Do you have a need for speed?
I don’t think that there is a single Need for Speed game that I have not played in my years as a gamer. I have watched the franchise rise to the heights f great gaming, and then fall just recently by moving away from what, in my opinion, mad the games great. But with Hot Pursuit, the game is leaving the track and returning to the streets, going back to it’s roots, and making me a very happy bunny.
The gorgeous streets of Seacrest County are where the rich and famous seem to take their high powered sports cars for a bit of street racing action. With a collection of cars that would make most petrol heads drool with excitement, starting at the bottom seems almost cruel. As a novice street racer, the gamer will have access to only a few different cars, with more unlocked after each level progression. Players will get to compete in a variety of different races, from outright point to point, through to races involving avoiding the long arm of the law. The police in Seacrest County are fortunate to have access to cars that easily equal anything that the player has access to, but more on that later.
As an arcade racer, the emphasis is more on fun than reality, and the controls are so fluid and work so well that they will soon find themselves drifting around corners in a very flashy way, whilst avoiding oncoming traffic in a “devil may care” style. Taking risks by driving on the wrong side of the road, drafting behind other racers, drifting or even narrowly avoiding crashes will fill up the nitro meter and allow the player to give their car an extra boost of speed and leave all others in their dust.
To help with the ever present threat of the police, players will unlock a variety of tools that will gradually be upgraded as they increase in level. Spike strips can be dropped on the road and an EMP can be launched to take out either the police or rival racers. The threat of police using their tools to stop you can be countered by using a blocker to disable their communications and ability to strike. Finally there is the turbo boost, a short boost of speed that will leave everyone behind. Each of these tools have only limited uses during a given race and are mapped to the d-pad for easy access. It almost makes you feel sorry for the police.
But, for the first time in a Need for Speed game, players can actually take on the career of a police officer and stop those damned street racers once and for all. In a similar way to the racer career, players will take on different missions to progress and level up. This police force has access to the most desirable police cars which the player will gradually unlock through the game. The different events are all similar to the racer events, but the player sees things from the other side, having to stop the racers or reach an incident in a given time.
And the police are not without their tools. Mapped to the d-pad again, the police have access to the spike strips and EMP, just like the racers. They can also order a roadblock to be set up along the road and call in a helicopter which will hover ahead of the racers and drop it’s own spike strip. All of the cars, both police and racers, only have a limited amount of damage that they can sustain before becoming a total wreck. To the player this can be seen as a small bar above each of the cars and as spike trips or road blocks, or even excessive side swiping, takes place, the cars take damage and will eventually be forced from the event.
With both of the different careers, which can be played simultaneously by the player, different events are unlocked with each success. The events are shown on a map of Seacrest County and can be simply selected and competed in. The player also has the option to just cruise the streets, but there is very little point in this besides admiring the beautiful scenery. The setting of seacrest County is stunning and offers everything from snow laden mountain tops to glorious beach side racing, via lush green forests. Everything looks amazing, even the great collection of highly desirable cars that are included, all shiny and looking like they are straight out of the showroom. But the reality is that there will not be much time for admiring the view, as the player will be zipping past at high speed and concentrating on not hitting other traffic rather than drooling over their own wheels.
Playing against the AI is a lot of fun and fairly challenging, but the main action is online, racing against real players. With up to eight players, either racing against each other or split into teams of police and racers, you are guaranteed an adrenaline fueled experience, no matter which side of the law you are on. But Hot Pursuit’s online offering is not limited to multiplayer racing.
Autolog, which it would seem will feature in the upcoming NFS Shift 2, appears to be a recurring feature in the Need for Speed world and sees the player constantly connected to their friends. As they complete races, their times are posted to all of their friends, who are then encouraged to try and beat it. This to and fro will certainly keep players coming back as they try to out race their friends. There is even the option to leave messages, further rubbing their buddies noses in their defeat. This function gives the game a social feeling, even when played in single player, and adds to the compulsion.
So far everything has been glowing and it all performs really great. The fact that it has been developed by Criterion Games, those responsible for the Burnout series, explains any similarities there. The only real problem that I have with Hot Pursuit is that it still doesn’t feel like the kind of street racing game that I want. Most Wanted and Carbon were the games that I enjoyed the most and with Shift trying to emulate track racing games such as Forza and GT, I was hoping that Hot Pursuit would take us back to the streets. Instead it is more of a Burnout clone, which is no bad thing. But when are we going to see players be able to race the streets in their own boy racer style car, that they have customised themselves. Hot Pursuit is all about jumping from one race to another, why can’t I visit a paint shop and get an epic paint job on my car?
Hot Pursuit is a great game and very enjoyable to play, but it is not quite the return to form that I was hoping for. Still, expectations aside, there is very little that can be said to be wrong with this latest Need for Speed game. If arcade racing is your thing, then Hot Pursuit will give you hours of fun. It may not have the depth that gamers were hoping for, but the drop in, drop out nature combined with excellent online options certainly makes this one of the best racers of the year.