A Pursuit Worth Undertaking!
Although the Need for Speed series has historically featured high-speed chases and thrill-based gameplay, last year’s Need for Speed: Shift heralded a literal shift for the series into simulation territory. Many gamers (including myself) were wowed by this venture into new territory, but as the series follows so many others into the simulation genre, it’s hard not to feel some nostalgia for the arcade genre, which has been shrinking in size at an exponential rate. However, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is certainly a great example of an arcade-style racer done right and proves that there is still plenty of life left in this genre.
The game is set up a lot like the old Need for Speed games where two rival factions battle for control of the streets: cops and racers. However, though previous games let you assume the role of the racer in a mostly-linear career mode, Hot Pursuit allows you to take on the role of the racers and the cops. As the racer, your job is (of course) to win races and outrun the cops. But as the cop, you’ll need to take down drivers and respond to calls in time trials. Of course, the former is the most exciting, as the folks at Criterion have certainly included some of their famous Burnout style crashes included in the game.
The two factions have separate careers that can be accessed on a world map that lists missions for both scattered across the fictitious Seacrest County. As you complete missions for both sides, you’ll unlock special challenges and, of course, increase your rank. You never have to choose one side or the other to complete in any linear fashion, as missions for both will appear on your map no matter where your progress level is.
And speaking of progression, the way you go through the game is interesting, as you unlock new events by earning bounty and, of course, finishing missions within certain “gold” parameters. While the gold parameters are laid out for you before you even take on the mission, the bounty you earn during each event is completely up to you, and you’ll need to pull off some crazy stunts and engage in some risky behavior in order to earn a favorable bounty bonus.
The game’s new structure is certainly a welcome change of pace, and the open mission structure is a great way for players to take on the missions they really like and leave others for a later time. Honestly, it’s hard to remember how we got by in these fast-paced arcade-style racers before the open system. Of course, you’ll have to beat nearly all the missions if you want to succeed in either career (you “win” the career once you reach Level Twenty as either a cop or a racer), but there are extra bonuses available for you if you complete every mission, and you’ll have to do some incredible stuff to unlock all of the game’s impressive garage of cars.
Like most arcade-style games, the garage is limited at the beginning of the game. In fact, you’ll only have one car per faction! However, even though you start out with a standard tuned racing vehicle and the quintessential Crown Vic for your cop, the garages on both sides get pretty interesting with Lamborghini, Subaru, Dodge, Mazda and Ford all having tuned models available for both the cop and racer factions. And honestly, you haven’t lived until you have chased down racers in a tricked-out cop car going 200+ MPH. It is certainly exhilarating.
Most of the appeal for this game comes from the single and local-multiplayer components, but the online multiplayer has some interesting charms. The first thing you’ll notice is that Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit has a persistent online mode known as “Autolog” that tracks you and your friend’s progress through the game and displays it on the game’s main menu. The Autolog system also has a social networking feature that allows you to share photos, create challenges, and write messages on a shared “wall” that friends can see and leave comments on. The interface is a lot like Facebook, and if you have a robust friend list with people who love Need for Speed, you’re likely to get a lot of use out of this feature. However, if you don’t have many friends playing Need for Speed, the Autolog feature can seem intrusive, as the game is constantly reminding you to invite friends to online matches and to take photos to post to your wall. The Autolog feature almost creates a need for friends in order to fully experience the game, which means going online will net you a massive amount of friend requests as an interesting byproduct.
The online modes are good on their own, but I feel they were a bit sparse overall. There is a basic racing mode where every player takes on the role of a racer and competes for first, but the real meat of the online modes comes from the cops vs. racers modes. There is a one-on-one mode and a team-based mode that allow you to use special weapons against the other team. Things like spike strips and EMP blasts can be used by either side, but cops get access to air support by helicopter and roadblocks, while racers can use speed boosts to escape. The weapons available in the online modes make them surprisingly deep, and there’s a fair amount of strategy involved in playing through each stage. However, there isn’t much variety in the online modes, and I feel there could have been more content in the game’s online offering. Though the weapons are nice draw, I found myself returning to the offline career more frequently than the online offering.
In the visuals department, you should know right off the bat that Need for Speed certainly isn’t trying to be the next Gran Turismo or Forza. However, for what they are, the visuals are pretty and feature gorgeous vistas and locations within Seacrest County. The cars are also impressive and sport a great amount of detail. The game doesn’t have any weather effects or a super-fast frame rate, but the visuals get the job done, and the game looks great by most standards.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is an outstanding arcade-style racer, and quite easily the best example of the genre that I have seen in years. Though the sim-style of racing has gained exponentially in popularity, I would challenge even the most hardened simulation elitist to give this title a try and not crack a smile. Sure, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit has plenty of over-the-top action and some serious high-speed hi-jinks that wouldn’t fly in any other series, but the game is plenty of fun, and certainly worth the time of any fan of the automotive genre. Plus, any game that makes the sound of cop sirens feel exhilarating instead of dreadful is bound to be a good time!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.3 Graphics
Environments are beautiful and cars have an appropriate amount of “shiny” to them. 4.6 Control
Arcade-style controls work well and feature just the right amount of twitch without compromising the game’s arcade feel. 4.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Background music features some of the best rock music you’ve never heard, and the sound effects come through nicely. 4.4 Play Value
The career mode is just deep enough, but the online mode feels like it could have been fleshed out a little. 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best