Review by Nightfall

Reviewed: 01/19/03 | Updated: 01/19/03

The funnest, most satisfying racing experience I've ever had

Let me preface this review by saying that racing games are one of my favorite genres, and I am pretty good at them, for the most part. Most of them are pretty fun, but once in a while a racing game of such high caliber comes along that it completely knocks my socks off. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 is one of those games. It has given me, hands down, the most satisfying and thrilling racing experience of any racing game I have ever played. It is racing done right; hell, it is GAMING done right. There are many idiots out there whose first inclination will be to compare this game to GTA-spec or Sega GT 2002, or any of a number of racing simulations out there. This is completely inappropriate and pointless, because NFS:HP 2 is not a racing simulation. It is an arcade racer, but one constructed with such competence and brilliance that it almost feels like simulation. It is not without its problems, but allow me to explain why I have given NFS: HP 2 a space in my coveted Two Favorite Racing Games of All Time category. The other space is occupied by Midnight Club Street Racing. If you haven't played that game, you are a miserable excuse for a gamer. Go slap yourself.

NFS: HP 2 excels in just about every category one can judge a game in. And all these aspects work together to give you one hell of a racing experience. In the graphics, sound, control, gameplay, presentation, and replay value departments, this game is top notch. Allow me to comment briefly about each:

Graphics: Excellent graphics. It's the PS 2, so we have to be a little forgiving here. The frame rate does drop when you have the rearview mirror turned on, so I would recommend keeping it off. Other than that, I was very pleased with the level of detail and the general look of the courses. Particle effects like dust, smoke, spraying water, and sparks look great, and things are crisp and clear enough in the distance that there is no guesswork as to where the road leads (such as was the problem with the first Burnout). Drivers are fully modeled, and respond when you shift, look back, or crash. The cars don't have a hella lot of detail, but it is sufficient for the purpose of the game, which is to go faster than hell and take those turns like a pro with the superb, very predictable handling this game delivers.

Sound: One of the best things about the game. The engine sounds are so well done, and so clear, that it really adds to the racing experience. Furthermore, it takes most of the guesswork out of shifting, because you can always tell by the sound of your engine whether you need to shift up or down. Wait until you hear the throaty purr of the Lamborghini Murcielago, or the soaring whine of the McLaren F1. You always know exactly where you need to be gear-wise. Crash sounds are also very well done. One of my favorite sound effects is when I am driving on dirt, and get just a little sideways. You can hear little rocks bouncing up and striking the side of your beautiful Porsche 911 Turbo. The soundtrack is also pretty good, but a lot of it is rap, and I just can't stand that crap. You have the option of not only turning on or off each song, but also choosing in which race mode it will play, AND whether you want the instrumental version or the vocal version. Pretty damn cool.

Control: Excellent control, except for a couple of areas. The first boner I will mention is the handbrake. In many other racing games, the handbrake is a lifesaver that helps you negotiate turns you wouldn't otherwise be able to. In this game, it just sends your car into a completely out of control skid. I don't know what they were thinking, because they got just about everything else right in this game. Avoid using the handbrake, and you'll do just fine. Another area where the control is a major disappointment is activating the two different zone cams when playing with a manual transmission (the only real way to play the game). When playing with a manual tranny, in order to activate the track zoom cam which enables you to see where roadblocks are, you have to hit R2 and the triangle button at the same time (because R2 alone is shift up, and triangle alone is camera view). Problem is, this usually doesn't work, and you end up either shifting up or changing the camera view. This is very frustrating and just plain stupid. What I ended up doing was this: when I heard on my police scanner that a roadblock was set, I paused the game, switched my tranny to automatic, and then used just the R2 to track zoom. Yes, it's a very clumsy way to do it, and I didn't like it, but I had to because the way I was supposed to do it wasn't working. Like I said, I was very surprised to find such a foopah in this game, because everything else is done so superbly.

And I'm talking extremely superb when it comes to track design. The tracks in this game somehow have the perfect balance of enabling you to go balls out at top speed, and yet also demanding a skillful touch on the controls for certain turns and quirks in the road. Never did I get the feeling that the track was holding me back, or challenging me in a ridiculous, unfair way. The high speed sections blend beautifully into the how-well-do-you-know-your-car sections, so that the entire course can be a seamless ballet of car handling beauty. Of course a big part of this is the consistency with which each car handles. There are big differences in the way each of the cars handle, but as long as you are familiar with your car's particular quirks, there is no reason you can't tear the course up with each one, because you know what it's going to do.

Another fantastic part of this game is the battle with the cops. Yes, the cops in this game are very smart, and they are challenging to beat, but not unreasonably challenging. Only once in a while do they become ridiculously aggressive, and when this happens, sometimes it's better to just let yourself get Busted. You can get busted two or three times and still win a race. The beat-the-cops aspect of this game adds a whole new dimension to the racing genre, and forces you to try new lines and maneuvers on the track that you normally wouldn't try. There aren't too many things that match the thrill of hitting the Look Back button and seeing that trooper right on your bumper with the red and blues flashing. Believe me, if you see that, you better exercise some skills, because these boys aren't fooling around. I regarded them with nothing less than respect through the entire game.

And then you've got cool stuff like Free Run, which enables you to run a track with no competition or police pressure. Challenge mode lets you set the AI difficulty, the number of cars, the type of opponent, and the traffic density. Quick race plops you randomly into a car and a track, and says, ''deal with it.'' And don't forget ''You're the Cop'' mode, which is pretty self explanatory.

NFP:HP 2 is a testament to the fact that a game can deliver exquisite racing pleasure without car customization options. You don't need 500 available cars, or ultra-realistic handling that sends you into the wall at each turn. Gran Turismo 3? You can have it. Hot Pursuit 2 has my vote for best racing game of 2002, hands down.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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