It has been nine long years since the last Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit game graced our screens. Hot Pursuit was the fast-paced racing series where you had to dodge the police as well as make top position. And now the series has been rebooted by the makers of the popular Burnout games. It all rested on the shoulders of the clever people at Criterion Games. And quite frankly, no other developer could have done a better job.
Firstly, gamers annoyed with the open world in Burnout Paradise will be happy to see Criterion have brought back the world map from their older Burnout titles. Taking place in the fictional Seacrest County, roads are miles long and feature wide spaces to make the most of your drifting — spectacular views too. Events are differentiated by two career paths; Cop or Racer.
It’s almost as if you have a split-personality. By day you’re a law-abiding cop, by night you’re a law-breaking racer. The many event types include such delicacies as Hot Pursuit — the classic racing mode. You must battle for first place while at the same time avoid being taken out by the cops. Vice versa if you’re playing the cops. Other events include races, time trials, and gauntlets.
Depending on the event and career you may have one or more abilities at your disposal, including the Jammer. The jammer is used by the racers and will block your on-screen minimap, confusing you of the whereabouts of your targets. The racers will often take advantage of this and take shortcuts or travel down routes that go in other directions — leaving you hounding down the wrong path, eventually losing them altogether. The jammer also temporarily disables all of the cop abilities.
The Spike Strip can be used by cops and racers alike. It drops a deadly metal strip directly behind you car incapacitating anyone in its path. This is where your rear-view mirror comes in handy. Dropping down spike strips in the right place is a real art form. If you play cop you have an extra ability – the helicopter. The helicopter sets up spike strips too, but it drops them down in front of your intended targets wherever they may be on the track.
Again used by both driver types, the EMP sends out an electric blast, shutting down your target car and sending it spiralling. As effective as it may be, it is still a pain to use as you need to lock onto your target, making sure they don’t go around a bend or get too far ahead.
Like switching on warp drive, the Turbo ability will propel your racing vehicle forward, faster than you can handle. This helps you catch up if you find yourself lagging behind the pack, or you want to get away from a cop on your tail.
Calling in a Roadblock sets up a line of cop cars across the track, supposedly blocking racers from driving any further. Of course that’s not usually the case. There’s always a gap or two the smarter racers will always find a way through. Fortunately there are still times when the AI drivers lack a sense of judgement.
Many of these abilities can level up as you rank up through the game, increasing the length of your spike strips for example, or the amount of police cars in your road blocks. It just makes the game that much more engaging. It is easy to go on autopilot in driving games, or just driving in general. Watching these abilities closely, and keeping an eye out for your opponents will help you stay on your toes.
Like in Burnout, Nitrous (or boost) is gained by drifting, near misses, wrecking patrol cars, and driving on the wrong side of the road. Being officers of the law, earning Nitrous as a cop works slightly differently. Cop boost is earned by travelling at high speed, slipstreaming, drifting, and busting racers. Slipstreaming is when you follow closely behind another car, reducing drag and therefore speeding yourself up – which unlike reckless driving to gain Nitrous, is actually a thing in real life! Both racers and cops earn Bounty. These bounty points add to your rank for each profile, starting off from the shameful Rank 1 all the way up to Rank 20.
In spectacular Burnout fashion, all crashes and takedowns cut to camera shots of the car rolling and twisting around like a ballerina — where every screeching sound has a shred of metal to go along with it. As for the range of cars I’m no Top Gear fanatic, but I think they have a pretty decent selection. From Aston Martins to Porsches to Lamborghinis, after beating an event it’s almost as if you unlock a new car every time. As expected there’s a choice of car classes and colours. The game will even tell you which cars your friends used to get their high scores.
Being connected to Xbox Live is the best way to play Hot Pursuit. After any event you will be added to the Speedwall – an online leaderboard featuring everyone on your Friend’s list that has played that same event. Just like Trials HD on Xbox Live Arcade you may find this Speedwall incredibly compelling. Unable to fight the urge you may find yourself late into the night trying to beat a friend whose time is just several seconds under yours. Autolog brings these scores to the forefront.
Autolog is, well… an in-game social network — EA’s own little version of Facebook. With Autolog Recommends you can view challenges and issue them to your friends. It pinpoints just who out of your buddies you need to show who’s boss. Just like Facebook there’s also a Wall for sharing status updates, latest activities and shared photos — if you are into that sort of thing.
Disappointedly there is no split-screen option, but the online multiplayer is fully featured. Apart from the lack of an encompassing Quick Play option (you have to select the exact event type and car series to start matchmaking), it’s actually rather good. There’s a variety of events on offer including a fantastic game of cops and robbers in Hot Pursuit mode, where each car on the track packs a huge arsenal of abilities.
Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit is the best arcade racer I’ve played in a long time. As a package it is a damn fine product, but it’s those little moments that make the game memorable. It’s the sense of inertia you get when boosting down mile-long roads, or the sweaty tension that trickles down your palms when closing in on a dirtbag racer. It’s the satisfaction you get from surprising a fellow racer with a spike strip, or blasting off an EMP, sending a cop into a deadly spiral. All of these moments can be yours to experience on a single disc that will unleash the speeder in even the most timid person. Just remember your seatbelt.