The latest title in Electronic Arts’ phenomenally popular Need for Speed series returns to the more arcade-style of racing game, distancing itself from the realism of Need for Speed SHIFT, allowing room for the Spring release of Need for Speed SHIFT 2: Unleashed. With that move towards more familiar turf for the series comes the return of a familiar set-up: that which debuted back in 1998.
From its humble beginnings back on Panasonic’s ill-fated 3DO in the mid-90’s, the Need for Speed has covered a surprisingly varied amount of racing variants. From the realism of the aforementioned Need for Speed SHIFT to the ludicrously elaborate neon of the Need for Speed Underground titles. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is the return of the cops-and-robbers set-up, with the player able to play as both the hunter and the hunted in a variety of mission types. The map offers an easily understandable depiction of how the events are intended to pan-out – a different image for each speeder and police events – and the player has two separate career systems for each. New cars are unlocked and a levelling system is available for each career, but never-the-twain-shall-meet: progress in one career will never unlock any bonuses for the other.
Developed by Criterion, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit appears very different to that of your typical Need for Speed title, playing more like the earlier Burnout titles than Burnout: Paradise did, and will certainly please a great deal of Criterion’s audience because of it. The same boost rules apply – wrong side of the road, near miss, drift – in addition to featuring a number of hidden shortcuts along every track and greater bonuses being awarded for not only on-track skill and style, but also setting personal best scores and reaching the top of your friends leaderboards. More importantly, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit maintains the spectacle of the groundbreaking Burnout 2 without diluting the formula with all manner of unnecessary tagging. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit gets the balance right between demanding skill and rewarding style.
Adding a further level of value to the single-player game is the Autolog system. Sounding quite irrelevant on paper, the Autolog system is actually a masterful creation. Essentially a Leaderboard reserved exclusively for your friends combined with a close-knit social network, Autolog plots your success against those friends which have also played the same track. Offering not only a high score chart, but also a ‘wall’ system for intimidating and consoling, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit’s Autolog is one of the most interesting uses of closed online gaming networks this generation of hardware has yet provided. And this is all before your even get to actually playing online.
Of course, the multiplayer aspect of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is fairly extensive in itself. Providing all the expected features of an online racer, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is packed with different gameplay modes designed around the idea of greater competition. The favourite here at Electronic Theatre sees the players all driving a police vehicle and divided into teams, challenging each other in a lengthy point-to-point race. Littered with obstacles and general traffic, the road is as much a hazard as other players – as is the intention. While players will earn a significant amount of points for placing highly at the end of the race, far more can be earned be wreaking havoc along the way, taking down the opposing players and defending against oncoming attacks.
With such pedigree, you’d be forgiven for think that Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit couldn’t possibly compete with regards to visual quality. What is presented however, rarely disappoints. With a decent variety in the available tracks and a stunning selection of cars, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is of course less comprehensive that the recently released Gran Turismo 5, but it is a very different kind of racing game, and what is present could be said to provide just as much variety given the comparative environments in which to two games’ garages feature. The only minor irritation falls within the damage models, with the simulations seemingly determined to make every crash result in a litter of coloured triangles from the bodywork of each vehicle. Realistic though it may, it’s far from the spectacle we imagine from such aggressive, high-risk based racing.
The sound quality is better than you might expect, given the Electronic Arts tradition of shoehorning EA TRAX in to near-every release. Though the selection available undoubtedly comes from that same catalogue, it’s a very modern, very British soundtrack that is undeniably well chosen, perfectly accompanying the high-octane on-screen action.It’s the most up tempo BBC Radio 1 playlist, indie rockers to pop metal to bassline dance, any game based on The Matrix would surely be jealous.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is a surprisingly comprehensive on- and offline racer, showcasing Criterion’s ability to innovate within a well worn template. It may be launching at a time when the racing genre is the recipient of much disruptive activity, and yet the surprisingly grand success of F1 2010 and the might of Gran Turismo 5 fail to provide the same sense of twitch-thrills as Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Every inch of the game is impressive, and for those whom Need for Speed SHIFT was too stern an undertaking, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is the perfect antithesis.