Review by Glitchwerks

"Criterion Rebuilds Need for Speed"

The Need for Speed series is one of the best selling video games of all time with over one hundred million copies sold. However, the last few releases of the title have not measured up to the expectations of both fans and critics of the game. After Need for Speed Undercover crashed in terms of sales success and fan acceptance, Electronic Arts towed the series back to the pits and let Criterion Games, makers of the Burnout series, rebuild the game.

Automakers improve the performance of their cars by adding power, improving aerodynamics, balancing the handling, and shedding excess weight. Criterion looked at the Need for Speed series and decided they needed a similar approach if they were going to return the title to the first place position on the podium.

MORE POWER

Criterion's Need for Speed thunders back to its roots with the latest in ultra-high performance automobiles on some of the most beautiful and scenic roads ever seen in a video game. Players will scorch across highways in the desert, scamper up mountain roads against oncoming traffic, and blast down interstates in cars from Aston Martin, Porsche, and more.

The car selection consists of more than sixty unique rides from more than a dozen different manufacturers. All the tantalizing favorites that Jeremy Clarkson has taken for a ride around the Top Gear test track are present and accounted for, but before anyone can say the "F" word, keep in mind that one certain Italian car maker did not want to make an appearance in this game. As good as the car line up looks, it is also noticeable that there is a bit too much repetition among the cars. For example, the Lamborghini Gallardo makes four different appearances in the list alone. Racing gamers refer to these cars as "clones," and consider them to be a nuisance, although the car selection here avoids becoming bogged down with boring hatchbacks and sedans like other racing games. How many Lamborghini rides are "too many" anyway? There are no classics among the car list either, so anything that does not have that virtual new car smell will not be in the Need for Speed showroom.

The cars look sharp indeed, especially in the game's photo mode, but it is worth noting that the only camera views the player will have during racing are bumper, hood, and behind-the-car. Criterion wanted players to focus on the high speed intensity of the game, and not on simulating perfect realism. Players of Hot Pursuit need to be concerned with incoming spike strips, not wondering if their car's interior is made with rich "Corinthian Leather." Still it is a bit disappointing after Need for Speed's previous title Shift set the standard for in-car views.

Criterion also realized that fast cars need a lot of room to roam. There are no tight race tracks or circuit courses in this game. Players will be running across an open world map that has been carefully dissected into elongated pieces where each race will take place. Each race will run from point to point across a road that can be over fifteen miles in total length. Most of the time players will be running at top speed; tight chicanes and hairpins are few and infrequent. This game is about lack of throttle control, so mash the gas and go! Players can also choose to drive about in a special freeroam mode, however this is just for exploration and fun. At no time does the game require you to play this mode. Some players may find that disappointing after the random police chases and cruising of previous games like Most Wanted.

MORE DOWNFORCE, LESS DRAG

The goals of the game are presented to the player when they start their career. In a similar fashion to how Santa Claus has managed his present distribution center for the last few centuries, there are two lists. On the first list are the racers, who are measured on how "naughty" they have been. Racers need to win and deal with all opposition to advance on the naughty list. On the second list, there are the police, who are scored on bringing justice to the naughty. Officers of the law will advance by responding to emergency calls, shutting down races, and disabling the cars of the naughty. Both racers and police officers earn rewards for accumulating experience, and those rewards are more cars, weapons, and tools to assist them in their respective careers. It is a simple formula, and after past Need for Speed games had the player worrying about returning Rachel's car or wondering if they were ever going to get their ride back from some thug named "Razor," a welcome return to the simpler days of arcade racing.

The game environment will also throw some excitement and diversity into the mix. There will be oncoming traffic (consisting of actual licensed cars,) rainy weather and wet roads, and day and night racing to for players to deal with. The effects look great and the game never slows down or skips a beat; Criterion has polished the chrome to a mirror finish.

Arcade racers are known for their liberal interpretation of physics, and Need for Speed is no exception. Cars handle a bit stiffly and turn slowly, but are very predictable and stable. Cars at higher levels will perform better than the cars at the lower levels. The game runs at a steady 30 frames per second, and the graphics are bright and colorful. The backgrounds and vistas are mesmerizing, and it is very hard not to lose focus and gaze at the horizon during a race; things just look that good. Of course, that usually does not end well when driving an automobile at speeds over 200 miles per hour. When cars inevitably crash, the game slows down and focuses on the carnage; virtual rubbernecking at its finest. Cars will perform a final brutal ballet and then the game will drop you back on the road running. It is just a bit sad there are not any replays, especially when it is the player causing massive carnage on his adversaries. Given all the sharing features enabled in this game, it would have been nice to save a video for a friend to see later.

