Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Xbox 360, PS3 Review

It’s been a long time since I played a Need for Speed game, even longer since I enjoyed one. I decided to ditch the franchise after the abysmal NFS Carbon, vowing never to return unless they did something special. When I heard Criterion, makers of Burnout, were going to be handling this year’s instalment I thought this could be the NFS I’ve been waiting for. Ever since Criterion got in to bed with EA I knew that sooner or later they would end up doing a NFS, and now it is finally here.

They say sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards, or something like that, and that is exactly what Criterion has done. They’ve taken NFS back, back before all the ‘Fast and Furious’ nonsense, back to when NFS was at its peak, back to Hot Pursuit. Whether you look at this latest instalment as a re-imagining or reboot of the original games doesn’t matter, all that matters is we’re back driving coastal roads with the cops hot on our heels. The locale is Seacrest County, a sleepy coastal area that has been rudely awoken by a reckless bunch of top of the range motors, and the local police is fighting fire with fire by filling their carpool with a bunch of high performance cars of their own. This is classic NFS at its best.

Of course, some things have changed as it’s been a long time since the last Hot Pursuit. Game design has changed since then, but most of the changes here are due to the developer. To say there is a lot of Burnout in Hot Pursuit is an understatement: there is a hell of a lot of Burnout in Hot Pursuit. From the slow motion crashes, to the more arcade feel of the game, to the refilling of your nitrous by driving dangerously. You could say this is Burnout under a different name. Some people might have a problem with this, but personally I like it, NFS has always hovered somewhere between arcade racer and sim, and while people liked that, there are other games that do it so much better and I’m happy with what Criterion have done.

In my opinion the Burnout influence is very welcome because I always thought Burnout 2’s pursuit mode was one of the highlights of the franchise. Yes, it was very similar to the Hot Pursuit games, but just felt more fun, and I always wondered why it never returned. But now it has, as a whole game on it’s own. They’ve expanded on it a lot though, now it’s a lot more than just cop versus racer, the game’s career mode contains a good variety of events. There are two separate, but joined, careers, one for cops, one for racers, and the events in them reflect the differences in status. As a racer, you can just race against others, be chased by the cops, or play some time trial events. The cop events are similar, but slightly different. Here you either bust a single racer, take down a whole race, or respond to a call before the racer gets away.

To add to the action, cops and racers also have a range of weapons at their disposal, some offensive, some defensive. Both sides get spike strips and EMPs in their arsenal, and they both work well at slowing down the opposition, be they in front or behind you. Cops also get to call for roadblocks and helicopters, these can be a bit more hit and miss, but when they work they work well. Racers get a turbo boost, on top of the regular nitrous, and jamming equipment, these are very handy for getting out of tight scrapes, go for the turbo to get ahead of the pack, or jam the opposition’s equipment, temporarily disabling their weapons. All weapons can be upgraded too; by successfully using them enough upgrades are awarded to you automatically. Sadly not all weapons are available from the start, not in career mode anyway, they are introduced gradually, and you can only use what the game allows in certain events.

Completing career events earns you points, which builds your rank, and opens up more events. It’s fun for the most part, but personally I wasn’t keen on the time trials and rapid response events. Where the fun really lies is the online game. Here you can either do straight racing, which is OK, but the action really starts when you throw cops in to the mix. In Hot Pursuit mode the racers are split in to two teams, one racers, the other cops, and each team has an objective. Other than staying alive which goes without saying, racers have to get one of their team to the finish line, whereas cops have to bust all the racers. Describing it really doesn’t do it justice. It’s manic as hell boosting through traffic, either trying to evade the cops, or taking down a racer, it’s the mode everyone will be playing online.

And, as you’d expect from the guys who made Burnout, the presentation is perfect. From the beautiful scenery, presented in night and day and various weather conditions, the vast array of licensed cars, to a great soundtrack and well laid out menu screens. A new feature added to the game is ‘Autolog’, at its heart it’s basically a souped-up leaderboard. But there’s more to it than that, it’s almost like a mini Facebook for the game. You get notifications when your friends beat you at events, or issue challenges. You can post up pictures taken with the game’s photo mode, it even suggests friends for you depending on your performance, and you have your own wall to keep track of everything on. It’s nothing ground breaking, but it’s a nice little addition that adds to the social aspect of an online game.

If you like your racing arcade than you really need to buy this. It’s not NFS exactly, and it’s not quite Burnout, but it takes the best things from both and melds them together into an intense racing experience. I’ll see you on the roads of Seacrest County.

9 out of 10