Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit
Catch it if you can
Reviewed on Xbox 360, also available on PS3 and PC
Think of the ten wealthiest rappers you know.
Now, take the contents of the garages of said rappers. No, no, not that hideous stretch Hummer; seriously, have you no taste? Just the exotics, performance cars and sports cars, please.
Right, now distribute these expensive automobiles between a gang of street racers and a local police department. Place them in the picturesque seaside town of Seacrest County, chuck in a few military-grade gadgets, stir briskly, and you’ve got Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.
This latest instalment in EA’s hugely popular racing franchise builds on the successful formula of the original Hot Pursuit by stripping down and refining the basic mechanic that made its older brother so awesome: stupidly-fast, high-adrenaline chases between cops ‘n crooks.
So minimalist is the result, in fact, that developer Criterion Games opted to completely forego the flimsy type of story present in previous NFS titles and go straight into the rubber-burning.
However, despite having even less story than ‘The Fast and the Furious’ (though one could say more story than the abysmal ‘Tokyo Drift’), NFS:HP’s focus on putting racers into the game quickly and seamlessly means more action and less pointless fluff. A simple overhead maps allows you to select either a racer event or a cop event, and from here it’s one quick vehicle selection screen before you’re tearing up the tarmac. Even the whole practice of driving around looking for races has been scrapped, although there is a open-world Freedrive mode if Sunday driving is your vibe.
Race modes include the titular Hot Pursuits where you’re clamping down on criminals if you’re a cop, or foiling the fuzz if you’re a felon, but other modes such as traditional races and time trials are included to avoid monotony. Spicing events up even further are the power-ups which include engine-killing EMPs, tyre-shredding spike strips, baddie-busting helicopters and road-blocks. All of these need to be deployed and managed carefully for victory, and despite the seemingly excessive nature of some of them they all work well as additions to the solid racing action rather being the stars of the show.
Multiplayer is designed around an innovative system called Autolog which takes the basic idea behind online rankings and your gaming buddies and makes them both an integral part of the whole experience. Once you fire up the game and connect to the Autolog servers you’ll be greeted with your main menu with not only the usual list of options but a whole host of other titbits: what your friends are up to in their Career mode, what their event times are, and photos they’ve taken of their sweet rides.
The best part of this system is the ability to easily challenge your friends and compete for the top results, and these are posted automatically to the Autolog allowing you to instantly jump into an event to have a go at beating a mate’s best time; should you do so the result will automatically be posted to their Autolog (along with some smack talk from you if desired), and so the whole system grows and evolves as you add more friends and progress further through the races.
Online matchmaking is also streamlined and simple to use, and there are plenty of willing opponents drifting around for you to challenge or befriend. I had the expected delays when starting up a race for the first time and I also occasionally got kicked from the Autolog servers despite a solid connection, but all-in-all the multiplayer is an intense racing experience that provides a great alternative to the single player game. Most notably the big difference between real players and NFS’s infamous ‘rubber band’ AI.
The NFS Store is integrated into the Autolog too, and at the moment there are a handful of extras to be purchased, such as a pack with the uber sports cars or an car unlock package if you’re eager to get the best wheels early on. Prices are also quite reasonable with packs starting from R25 up, so filling up your garage with every available vehicle shouldn’t be too costly an exercise if you’re keen to collect them all.
NFS:HP also excels on the technical side with very impressive visuals: textures are sharp, car models are top-notch, crashes are chillingly realistic and the weather effects are some of the best seen in a racing title. The actual area of Seacrest County itself is nothing too extravagant, especially in comparison to flashier urban locales found in previous NFS games, but most of the time you’ll be whizzing past everything so fast while trying to fend off so many angry cops that the scenery is the last of your worries.
The soundtrack is probably the weakest aspect of the game, which is unfortunate considering the great tracklists we’ve become accustomed to in the series thus far. There are a few notable mentions, such as tunes from the latest Weezer and Bad Religion albums, but most of the rest are overly-obscure indie or generic hip-hop offerings. This is all subjective of course, but somehow I don’t think I’m the only one who can’t see myself blazing along in a Murcielago while listening to bad electronica.
Overall, despite a few very minor bumps in the road, Criterion Games have pulled out all the stops and given us one of the best releases in the Need for Speed series. The driving is fast and exhilarating, the graphics are superb, the Autolog is a stroke of multiplayer genius, and the constant urge to rip through ‘just one more race’ all make Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2010’s arcade racer to catch.
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