The Need For Speed franchise has been waning in recent years. It was once the king of street racing, however a number of less than successful games saw it’s name sullied. Despite the progress made in last year’s Need for Speed: Shift, a game which saw the series take a driving simulator stance, gamers have still been waiting for a return to it’s cops and robbers, arcade roots. Fortunately, fresh from their success with Burnout Paradise, Criterion Games were more than willing to take up the cause.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is the re-imagining of the late ’90s, early ’00s series of games with the same title. It challenges players to take up the role of a cop, trying to shut down the dangerous driving of the racers; or a racer avoiding the cops and living for the thrill of putting the pedal to the metal. Unlike a lot of previous games in the franchise, this doesn’t feature any tacked on story and instead leaves you as a nameless individual at the wheel of some of the most desirable cars on the planet.
Around 60 are available with big names such as Lamborghini, Porsche, Aston Martin, Mercedes Benz and Pagini to name but a few. All cars are superbly detailed and are often available in both their standard forms or spruced up with law enforcement decals in their cop variety. They are split into five different categories so all events are evenly matched, so you don’t see the Subaru Impreza, with its 305 horsepower (hp) brutally outclassed by a McLaren F1 with twice the horsepower.
One thing that veterans of Need for Speed may be disappointed with is that none of these cars are customisable. The only thing that you are able to change is the colour. So if your passion is with creating the ultimate modified car, complete with huge spoiler and neon undercar lighting, then you may have to look elsewhere.
However if you want a thrilling ride where you spend a lot of your time expertly drifting while avoiding the oncoming traffic then this is the game for you. Criterions work with Burnout Paradise has made a strong impact on this title. The controls are solid and give you enough control to pull on high speed moves without feeling like it’s holding your hand. The vehicles manage to each feel different so you don’t get short-changed by simply driving with the same style over and over. This constantly tests you to push your skills and make ever daring moves.
The main career mode sees players progressing through challenges as either a cop or racer. Each of these are levelled up individually and feature slightly different modes. Racers can either compete against each other, escape from the law enforcement or simply race in a time trial. Cops, on the other hand, are challenged to shut down those pesky petrol heads as a team or on a one to one basis as well as participating in a time trial. Although there’s a free drive mode included, that’s the only variety on offer.
One burden is that, presumably to keep up the exhilaration, there is a lot of rubber banding in place. This sees your foes catching up miraculously, which sees you fighting for your lead throughout the whole event. This can get particularly annoying if you have built up quite an impressive lead only to see an opponent fly past as the last second to claim victory.
To add some additional excitement to the mix, players are blessed with a variety of abilities to help them on their way. These include electromagnetic pulse (EMP) blasts, road blocks, helicopters and spike strips when playing as an officer of the law. The racers also have a few tricks up their sleeve in the form of turbo boosts and radar jamming, as well as spike strips and EMP blasts. All of which are limited depending on the event. Coupled with the boost, which is filled up which you drive, this adds a new layer of strategy to the proceedings and there’s nothing better than using any of the abilities at the right moment to secure victory.
While these are brilliant to use against computer intelligence, there’s even more satisfaction to be found online. The modes are as limited as the career and offer races and pursuits from one-on-one up to four versus four battles pitting the racers against the cops. The latter is the most rewarding as you work as a team or solo to outdrive your opponents. A lobby system would have been appreciated but nevertheless it’s not to difficult to join your friends.
As if simply racing your friends for bragging rights wasn’t enough, a new feature known as ‘autolog’ has been implemented. This serves as a Facebook style system allowing players to post in game photos, comments and event achievements for their friends to see. This also serves as a leaderboard so you can see how you rank amongst your friends and, with the press of a button, launch that event to claim back your pride. You can even gloat once again if you do succeed. This potentially reveals your hidden competitiveness and infinitely increases replay value. Other games need to take note as this feature is one that many titles would benefit from.
Criterion Games have done a superb job of reviving the cops versus robbers exhilaration that the Need for Speed franchise once did so well. However it’s clear that they have brought a lot more of their Burnout lineage with them so don’t expect to be modding any of these cars. Instead expect to feel the thrill of the chase and the satisfaction that comes with threading through a road block at 200mph before drifting sideways round a tight hairpin turn.