The critically acclaimed and long running “Need for Speed” franchise has always been known for its diversity. Over the years it has switched from traditional sports racing, to the underground world of car modifications to being a realistic, racing simulator a la “Gran Turismo". But with Electronic Arts' latest, “Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit”, it's returning to its old-school days of high octane chases between cops and racers, only this time with enough bells and whistles to make even the most hardcore of racing fans sit up and take notice.
The premise in “Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit” is fairly simple. You have a bristling fleet of the world's most exotic sports cars at your disposal (ranging from Mercedes' to Porches' and Lamborghinis –there aren't any Ferraris, though, oddly enough), and it's your job to drive really, really fast, and not crash into things. As the racer, you'll need to flip the bird to Johnny Law as you weave in and out of traffic while drifting, using NOS, and navigating shortcuts in order to elude the police. As the cops, you need to stop the racers by any means necessary. That means slamming into them from behind in the hopes of nudging them into oncoming traffic or using an arsenal of tools, like EMP blasts, road blocks, spike strips and police choppers to make life very difficult for your quarry.
Fortunately, “Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit” is much more streamlined than some of the other games in the franchise, and you won't waste any time pointlessly driving around (though you can still feel free to roam and explore the game's expansive map whenever you want in Freedrive mode). Instead, all you do is choose an event, choose your allegiance and then hit the track with whatever vehicles you've unlocked. For better or worse, there's not a lot of car customization to distract you in between races, meaning your attention should be focused more on the road and less on what rims you're going to slap on your ride.
Racing in “Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit”, either in single player or the game's multiplayer, is an absolute blast. The game's developers, Criterion Games, past work on the “Burnout” franchise is evident in their ability to create races that will constantly have you on the edge of your seat. The sense of speed is as authentic as it gets –when you're blasting down the highway at 100 plus miles per hour, you actually feel like you're sitting there in the driver's seat as your surroundings deteriorate around you into an incoherent blur of color and raucous noise. Once cars start spinning out of control and wrecking, it feels like you're participating in a Michael Bay film, only without the mandatory, quasi-racist comedic relief.
It's hard to say whether playing as the racer or the cop is more fun –they're both enjoyable but in different ways. The racer is all about driving really fast and keeping an eye on the cops as they do their best to bust you. It's an intense, thrilling experience that will keep you anxious until you finally cross the finish line. Playing as the cops is more cerebral. You need to drive fast and dodge oncoming traffic like the racer, but you also have to calculate what support tools and what location on the map would be ideal for trapping your prey.
Rounding out the impressive presentation of “Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit” is Electronic Art's Autolog feature. Essentially the Facebook of online video games, Autolog tracks your friends' progress and accomplishments in “Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit” and alerts you whenever something noteworthy is achieved. For instance, if your buddy claims a new record on a track, you'll know about it almost instantly and will be given the chance to topple your friend's score. It's a neat feature that gives gamers a more in-depth connection to each other than anything Xbox Live or PlayStation Network offer. Hopefully Electronic Arts will continue implementing it in their upcoming games.
“Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit” epitomizes everything that the franchise used to be renowned for, and though it lacks some of the fundamental depth of its predecessors (like car customization or the demand for precision drifting), it's easily a contender for one of the best racing games this year. There's nothing particularly deep about the gameplay, but once you barrel down the interstate in a McLaren F1 while a police chopper soars by overhead, and the wailing sirens of a police cruiser echo in your ears, you realize that “Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit” doesn't really need this in order to be awesome. It's one hell of a fun racing game, whether you play it alone or with friends, and sometimes that's all you really need.
Final Grade: B+
“Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit”
Developer: Criterion Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: 11.16.10