The latest in a long lived franchise screeches into town, slipping by a roadblock, dodging an EMP blast and taking a dodgy off-road shortcut.
Let us forgo the clever intro and enigmatic question, let us cut to the chase – Need For Speed Hot Pursuit is a great arcade racer.
In a time when purists fly their flags for the technically authentic titles like Forza and Gran Turismo, there needs to be an accessible and fun racer like this, easy to pick up and very rewarding to play. NFSHP is perfect for a quick ten minute blat or a protracted session across game modes. For me this game is filling the void between near perfect Burnout2 and the over ambitious Burnout Paradise, that probably has something to do with having the Criterion team on board which feels like a really smart move.
Fire the game up and you are straight into the (for want of a better name) ‘Autolog’ front end, this slick menu is your easy access menu to all functions in the game. The core of which is centred around the game world map, where you can play the role of law-breaking speeder or up and coming traffic cop. The roles provide the player with different objectives like evading the police and winning a race or taking down the racers, each career path unlocks new abilities and cars as you progress. These unlocks of course drive you to that ‘one more go’ mentality as the latest vehicle looks so sexy it just begs to be driven. Personally I have found the Police path to be my thing, because the high performance police cars are just so out there and the satisfaction of setting some hot times on the takedown missions cannot be ignored.
Like most games of this type the learning curve starts to branch out fairly early on as different options become available, changing the environment to suit with some excellent weather conditions and throwing in tiered win rewards that help you progress depending on performance. The unlockable cars are shiny and sexy, although there won’t be any hugely noticeable changes to handling and the addition of offensive and defensive abilities are nicely balanced.
Career mode has plenty to do and bags of replayability, partially due to the fun factor and mostly due to the ‘Autolog’ feature, which is basically taking the addictive qualities of Trial HD, removing the controller breaking frustration and rolling it up in a slick interface.
Here’s how to waste time play NFSHP, fire up the game with the intention of playing some career mode. You check out the latest comments on ‘the wall’, yes a facebook-ish influence. You see that two of your friends have been posting their new times and bragging about how much faster they are. You see that you have slipped down the friends leaderboard, you want to fix that and you are one button away from being thrown back into the same event ready to challenge their times. It is quick, easy and adds a level of competitiveness that soon becomes addictive as you find an hour has gone by while you keep trying to shave a couple of seconds of the run that your friend has put in. So that when you do, your time is posted to the wall for all to see, you might even add a comment.
Then you head back towards the career mode, but foolishly take a look at the ‘Autolog Recommends’ where the game picks challenges that will improve your standing and tells you that by beating player x you will be in a better leaderboard position, again you can be racing that event in seconds and more time passes.
It is easy to get bogged down by addiction, but it is a great way to experience a game socially even if you do not venture into any online modes you are playing against real people in a passive competition and I applaud the developers for bringing something fun to the table.
Graphically the game is crisp and well modelled, the environments are varied and impressive, although there are not that many npc cars on the roads and they are set in fixed patterns which can be a slight niggle if you replay a certain event too much. The damage system looks impressive and the slow motion highlight of takedowns can be very cool to watch, the only issue I have here is that sometimes takedowns do not seem to happen as you expect, by swiping a car into the scenery you’d expect them to be wiped out not popping back up in your rearview seconds later.
When the demo for this game came out there was some negative response to the way that it was marketed, encouraging users to spam their friends so that they would download the demo and unlock another track for you. While I understand the complaints, I see the logic employed, this is a fun game and if that tactic opened up a few fencesitters then fair enough. It also shows that like ‘Autolog’ they were thinking a bit further out of the box than usual and at the end of the day, you can choose to just not download the demo and go on your merry way.
Personally, I think this is a great game, because it is fun and accessible and encourages me to better myself against my friends in ways that Forza did not. For those of us that are not dedicated petrol heads, this game does exactly what it says on the tin.
Not forgetting the online modes which offer some great fun, paring racers and cops off against each other you can find yourself avoiding the police that are trying to wreck you and the other racers that are trying to beat you. A quick lobby and smooth gameplay make for a solid multiplayer offering on top of the offline content.
As with any game of this type there is an element of ‘rubber banding’ to keep the action within your grasp, this is the call of the developer and I think a reasonable one. Even the original Mario Kart would keep you and the pack close, because they are games and they are meant to be fun and if the slightest mistake left you a mile adrift of the action then they would lose the attention of a fair chunk of gamers.
I have not enjoyed a game in this genre this much since Burnout2 on my original xbox, Split Second came close, but felt too gimmicky and for all the options in Burnout Paradise it never really gelled for me. When I want to turn to an arcade style racer I want it to be quick and easy to get into the game and I want to feel rewarded for improving, Need For Speed Hot Pursuit gives me that.
Forget changing gears, braking distances and tyre wear, get behind the wheel of one of these rockets and drift away.