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Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit (PS3/Xbox 360) review

by on November 18, 2010
 

When EA unveiled Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit at this year’s E3, one of its main selling points was the first-time involvement of Criterion Games, the studio best known for developing the Burnout series. To many racing fans, it seemed like a dream project, a huge no-brainer that is arguably overdue, considering EA has had Criterion under its development umbrella since 2004. Since that time the studio proved themselves further with the online-persistent Burnout Paradise and now they’ve done the same with Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit.

As with past Hot Pursuits, this 2010 release pits speeders against equally equipped law enforcement. Most sessions can be as short as 4 miles or as long as 14 miles.  One fun way to experience the single player mode is to alternate between cop and racer missions. Subsequent missions unlock every time the respective driver type clears a race. Naturally, with each new mission comes a new area of the map to explore. Yet if you like, you can just free-roam and enjoy the scenery. One of my favorite spots is the stretch of road known as Ocean Blue. Its Pacific Coast Highway-inspired look makes one long for a realistic version Sega’s Outrun and recalls dozens of stylized car commercials that navigate through the same kinds of windy roads.

Speaking of roads, Hot Pursuit boasts Criterion’s largest map yet, with an area four times the size of Burnout Paradise. It does make a lot of sense since chase-centric racing benefits a great deal from more open roads. Even when you’re not chased by cops, there are  some long stretches of road to savor as you try to complete some timed missions with one of faster cars. One early mission, aptly titled ‘Vanishing Point’, introduces one of the longer straightaways in the game, the kind where the road seems to stretch well into the horizon line.

The game’s collection of cars are as varied as they are glamorous. While Gran Turismo might grab headlines on the size of their vehicle roster, Hot Pursuit goes for the quality over quantity approach. From hi-end Fords to intriguing Maseratis, there are enough wheels to try out that it might take  a while to earn any kind of car loyalty award unless you’re the focused type. The intrinsic cool factor of driving a Lamborghini is only overshadowed by the ability to drive a Lamborghini as a cop.

What Criterion pulled off with Hot Pursuit’s driving controls feels unsurprising in the best possible way, especially if you have been following the studio for the better part of the decade. Definitely do not expect this to play like a Burnout game with the Need For Speed name slapped across it. The cars handle with a more realistic level of weight compared to Paradise, whether you’re performing subtle weaves or making hairpin turns.

The sensation of speed will be recognizable to both Burnout and NFS fans and Criterion has taken some welcome liberties in bringing over some elements from their crash-centric series. Yes, that includes an entertaining crash mechanic. These scenes of vehicular carnage actually look slightly reined in compared to Burnout, but they can still look over the top from time to time. Also don’t expect too many distinct car parts flying all over the place. Much of the crash animation effects show dozens of tiny pieces that look more like paint chips as opposed to car parts. Another feature that’ll be recognizable to Criterion fans will be the ability to boost. There isn’t the opportunity to constantly boost though. You only have a limited amount to use at a time and it takes several seconds for it to fully regenerate, whether you’ve used some or all of the nitro. Like Burnout, performing risky moves like near misses and driving onto oncoming traffic fills up your boost meter quicker.

That of course brings up the strategy element to Hot Pursuit. Aside from timing one’s boost, there are the various weapons that both the cop and the racer can use. If you can keep a car in your sights for several seconds, you can disable them with an EMP charge. Moreover, if the game says that someone has an EMP lock on you, you can either move out of their field of vision by driving aggressively or use a jammer. Both sides are capable of laying down spike strips as well and can make for some satsifying takedowns. As a cop, you can summon a helicopter to drop a strip or you can call in a roadblock.

These roadblocks make up some of the heart-pumping experiences in Hot Pursuit. There are few things more satsifying in a videogame than spotting a roadblock from a quarter mile away and threading a needle through the car-wide gap that the police mistakenly leave for you. Finding shortcuts (a NFS staple) is almost as gratifying, provided you get enough practice to navigate through them.

The well-developed and balanced rubberband AI makes many of the mid-to-high level races a great challenge, but it is the online multiplayer that will be the main draw for many gamers. Despite the expected 1st-week flood of users, Hot Pursuit’s online performance has been very stable.

The 8-player multiplayer cap hits a performance sweet spot that also makes the chaos managable for both the pursuer and the pursued. You can have as many as 4 cops against 4 racers or keep it simple with a 1-on-1 chase. There is also a cop-free mode where you simply race against 7 others.

In a rare show of balance, Criterion Games manages to make a title where the single player mode is equally as appealing as the multiplayer. By keeping the weapons system simple and the chase element straightforward, Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit also manages to easily standout among this year’s more unorthodox racers like Split/Second and Blur. Unless Gran Turismo 5 manages to transcend its more-of-the-same expectations, it will be very hard to argue against Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit’s qualification as the Racing Game of 2010.

(This review was based off a thorough playthrough of all the modes in single player and the multiplayer.  Over 450 miles were driven. A copy of the PlayStation 3 version was provided in advance by EA for review purposes. 17 out of 51 trophies were unlocked (PSN ID: oilywater).

Developer: Criterion Games

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows (Also available for Wii and iPhone although this review does not reflect the performance of those versions.)

Released: November 16, 2010

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