Game Review: Hot Pursuit is on fire

A word of warning. If you are into heavy racing simulations, the arcade-style mechanics and heavy traffic of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit may not be for you. Otherwise, another warning is in order: do not buy this game until after your last final; it is enough of a blast that unless you have a resolve of steel, you will spend an excessive amount of time playing this game. It is just that good.

The first thing a player will notice about the game is that the “race farming” style of yore is nowhere to be found; dollar values are shown on car info sheets, but “bounty,” the game’s point-based currency, racked up by races and pursuits, is what unlocks cars and weapons. At one million “bounty,” you can race any car in the game with any paint job that the car’s manufacturer deems appropriate. In other words, you cannot get a red Lamborghini. Specification upgrades are nonexistent as the point of the game is to let you spend as much of your time on the road as possible, a goal that makes the game that much more engaging.

Another facet that Criterion Games and EA eschew with Hot Pursuit is a linear gameplay model. Races and pursuits do need to be unlocked, although there is no clear correlation as to what unlocks what. Players are encouraged to play whatever race suits them at the time out of the dozens available. Many races limit player options to a single car or group of cars, encouraging the player to explore everything from American muscle to Italian, German, French, and British exotics, plus some Japanese models for good measure. As a player progresses, races shift from lower-tier to higher-tier cards (there are five tiers in all), though “preview” events early in the game allow new players to drift around corners at 150 mph in, for example, a Koenigsegg CCX.

Another point of variety in the game is in the types of events that are offered. Players can play both sides of the law, with each career offering a different set of event types, strengths and weaknesses to the player, though both career modes offer similarly broad ranges of automobiles to play with. Cops have helicopters, roadblocks, and faster cars in addition to the standard electromagnetic pulse (EMP) and spike strip weapons that both campaigns share. Racers get an electromagnetic jammer to keep law enforcement communications and weapons at bay plus more generous nitrous allotments and a multi-second burst of speed-infused adrenaline called “turbo.” Weapons are available in race types that involve both racers and cops, though the number of each weapon available varies from event to event. Pure races and time trials, which are available on both campaigns, focus solely on driving, at least partially allaying concerns for the straight racing aspect of the game.

One more thing that sets Seacrest County, the world in which Hot Pursuit resides, apart from games of yore is its size and its downright beauty. Shortcuts abound, as does variety in both terrain and weather; races and pursuits might be on a highway during a clear night or in the mountains during a daytime thunderstorm. The map is significantly more rural than those of recent Need for Speed iterations. But that is okay as the quality of graphics on Hot Pursuit is such that players will want to spend a lot of time roaming the map. This last point is accentuated on higher-powered systems like the PlayStation 3 (and gaming PCs), though less powerful PCs, Xbox 360s, and Wiis all provide an enjoyable experience with this game. The only downside to Need For Speed’s platform diversity is the fact that you cannot play cross-platform multiplayer races, though EA’s Autolog and Speedwall features do allow players to compare scores cross-system. Speaking of multiplayer action, Hot Pursuit’s multiplayer modes provide even more fun once the main campaigns are beaten.

EA and Criterion Games, makers of the Burnout franchise, have a winner on their hands with Hot Pursuit, assuming you are looking for a worthy successor to the NFS franchise’s Most Wanted, Carbon, and Undercover titles. For those craving a more realistic racing experience, Gran Tourismo 5, or possibly EA’s upcoming Shift 2, might fit the bill, but for the rest of us, Hot Pursuit is “just that good.”

One quick note for PC users: Amazon sells a downloadable version of the game, weighing in at a whopping 7.8 GB, for just shy of $50. The writer of this article actually nabbed it for $35 on Black Friday, and his only regret is that the game has been too addictive for his own good. Thus, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit gets a solid eight out of ten and a hearty “buy this” from a reviewer who stays away from Madden and Call of Duty, but has a weak spot for racing titles.

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