Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit [Review]

The Race of a Lifetime

Need For Speed Hot Pursuit

The Starting Line
This is the 14th (!!!) entry in the Need for Speed (NFS) series; this time helmed by the team at Criterion Games.  You may know Criterion in large part from their work on the excellent Burnout series.  Keeping their past work in mind, Criterion is obviously no stranger to action-packed racing games, which is part of why they were handed the keys to NFS.  Need for Speed is a series that is, more often than not, still respected in its place among action-racers.  But ask anyone (myself included) when the heyday of the series was and most will tell you it was during the Hot Pursuit games.  They were games that were purely about the thrill of racing the most stylish/sexy/cool/powerful cars on the planet and escaping the reach of the cops attempting to crack down on your (not exactly legal) joy.

The new Hot Pursuit brings the series back to those roots of Cops and Robbers Racers, but now with a big twist: You can be the boys in blue this time around.  The setting is Seacrest County, where the (get ready for it) need for speed (had to do it) is the ultimate fix.  To combat the astonishing escalation of speed freaks, the Seacrest County Police Department (SCPD) has put together a speed force like none ever seen.  It’s one thing to see a cop behind the wheel of a Crown Vic chasing down a speeder; it would take a triple-take to process a cop bearing down on an illegal street race behind the wheel of a Lamborghini.  It’s that kind of evocative imagery and all the support that comes with it that Criterion is putting on the table in this go around.  Those looking to evade the police need not fret though, because what would Hot Pursuit be without those to be pursued?

Need For Speed Hot Pursuit

With its dizzying array of ferocious automobiles and and the ability to use road blocks, EMPs, spike strips, and helicopters it would be easy to believe the SCPD had long ago wiped out illegal street races, but racers have some tricks up their sleeves as well.  As a racer you’ll gain access to your own equipment, with the spike strip and EMP being ‘adopted’ from the opposing side, and turbo and radar jammer being exclusive to the racer persuasion.  As a racer, you’ll need all the tools at your disposal as you face the double threat of just trying to survive the SCPD and also attempting to come out on top of the other racers.

While there are many up front differences between racers and cops in the new Hot Pursuit, Criterion has also made it a game of quiet and subtle differences, which is easily lost in the frantic heart-pumping action.  Racers enjoy a higher top speed out of their vehicles, but the SCPD gets better acceleration.  Things like ride height and car weight play into how well cars fare compared to one another when taking off road shortcuts and trading paint.  There are so many nuances that you might never notice them all consciously during your play, but when you do notice it’ll make you appreciate the level of detail Criterion paid attention to with this game.

Need For Speed Hot Pursuit

Criterion definitely brought over some things they learned from their time with the Burnout series, which you’ll see in the nitrous boosts for driving in oncoming traffic, near misses with other cars, and other little things pulled over from the other series.  Make no mistake though, this isn’t Burnout with a new coat of paint.  You’ll feel the difference in handling between a Dodge Charger SRT-8 and an Aston Martin V12 Vantage, which is a rare treat in the arcade racing genre where pretty much every car feels the same (something the Burnout games were guilty of as well).  The feel of racing in the game isn’t as arcade as Burnout, but doesn’t stray very far into the frustratingly realistic zone either.  Criterion gets high marks for being able to strike a balance of fun where real skill pays off more than simply being able to keep your foot to the floor, heedless of any other tactics.

With Friends Like These…
Another great feature that has been set up in the new NFS is the Autolog system.  Introduced as an intermediary between strictly offline or online racing, Autolog keeps track of you and your friends’ achievements and track times during the course of your career.  You and your friends’ initial track times and any improved times you post after that point all go up on the Wall, where the current leader gets bragging rights atop the standings.  Have a friend beat one of your best course times?  Autolog will let you know so you can attempt to take your throne back.  “Autolog Recommends” is a place where you can potentially spend a lot of time battling to improve your standings as your number of friends increases in the game.  Autolog Recommends will even suggest friends of friends who have NFS so you can increase your circle and keep the competition going strong.

Need For Speed Hot Pursuit - Ford GT

When you blow past a friend’s track time and set a new standard Autolog even allows you to make comments for all your friends to see.  One of your friends swear they have an untouchable course time?  Call them out on it by name when you destroy it, or light a fire under an unmotivated friend’s butt when you’ve broken all their records.  You can even take photos of your car, either in the garage or out in the free drive mode, and post them to the Wall with comments as well.  Unlock a car that’s sure to turn a few heads?  Post it up and show your friends what’s waiting for them on the next cop or racer level.  With this new potential of competition without having to be online at the exact same time to do it, a lot of replay value is added to an already fun game.

Even with the new aspect of Autolog, the career and online modes are by no means slouches either.  Career gives you a ton or races to complete/shut down, and there are 20 possible levels to attain in each side of the career mode, with cars being unlocked at different intervals within those levels.  Online plays out as a natural extension of the career, where up to 8 racers are automatically balanced into racer/cop teams for a more immediately competitive atmosphere.  Achievements in takedowns or placing in races (or finishing at all) carry over into your career levels, meaning you are always earning something tangible in whatever mode you take part in.

Races during the career are incredibly gratifying, but online takes things to a whole new level of intensity with the amount of skill being demonstrated by other players.  Online players will definitely give you a whole new perspective (or at least new ideas) on how you race, and with each foray into online being a series instead of one-off races you’ll feel personally invested in the experience you share from a shorter 6 mile race to the 17 mile epic that concludes the series, especially if most/all the players stick out the whole series.

Need For Speed Hot Pursuit - Bugatti

Photo Finish
Criterion Games has done an excellent job bringing the Need for Speed series back to its roots: undiluted racing thrills.  Frankly the only downside I can really throw at the game is the lack of ability to tune the cars or customize them.  Considering that the cars are already high-end exotics and the game is at its heart an arcade racer this is neither unexpected nor a true slight against the game.

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is an honest to goodness contender for game of the year in my mind, and thus I see no reason not to recommend it to anyone looking for a fun, intense racing experience; only those looking for a strict simulation racer need not apply.  The amount of polish and detail that went into the game is easily apparent, and the unerring success in taking the Hot Pursuit series back to its roots garners it my first ever perfect score.  Welcome to Seacrest County, and godspeed (you’re going to need it).

Robert Hill-Williams
Robert Hill-Williams
Robert Hill-Williams

MASH Veteran

The only things Rob has been doing longer than gaming are breathing, sleeping, eating, and reading. RPGs were what made him view games as an experience instead of a distraction, but these days he likes and plays every genre gaming has to offer. Outside of his usual reviews and articles on MTB, you can find Rob on the weekly Mashcast and frequenting Twitter.

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