their most recent records, goals obtained, and more. It’s an absolutely seamless setup that easily lets you compare event results in an elegant and streamlined way.
Other games have hinted at it, but none quiet have nailed it like Criterion has with Hot Pursuit. There’s almost never a time when you have to navigate through a series of menus to see where you stand against your friends; it’s just there, and you can’t miss it -- it’s as important a part of the game as the cars you drive. “Autolog Suggests” takes it even further, utilizing your entire friends list to tailor challenges and suggest events to you. Completed everything in the career mode? Maybe a friend has, too, and he or she has done it better -- Autolog will tell you, and kick your ass into gear, egging you on to take on the next challenge. You can even post messages on the in-game “walls” of your friends, taunting them or sending out challenges.
Unfortunately, Hot Pursuit doesn’t appear to offer any split-screen race capabilities, which is a bit of a downer. It’s obvious that Criterion spent most of their time focusing on online connectivity and networking, but offline “cops versus robbers”-style split-screen chases would have been a welcome addition.
THE VERDICT - Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit
Reviewed by Nick Chester