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Cian Hassett
24 Jan, 2011

Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit Review

360 Review | Drifting towards a brighter future.
Can you remember when Need For Speed meant something? It was a very long time ago and most of us have come to accept that the series has been skidding down a very steep slope. You see, it's becoming increasingly difficult to make an arcade racer stand out from the crowd, and even when you do, there's always a chance that people will end up ignoring it. Just take a look at what happened to Bizarre Creations at the end of last year, the people who brought us Project Gotham Racing and Blur. Good games don't necessarily lead to good results, and when you consider how mediocre past entries of Need For Speed have been, it becomes evident that big brands are putting the little people out of business. However, it seems that Electronic Arts has finally realised that their core racing franchise has been under-performing so they've hired Criterion Games to develop Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit. Since the original Burnout in 2001, they've been at the pinnacle of arcade racing so they're clearly the right team to get the job done. But have they succeeded?

Yes and no. Mostly yes, however the feeling you get from playing Hot Pursuit is slightly more mixed than you might have thought. For the sake of keeping the focus on analysis, let's talk about everything that that makes Hot Pursuit a must-buy for racing fans. Firstly, you'll notice that the game looks stunning. It's not too far behind Forza 3 in terms of quality, the only thing holding it back is the occasional blocky environmental texture but that matters little when you're driving past at break-neck speeds. Amazingly, even when you're tearing it up through a forest, Hot Pursuit's frame rate never drops and locations are truly gorgeous. Then you have the real babes of Need For Speed, the ones with curvy bodies and a great set of... wheels. We all love the design and engineering behind each and every vehicle, so don't be surprised if you end up drooling during a race. All of the cars, whether it's a simple Nissan or a Bugatti Veyron, are amazing to look at. The detail remains consistent even when you zoom in. Combine that with a slick head-up display and user friendly menus, leaving you with the most polished Need For Speed title in years. So it definitely looks the part, but visuals are worthless if the gameplay can't stand up on its own.

That's a bit more like it...

That's a bit more like it...
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There's nothing to worry about as far as the mechanics are concerned, this is a Criterion game after all. Burnout 3 is the most obvious influence that springs to mind here. The vehicles have a genuine weight to them and you feel powerful when the pedal is slammed against the floor. Races are pretty straight forward, so you'll either be evading the police, or chasing the fleeing felons. From the main map in career mode, you can select events from either side, but progression for each has been kept separate. If you drive with more flair, or if you eliminate racers, or if you do any number of other actions - you'll gain experience and rank up. Racers will become more wanted, and police officers will become more respectable. Essentially, this is exactly the same as the Kudos system from Project Gotham Racing, and the more time you spend with Hot Pursuit, the more you'll realise that it plucks plenty of ideas from rivals in the genre.

Mario Kart and more recently, Blur, incorporated brilliant weapon systems to coincide with the driving. Hot Pursuit does the exact same thing. Your artillery is semi-realistic (activated by pressing the directional pad); spike strips and road blocks are the most common, while EMP's give you a chance to pick out and target the driver of your choice. The more damage you cause with each of these fancy tools, the more efficient they become. For instance, spike strips become wider and EMP's will have more range. Obviously the idea is to make drivers more aware and play with a tactical edge, but the weapons are a bit of a gimmick really. If it wasn't for the superb handling and the high-octane action, then Hot Pursuit would be another average and forgettable entry to the Need For Speed franchise.

Helicopters - expect to see plenty of them.

Helicopters - expect to see plenty of them.
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Strip out all of the sparks and destruction, every piece of shiny metal and scenic view, just appreciate Hot Pursuit for what it achieves in adrenaline fueled racing. The emphasis is on power, especially when it comes to drifting. You can squeeze the right trigger tightly, tap the left and then plough around the corner. When you're playing a Criterion game that feels just right, it's almost impossible to consider buying anything else and when you hit top gear, Hot Pursuit is an absolute pleasure. Career mode offers plenty of unlockable content and a tremendously well implemented leaderboard system called the 'Autolog'. From here, you can interact with friends and post new times - again, nothing new, but something that Criterion manages to integrate seamlessly alongside everything else.

Hot Pursuit's lifespan is lengthy when you're playing it on your own, however, the online elements work so well that it's easy to lose track of your progression. All of the race types are available for up to eight players, and any experience you earn will be combined with whatever you acquired offline. Teams are divided between cops and racers, and the racing always remains intense. Nudging your opponent into a roadblock never gets old. The game handles full lobbies very well, because it needs to, otherwise the collision detection would make it unplayable. Most of the weapons work well too, except the spike strips which are often deployed too slowly and miss their target. Apart from that, Hot Pursuit is one of the smoothest online racers out there.

Hmm... a rather convenient gap.

Hmm... a rather convenient gap.
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Now that you've probably been convinced to buy Hot Pursuit, it's time to face some harsh truths. Although the career mode is quite comprehensive, there isn't an awful lot of depth. You can't customize any of the cars apart from changing the colour, and the whole 'Cop vs. Criminal' racing style does become repetitive. Different race types try their best to mix it up but you're still doing the same thing over and over again. Start the race, flag the attention of the cops, battle, rinse and vice versa. In fairness, this is a problem with most arcade racers but you have to understand that you won't get the same amount of value compared to the likes of Forza 3 or Gran Turismo 5. The soundtrack doesn't help either, since when has hip-hop been enjoyable to drive to? What happened to traditional, hard rockin' blues? One or two songs try their best to redeem the lackluster music, but you would be much better off having an iPod in the background. When a chase begins, the soundtrack evaporates and is replaced by a more cinematic track. It's an attempt to make everything seem a little bit more... 'epic', but the sensation doesn't last. On a final side note, Hot Pursuit doesn't have a proper in-car view, which is a pretty ridiculous omission these days.

