Review by GBishop

"Hot Pursuit mode carries this game."

Electronic Arts’ Need for Speed games don’t qualify as a sports series, but that hasn’t stopped EA from releasing a new edition every year in much the same way as their sports titles. Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit is the 1998 version of the game, following the rather poorly received second incarnation, and it was my first experience with this series. There are so many arcade-style racing games out there, no matter which system you’re looking at, so designers have to find some particular angle that makes their game stand out from the rest. The Need for Speed games are all about fast, expensive luxury cars and unique racing modes. Personally, I find the latter more interesting than the former, not that I’m against Ferraris or anything, and the Hot Pursuit mode is the difference between this game being memorable or forgettable.

There are a total of nine different cars in Hot Pursuit, some of which are only available in the real world to professional racers. Ferrari and Lamborghini are represented by two cars each, with Mercedes, Chevrolet Corvette, Jaguar, and Italdesign rounding out the list. If you’re keeping count, that’s only eight; Electronic Arts put together their own car for Hot Pursuit, the El Niño, which is one awesome machine. Three of the most elite cars, including the El Niño, must be unlocked by winning races in certain modes. This is a nice selection of distinct vehicles, and each one has its own noticeable strengths and weaknesses (OK, the El Niño’s only real weakness is that it’s a pain to unlock without cheating :).

To go along with Hot Pursuit’s nine cars are the nine main tracks in the game. The courses in this game are, for the most part, well-designed and fun to race. The best ones balance long straightaways with ridiculous hairpin and 90° turns, and most courses feature hidden shortcuts that can help turn the race in your favor. One thing that took me some time to get accustomed to with the courses in Hot Pursuit is the constant use of obstacles that stop you dead in your tracks. Hitting one of these will often send you from first to last in a hurry, as the computer-driven cars are very smart and hardly ever make mistakes. Some tracks are absolutely littered with obstacles and can seem cheap when you’re just starting out, but after you improve your driving skills, it’s not as big a problem. Hey, what’s wrong with a little challenge, right?

Hot Pursuit has many racing game features that help keep its tracks from getting too stale, including options to drive them backwards or mirrored. Night driving is also available, naturally making things more difficult with limited visibility. The display map in this game is quite good, and it comes in very handy when driving at night. Of course, if you think you’re too good to use any help, you can turn it off. Overall, there are a ton of options to mess around with in Hot Pursuit, and that’s always a good thing.

As for the gaming modes in this game, the obvious winner is the title mode, Hot Pursuit. If you’ve ever loved high-speed cop chases in the movies (at least, I hope that’s where you prefer them), this is definitely for you. In addition to picking your car, course, and number of laps, you can also choose whether or not you want this to be an actual race against another computer-controlled car, and you can also decide if you want the streets filled with law-abiding drivers that will cramp your style. Now, while the cops will make some sort of effort to go after your opponent, you can’t rely on that happening too much for winning the race; more often than not, they’re going to concentrate on you. It’s too bad that you can’t have a full grid of eight cars to race in this mode, and there is no two-player option for Hot Pursuit, results of the limited amount of memory in the Playstation. Still, this is a lot of fun, and the chases can get pretty crazy, as the cops will pull out all the stops if you can avoid them for a while. They’ll even plow through the cars of innocent drivers in their attempts to ram you off the road. Getting pulled over usually results in just costing you time, and you get slapped with a fine. If you get caught too many times (one time more than the number of laps you’re racing), then you’re arrested and it’s game over. It’s also over if you get caught by tire spike traps, which will turn up every once in a while.

The other modes in Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit are common fare for racing games: Practice, Single Race, Tournament, and Knockout. I did enjoy the Knockout mode quite a bit, though, where you tackle eight two-lap races in a sort of sudden death competition. After each race, the car that comes in last is eliminated, so it’s possible to win the whole thing even if you only finish first in one race, the last one (incidentally, that’s how I won this mode my first time). As for the other modes, I must say that I’m impressed by Hot Pursuit’s Practice mode, which provides several options such as braking assistance and a tutorial mode that shows you how to handle each and every turn on the courses; however, after you get really good at the game, you’ll find that the Practice help is a little too conservative for winning most races, but it’s still great for getting started.

As far as the graphics in Need for Speed III are concerned, they’re good, but they’re not in the same league as Gran Turismo. The game looks kind of grainy, and those ubiquitous jaggies can be quite pronounced at times (but what’s new?). One thing that caught my attention was that the game pictures on the back of the CD case look way better than anything you’ll find in the actual game itself, a sales tactic that I’ve seen before and will surely see again. On a more positive note, the framerate for Need for Speed III is really quite good, and the only times I encountered serious glitches were after collisions. Also, the lighting effects are simply excellent when night driving is on, especially in Hot Pursuit mode with the flashing police car lights.

I would rate the control in Need for Speed as adequate. This game doesn’t have the most realistic physics, and that’s putting it mildly. You do have a choice of driving in arcade or simulation style, although I really don’t think the latter option has any business being in this sort of game, and I didn’t feel too compelled to try it much. In simulation style, your car will spin out much more easily, so power sliding is nearly impossible. Arcade is the way to go, and you will fall in love with the hand brake, which makes taking hard turns at high speeds an absolute joy.

The sound in Need for Speed is, for the most part, terrific. The sound effects are top notch, from the tire squeals to the metal on metal sounds of cars colliding. The EA crew loaded each course with different background sounds appropriate to its location: you can plainly here cows mooing on the Hometown course, and foghorns can be heard in the distance on the seaside courses. There are even different sounds when you race courses at night, such as owls hooting and wolves howling. They’re small touches, but they add a lot of atmosphere. The voice acting in the game is all very good, and the accents of the police in Hot Pursuit mode change according the course, including the extremely Southern ones in the rural areas. The cops are also given a lot of dialogue, so chances are you won’t be inundated with the same couple of lines over and again. As for the music in Need for Speed III, I wasn’t exactly overwhelmed by it. It’s rather generic 80s-sounding rock and bland techno stuff, some of which actually grew on me with repeated listenings, but I wouldn’t want a soundtrack CD of it.

Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit is still a solid racing game, even though it has been eclipsed by plenty of other racers since its 1998 release. It’s got lots of what racing games ought to have, and it’s presented quite well (there’s even a history section for the various car companies represented). Considering that it’s a Greatest Hits title, the price is right for taking it for a spin.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 02/19/01, Updated 02/19/01

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