Speaking of sharing, Criterion has unleashed a brand new innovation in racing games: Autolog! With Autolog, players can send challenges back and forth to each other, share pictures, and generally taunt and intimidate their fellow racers on their friends list. Autolog will update players when a friend breaks their record, with an announcer informing of "urgent" news that the player just got schooled. It sounds simple and it is; but it breaks down the old method of using leaderboards to compare player skills and performance. After all, it does not matter if "L337PR0RACER" holds the record on a certain course in the game. The player will never have to face off with him, and besides, L337PR0RACER is probably a filthy cheater anyway. Gamers know who the real competition is: their friends. That is all that matters, and Autolog knows it.

As typical of an EA game, the sound design is excellent. A V12 engine absolutely howls and will rattle speakers. Driving through a tunnel sends shivers down the spine. The music selection consists of acts from rock, rap and electronica. Everyone has different taste in music, so if Weezer, M.I.A., Deadmau5, Bad Religion, and the like are not appealing, EA has left in the option to enjoy custom playlists. Players will not be able to customize the game's soundtrack to their liking though; the only control they have is to skip forward one track at a time.

STIFFER SUSPENSION, SLICKER TIRES

Criterion have fine tuned the gameplay to an extreme. Need for Speed Hot Pursuit runs fast and plays faster, and will have more players hooked than ever before. The core of the game is the Hot Pursuit mode, which can be played in single player, but is best played online. The racers will face off against each other, and the police are focused on bringing the racers down. Both sides have weapons like EMP and spike strips, which temporarily disable other vehicles. Racers get a high speed turbo to get them out of harm's way, and police have the ability to organize a road block ahead of the racers to impede them or even call in aerial support from a helicopter which will harass the racers.

Most of the single player campaign is meant to train the players for the Hot Pursuits and the game's staging will lead up to those. Racers will take on each other without interference from the law, engage in driving duels, run nefarious gauntlets, and feel the pressure of the clock in time trials. Police officers will need to take down a single racer in a run across the map and respond quickly to emergency calls. However, this emergency response mode is merely another time trial, with penalties when players make mistakes.

With the Hot Pursuit mode being so exciting, it becomes a little tedious to find out the next race in store is another time trial instead of another chance to smash carbon fiber and steel together in another intense high speed chase.

Potential players also need to be aware of the game's difficulty. Most gamers have become accustomed to racing games holding their hand lately. Simulation racers, once notoriously difficult, now have big, colored stripes showing you when and where to slow down. They have magic buttons that rewind time faster than an 88 MPH Delorean. That big crash in turn three? It never happened. Computer opposition can be scaled down so that they are scarcely capable of operating a bicycle properly, let alone driving a 600 HP super car.

None of these things are in Hot Pursuit, and the game can be brutal for inexperienced players. Thankfully, Criterion has allowed you to unlock cars simply by gaining experience. If a race is too difficult, players can go try another one or simply head out online to have some fun. Eventually that Bugatti Veyron will be available. It will be inevitable that more than a few players end up throwing their controllers in frustration, so be forewarned.

SHED UNNECESSARY WEIGHT, INSTALL LIGHTWEIGHT PARTS

Criterion have brought Need for Speed back to its roots as a high speed thriller, but some fans may not be up for a ride without the luxuries they've been accustomed to. There is no car customization; players can choose a manufacturer's color, but that is it. There are no upgrades to purchase and no tuning menus.

As mentioned earlier, there is little need to explore the world, players may feel they are missing something. It looks so nice it seems a shame not to enjoy it more. The exploration and the collectible hunting of other open-world racing games are not part of the trip this time. Criterion kept the focus of the game on the action and the performance of these brutal cars.

With the mention of performance, comes one fact that has let some players down: there are no options for splitscreen or localized multiplayer. While that may disappoint, it is important to realize that this was probably done to maximize how the game looks and plays. Need for Speed Hot Pursuit never misses a shift; the game may be missing some features but it runs like a dream. Criterion may have pulled out the radio and air conditioner, but they added racing seats and a harness. The ride may not be as comfortable as it was before, but it is lots more exciting when pushed to the edge.

AFTER ALL THAT, HOW FAST IS IT AROUND THE GAMEFAQS TEST TRACK?

Criterion have saved the Need for Speed series. Hot Pursuit is back and better than ever. Everything that enhances the gameplay was made better, and anything that may have detracted was left out. The online play is addictive and Autolog is there to always encourage players to go back and try that last race again to beat their friends. The challenge is high and the game is incredibly fun. Even with some previous features of the series left out, the game feels very finished and is remarkably polished in all aspects. This game is for racing game fans of all kinds, for people who thought the days of the old Need for Speed were gone when the Fast and the Furious movies came out, and for anyone who ever wanted to get in Veyron and race to that far off point on the horizon.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/22/10

Game Release: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (Limited Edition) (US, 11/16/10)


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