Review by BloodGod65

"Still a Blast, But Not Quite Worthy of Its Legendary Reputation"

Few franchises can boast the same level of success as Need for Speed. With over one hundred million copies sold, it has certainly found an audience eager for its special brand of high-speed hijinks. Of course, it's no secret that Need for Speed has fallen on hard times recently and a succession of lackluster titles on next-gen consoles has almost made the series irrelevant to modern gamers. However, opinion has been divided for even longer – since the release of the tuner inspired sequel to the game currently under review, in fact. It seems that many pine for the golden days of Need for Speed; a simpler time without laughable narratives, Hollywood style cutscenes, and customization – a time when high priced exotics and police chases were the main elements of the series. With that in mind, I dug out my old copy of Hot Pursuit 2, dusted off the disc, and took a trip into yesteryear to see if Hot Pursuit 2 lives up to the legend.

The differences between the classic Need for Speed and recent releases are immediately apparent. There is no storyline to suffer through, no unnecessary setup for why you're driving around like a maniac, no tired attempts at hipster slang; you just pick an event, get in a car and race around a track. And you know what? I'm okay with that. But that's not to say that Hot Pursuit 2 is made uninteresting by its simplicity, it just never tries to be anything more than a casual racing game.

Truth be told, you could make the argument that this game has more to offer than some of the latest titles. There are two separate career modes; Ultimate Racer, which is focused exclusively on racing and Hot Pursuit, which adds cops to the mix. Both careers are organized in tiers, and you have to beat events to open up more races. There is a respectable amount of freedom in this system, as you can tackle the events in any order so long as you beat the prerequisites (which might only be one or two races for a race in another tier). Advancing through the tiers also opens up better vehicles for use.

The events contained in each career are typical for the series. Cut and dry circuit races make up the vast majority of events, with an occasional sprint race thrown in for good measure. Eliminator events become increasingly predominant as you progress, which is unfortunate because these are less exciting than their modern counterparts. Unlike most games, where the driver in last place after each lap is eliminated, the driver in last place at the end of a three lap race is eliminated. You then race the same track several more times, eliminating another driver each time. Doing nine laps around a single track gets extremely boring, especially considering that there aren't many tracks in the game to begin with.

Events aren't much different in Hot Pursuit mode either, except for the inclusion of police. Unlike the epic chases that tend to occur in the more recent Most Wanted, these are more mundane. One or two police chase you and attempt to bash you off the road. Every now and then they'll call in a roadblock, but for the most part, they just ram your car. Also unlike Most Wanted, there's not much you can do to fight back. Ramming them is useless as they seem to have the same mass as a black hole. The only bright spot is that they're amazingly dumb and will readily follow you as you careen into oncoming traffic and then crash before they can swerve out of the way.

Occasionally you will be able to play as an actual officer and chase racers. There aren't many of these events in the career modes but they are an interesting change of pace. You can use nitrous and roadblocks to get an advantage, but most of the time making an arrest comes down to ramming a racer into a wall to stop them.

Unlike the Need for Speed games that followed it, the vehicle physics in Hot Pursuit 2 are much more grounded and tight, without that squirrely, weightless feel. This ends up being a two edged sword, because it's fairly easy to make small corrections and keep a car under control, but trying to take a tight corner at speed feels like trying to turn a barge. In addition to that, if a car looses traction (say, by a cop ramming into you) regaining control is almost impossible. There is an “extreme” option for the vehicle handling, but this only makes cars more prone to spinning out.

The carlist, which tends to be a contentious topic for the series, is… unimpressive to say the least. You'll start with the Lotus Elise, a Mercedes, an Australian Ford, and the Opel and Vauxhall Speedster unlocked. As you get further into each career, you'll unlock better cars such as the Mustang SVT, BMW M5, and Jaguar XK. Towards the end of each tier, you'll unlock cars might actually might want to drive such as the Lamborghini Murcielago, the Ferrari F50 and McLaren F1. The problem is that it takes far too long to get into the really fast cars. With only thirty events in each championship, you can expect to be to event 20 or so before you get to the good stuff.

In my mind, what really makes Hot Pursuit 2 stand out from every Need for Speed released afterwards is its environment and track design; indeed the fact that the game doesn't take place in a large open world is a significant difference in and of itself. While there are only a handful of tracks, they are located in some excellent and visually appealing areas. Coastal Greek cities, dense temperate forests, dusty deserts and alpine mountains are all present. What's even cooler is the variety woven into each track; there are lengthy shortcuts that can take you off-road or through caves and abandoned mines. Even staying on the main route will let you see some interesting sights, like ancient ruins and forest fires.

Visually, these areas retain enough graphical quality to be distinctive. While the game does look dated, with its grainy textures and poor lighting, it doesn't look nearly as poor as many games I've seen from the same era. The cars are especially impressive and are surprisingly defined and detailed.

If there's one area where Hot Pursuit 2 shows a transition into what was coming, it is in the audio department. The game uses a licensed soundtrack, although it isn't nearly as diverse as later games. The songs are provided by the likes of Bush, Rush and Hot Action Cop (did I just puke a little? I think I did!). All the songs also have instrumental versions, but even with those you'll still be hearing the same songs every fifteen minutes or so.

As Need for Speed began to descend into mediocrity, hearing fans lament the passing of the good old days became an increasingly common occurrence. There were times when one might have thought that Hot Pursuit 2 was a religious icon, worshipped and revered by the faithful. It was that attitude that brought me back to the game and, unsurprisingly, the facts don't quite measure up to the legend. Hot Pursuit 2 is still a fun game, and the series could improve tremendously by learning a few lessons from its own past, but it just isn't as great as many claim it to be - the deceptive effects of nostalgia in full force, no doubt.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 01/07/11

Game Release: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 (US, 10/02/02)

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