Saturday, 12 February 2011

Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit - the quick and the dead

*This review was originally written for Crude Pixel. 

Title: Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit
Platform: Xbox360/PS3
Rating: PG
Genre: Arcade Racer
Developer: Criterion Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
I have killed plenty of virtual people during my video game career, committed various heinous acts of violence and attained the dastardly achievement in Red Dead Redemption. Despite this, I harbor a deep an unusual prejudice against the street racing genre based on the moral grounds that driving over the speed limit and being a general nuisance to a local albeit virtual community is just wrong. I cannot seem to shake the feeling that I shouldn’t be breaking the speed limit and bashing into commuters within a residential area. If you are like me, you will find much to enjoy with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit which gives you the opportunity to play as the police, allowing you to bring swift and brutal justice to all those awful racers out there. Whether these are the kind of racers exiled from The Fast and the Furious franchise, who wear their trousers at their knees listening to their stupid music as their accompanying lady friend climaxes all over the front passenger seat to the sound of their over powered small penis compensating engine or whether they are just the more affluent racers who believes that being able to afford a Bugatti Veyron automatically gives them a license to drive dangerously, you will feel perfectly at home taking these felons out from behind the wheel of your souped up police car.

It is true, that there have been many Need for Speed games over the last decade or so to the point that EAs brand has effectively become a complex mish mash of titles that cater for both the driving simulator and arcade racer fans. Following EA’s admirable though failed mission to promote new and original IPs in 2008 (which led to Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge) the publishers have turned their attention into reinventing their core series, hence last year’s Medal of Honour, a new SSX game and a revamp of Hot Pursuit. There have already been two Hot Pursuit games, the first was released on PSone in 1998 and the second was released for the following generation in 2002. In order to bring the series out of retirement, EA turned to Guilford based development team Criterion games who already boast much success with the genre through the Burnout series, which peaked with 2009’s Burnout Paradise.

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is located within a fictional area of the North American landscape called Sea Crest County, which plays host to a series of illegal racing events. Far from being beaten, the authorities have decided to get even, by putting a stop to these races via specially engineered supercars. The game essentially consists of two career modes, one in which you play as the cops and the other where as you play as the criminals… or the racers. Completing races levels up your profile and unlocks new vehicles and challenges. There are over 60 cars in the retail version of the game (there are more available through DLC, naturally) ranging from Lamborghinis, Maseratis, Porsches, Koenigseggs and of course the Bugatti Veyron. Ferrari’s absence from the game is felt but there are enough to keep you busy. Whilst both careers are essentially made up of the same kind of events, time trial modes, one on ones and races, they are linked by the hot pursuit mode. An almighty race between eight cars who will also have to contend with the pursuing police forces. It is a highly climatic affair that builds and builds until the finish race is reached or the last racer is put out of commission. Each faction has an assortment of equipment and abilities including, spike traps, emp locks, road blocks and helicopters, which you will use to battle the other side and potentially to screw one another over. Hot pursuit mode is easily the best mode of the game, to the point that the normal races become slightly mundane. With that said, Criterion have succeeded in making a phenomenally exhilarating racer that evolves the genre dynamically, competitively and in accessibility.   

The sign says stop!

The first thing that will become apparent when playing Hot Pursuit is the sheer feeling of speed, which is absolutely unparalleled by any other racer that exists upon the market today. All cars have a nitrous injection, which is earned by powersliding, drafting and taking short cuts. This will help you get to top speed which isn’t necessarily the watershed. As you progress through the game, you unlock faster cars and eventually during the racer’s campaign you will unlock the turbo boost, which when used essentially transitions as a jump to hyperspace. Going fast in Hot Pursuit is an adrenaline rush and makes the game all the more addictive, literally putting the need back into Need for Speed. Of course, the faster you go the more risk you are taking, as you evade traffic and other obstacles upon the roads. Lest you want to go the way of Ratts Tyerell.

It is easy to see the spirit of Burnout in Hot Pursuit through the crashes, spectacular slow motion replays of soon to be written off supercars rolling to the symphony of twisted metal and shattered glass. Whether you are the victim or the perpetrator it is quite the definition of the old saying, of not being able to look away from a car crash. As the perpetrator, it is an immensely satisfying moment as you zoom on ahead but as the victim it can be crushing and towards the end of some of the later races it can spell the difference between first place and failure. The threat of crashing keeps you on your toes for most of the game and only increases the faster you go, and faster you’ll want to go.

Sweet justice. That will learn ya...
The routes you drive upon range from open roads that blister through low lying deserts or hang precariously off cliff sides overlooking the ocean. Other routes take you through snowy mountains and redwood forests, whilst others have you weaving through traffic on snaking freeways. The imagery is purely American and looks great as you zoom on past. There are also numerous shortcut routes that you can take to avoid the fuzz or gain an advantage within a race. Most are off road, and to utilize them to their fullest potential you will need a sturdier vehicle, the lower lying high performance vehicles will actually go slower through these routes, which adds a bit of balance to multiplayer. There is a subtle emphasis upon strategy that is implemented into the design of Hot Pursuit, which will require the player to think about their choice of vehicle. Stronger vehicles will help you last far longer against the police whilst faster vehicles will obviously give you the advantage in speed. Playing the different modes of each career isn’t necessarily an exercise of driving your most recently unlocked vehicle.

Thinking about how you are going to race will become more prominent through Hot Pursuit’s autolog feature. If you have friends playing Hot Pursuit, the game will automatically display their race times upon your dashboard. Though each race has the usual, bronze, silver and gold attainment of medals, if a friend has beaten your best time you will want to rectify this situation as soon as possible and so you enter the game’s highly competitive arena. During game you can take pictures at any point with a touch of a button and you can post these to your wall for your friends to see. Beat a friend’s time and you can type a message to rub it in their face. Previously, you could do this with any game but the genius of Hot Pursuit is in implementing it so fluidly within the game’s design. You can bet that more games are going to start doing this.

There are only a couple of niggles, as I have said before, the normal races that don’t feature the police are fairly boring in comparison to the headlining hot pursuit mode. Since this is a Need for Speed game, I guess the game couldn’t have shipped without your normal race modes. The game can be played in first or third person, as is usual for most racers of course, but why you would want to play the game in any for other perspective than first person is beyond me, unless if its just to see the Bugatti Veyron's spoiler come out when breaking. The game also includes a sound track of various different artists ranging from The Klaxons to MIA and whilst it is more a question of personal musical preferences I felt that there was a lot of filler in between some of the decent tracks. However, you probably won’t be too bothered by the musical soundtrack under the colossal sound of your engine as you takedown an opposing vehicle.   


Serious driving simulator fans will probably groan at the game’s errant simplicity and sense of unreality. For everybody else, they will enjoy a highly accessible and replayable racer. Needless to say Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is a triumphant reboot of the series and the racing genre in general. It manages to simplify the usual racer by putting a much needed emphasis back upon speed but deepens it by allowing the players to employ a variety of different styles, whether it be aggressive, speedy or somewhere between the two. Its revolutionary social stat tracking adds much competitive life to the game that will last long after you have gained every gold medal.        

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