All of the minor nuisances aside, we're still talking about an excellent racing game that fans will get plenty of enjoyment from. Hot Pursuit is easily the best Need For Speed game since 1994 and there's a lot to like, but it will never be remembered as a classic piece of Criterion craftsmanship. That's a difficult (and possibly stupid) thing to say, but when it comes down to bare bones racing, Hot Pursuit doesn't offer many new ideas. What it does, very well, is copy and finely tune ideas from other racers and put a shiny new layer of EA paint over them. Mind you, the series is definitely heading in the right direction with Criterion, and this was one badly needed reboot. Let's see where the UK developer takes Need For Speed in 2011, but for now, Burnout 3 remains the long-standing champion of arcade racers.
The Score
While Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit is a terrific racer, it's also a poignant reminder that Criterion will probably never be able to match the standard they set with Burnout 3. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit Content

Trio of DLC packs for NFS: Hot Pursuit incoming
19 Feb, 2011 Gas up for another go around.
Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit DLC announced
11 Dec, 2010 Speeding its way onto a console near you.
Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit launch trailer
17 Nov, 2010 Another classic from Criterion?
12 Comments
3 years ago
PALGN wrote
You can't customize any of the cars apart from changing the colour
Whaaa...??

Think I will just wait for Test Drive Unlimited 2.
3 years ago
such a late review. Almost a month late?
3 years ago
THEMAN wrote
such a late review. Almost a month late?
These guys don't have a magic vault containing...

- A Scrooge McDuck-size pile o' cash.
- All the time in the world.
3 years ago
the thing i disliked about it was how horribly fake the turning was. I know its an arcade racer but it something I couldn't get my head around.
3 years ago
Shadow Wave wrote
the thing i disliked about it was how horribly fake the turning was. I know its an arcade racer but it something I couldn't get my head around.
Really? I found the handling pretty intuitive, although I have put in a lot of hours into various burnout games.

I agree with this review, too. What the game does, it does very very well. The problem is Criterion have played it very safe, there is nothing here that is original. The sense of speed and handling is taken from Burnout (and even Burnout ripped their handling from Daytona), the weapon system is very standard, the cops and robbers thing has been done by EA a number of times before, open world free driving has been done before (and it's barely worth mentioning here)... nothing is innovative here at all.

That being said, the Autolog system is excellent. It really makes you want to try and squeeze those extra few seconds off your time to beat your rivals/ friends. And I've still put a lot of hours in. I'd probably give it 8.5/10
3 years ago
light487 wrote
PALGN wrote
You can't customize any of the cars apart from changing the colour
Whaaa...??
Well, this was never supposed to be a customizable car-racing thing. In fact, it's the opposite - a throwback of the non-street racing Need For Speeds of yore, with arcade controls, a simple cops v. criminals approach, and bright 'exotic' graphics.

Actually, I'm not sure why I'm commenting; I'm never going to buy this game. It's good that they've taken the series back to its roots, and I hope Criterion get rewarded for it.
3 years ago
Actually, I thought the handling was rubbish as well, and went away bitterly disappointed the first time I gave it a go. Then I gave it another shot, realised that the cars are all just a big weightier than I was expecting, and suddenly it felt like distilled arcade genius.
3 years ago
mmm...i liked the review very much...although i took exception to the comment about the soundtrack.

i agree that the soundtrack wasn't a fantastic one by any means, but why say that you wouldn't ever want ANY hip-hop music in an arcade racer? icon_eek.gif
chiddy bang wasn't THAT bad. and they had some Lupe Fiasco. but they would have been much better off with some BigBoi or even some Jay-Z

I was most shocked to hear what's happened with Weezer these days. What the hell was that song they had in there? Terrible icon_sick.gif
3 years ago
CHiddy Bang == instant skip... >_>
3 years ago
Disapointing about the soundtrack. Burnout 3 had a really awesome soundtrack and Burnout Paradise's was pretty good as well. The use of GnR's Paradise City as the title song was obvious, but brilliant none the less.

I agree, no rap/hip hop in racers please. Rock FTW!
3 years ago
NFS:HP has just some of the best online multiplayer, craps all over Burnout. And that's a big statement.

But there's something about chasing someone down careening across infinite landscapes at break-neck speed trying your arse off to total that guy in the way too flashy Lambo, calling on every scintilla of reaction and concentration (because hey, they could all of a sudden do a 180 and try evade you that way).

This is just multiplayer racing bliss, and it's not to be had often these days.
3 years ago
When I heard they were bringing out a new Hot Pursuit, I was rapt. I spent so much time in the first HP. Then it came out and I found out that it has no split screen multiplayer. As good as the game may be, that's a deal breaker for me. I want to play against my friends/family that are in the same room as me.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Publisher:
  Electronic Arts
Genre:
  Racing
Year Made:
  2010

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