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Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Review

23 November 2010

Screeching around a turn in a Porsche Boxter Spyder, we swept past our closest opponent and overtook first place. The competition was fierce from the other drivers, but with a tap of nitrous we were firmly in the lead. We stayed in the wrong lane, deftly avoiding the sparsely-placed oncoming traffic to build up more nitrous. Ahead of us, the Seacrest County Police Department deployed a roadblock, and before we knew it, a decked-out Lamborghini cruiser was smashing us from side to side, trying in vain to run us off the road. We crouched ahead ever so slightly, deployed a spike strip to eliminate the cruiser, and narrowly found the sweet spot of the barricade to ultimately win the race, netting us thousands of bounty points and another new car.

It took plenty of practice to get that course down properly, but it's just a typical race you’ll encounter in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. This open-world arcade racer is up against some stiff competition this year, but it’s clearly the new front-runner. You likely know developer Criterion Games for its highly successful Burnout series. Though Hot Pursuit shares some similarities with Burnout Paradise, it distinctive enough to bring arcade racing to a new level, not just in gameplay, but in the way it connects you with other players online.

Racing fans typically judge a game on a few basic elements. First, the game must have good controls appropriate to the style of game (arcade vs. simulator). Second, the game should provide an extensive garage of authentic cars. And, finally, the game must look, sound, and play great. On those very basic levels, Hot Pursuit takes the top prize this year in the arcade racing genre.

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Hot Pursuit allows you to play as either a racer or a cop in fictional Seacrest County, a remarkably diverse locale filled with relatively empty roads—except for all the adrenaline-junkies in blazing fast autos. The setting is diverse and gorgeous; even when speeding 200 mph down a wooded country road, you can pick up little details everywhere. We swear that at times we could smell the burning of asphalt as we sped past the competition. Weather, location, and time of day all play a significant role in the game’s presentation, too. One race will have you climbing steep hills in snowy mountains, while another will bring you through what appears to be redwood forests with tight turns. Plus, there are plenty of side routes, which allow you to escape the police or get a leg-up on when pursuing racers. It’s this diversity that helps push Hot Pursuit into a new league of arcade racers.

While some racing games require you to ingrain every small turn in your muscle memory, Hot Pursuit requires you to think on your feet; you typically need to pay as much attention to other racers (or the police) as you do the actual racetrack. You’ll maneuver your assortment of exotic muscle and sport cars with swift and agile controls. This is not Gran Turismo 5, it is an arcade-style racer and plays as such. At first the controls felt a bit heavy, but after some time with the game, we found all you needed was a tap of the brake to perform a nice long drift. The controls are extremely precise, just as you’d imagine from the Burnout crew, and if there are any complaints about handling, it’s probably the fault of our insatiable need for speed; sometimes we drove too fast and didn’t have enough time to react to even very slight turns, leading us straight into a nice crash sequence.

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The over-the-top crashes are breathtaking. It’s hard to get too miffed about wrecking when you get such awesome looking segments. This is especially true for when you play as a cop and have to eliminate racers, which make for some of our favorite segments in the game. Sure, we could use our tools like spike strips, EMP, road blocks, even a helicopter, but smashing into a racer is extremely satisfying, especially the moment you actually wreck the vehicle and see the “Busted” prompt on-screen.

This is not just an old-school racing game. Sure, you get to play as either cop or racer (and both offer tons of enjoyment), but there is a layer of connectivity that is unprecedented in a racing game. The central hub revolves around the Autolog, which allows players to connect, compare, and compete against one another in a simple yet effective manner. The game allows you to see how well your friends have done on whichever race you’re attempting, and even lets you brag on their Walls if you beat their times. Then, if a friend tops your score on a certain track, you can quickly jump in and try to reclaim supremacy. There’s even a suggestions section that allows you to, as the name indicates, suggest a certain race to a friend. For instance, if you think you posted a time too good to beat, tell your friends about it and suggest they try to overcome your awesomeness. Autolog will undoubtedly give the game extremely long legs.

In career mode, you play as either a racer or a cop and collect bounty points by winning races, showing off your elite driving skills, or posting a best time. There are 20 ranks to progress through using bounty points, and with each rank comes new challenges. Within each rank you’ll land new cars and competitions. This helps drive the game forward, giving players a reason to progress instead of just attempting to get a faster and faster score on the first couple levels. Bounty Points also net you upgraded tools and gadgets. Eventually you’ll be decked out with the absolute best in automobiles, and means of which to escape or capture opponents.

There are several different styles of competitions within the game. For racers, there's Hot Pursuit, the basic race-style competition that involves cops; Race, a straight competition for first place without cop interference; and Time Trial, which is a single car race against the clock, though typically cops intervene and try to ruin your run. Cops also get Hot Pursuit, which tasks players with eliminating as many racers as possible; Interception, a basic eliminate one racer task; and Rapid Response, which is like Time Trial except you're penalized for crashing. The journey to Rank 20 is extremely long, and after a while we would have liked more diversity in game modes.

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When you finally decide it’s time to show off your abilities, you can take some DreamShots of your vehicle in action. The best place to do this is during Freedrive, which essentially allows you to pick which ever car you like, choose a location on the map, and drive till your heart’s content. There are no cops or competitors to run you off the road and you cannot damage your car. This is the perfect time to take and post some pictures, get familiar with the course, or just relax for a 200 mph joyride along the coast of Seacrest County.

If a picture isn’t enough to show off your style, you can play online with friends or strangers, increase your wanted level, and earn Bounty Points. Playing online offers the greatest diversity in play style. The game’s AI is pretty decent; in fact, your opponents are downright mean drivers. But they tend to be a bit predictable, especially when playing as a cop against racers. But when you are online, you see that there are more than one or two ways to win a race.

While diehard driving sim fans will have to wait a few more days for GT5, those looking to get their thrills in an exhilarating, fast-paced arcade racing game need look no further than Hot Pursuit. On the surface, it’s a gorgeous, easy-to-play racer with great controls and exciting crashes, but look further and you’ll find that Hot Pursuit is a game that gets just about everything right. Arcade racing fans have a new champion in the genre thanks to Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.

-The Final Word-

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit speeds past the arcade-racing competition with its deeply connected Autolog system, breathtaking visuals, and the thrill that comes with driving exotic cars at 200 mph while chasing, or escaping, your fellow racers.
  • Beautiful graphics, even at full speed
  • Playing as both cops and racers creates diverse gameplay
  • The Autolog system offers enormous connectivity
  • The AI is a bit predictable
  • The game modes may become a bit repetitive
9.0
Platforms reviewed : PlayStation 3
See PSU's reviews scores on Metacritic and Gamerankings

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