Review by Solid Sonic
"The chase is on..."
BEST FEATURES: Superb driving engine. Large landscape for driving. Diverse garage of vehicles to drive. Autolog makes tracking friendly rivals easier than ever.
WORST FEATURES: Disappointing soundtrack. Free-roaming serves little purpose. Lacks a good variety of event types. Somewhat inexcusable absence of local console multiplayer. Requires the use of EA's Online Pass system.
Need for Speed has been in kind of a rut for the past few years. Ever since EA's Black Box studio pulled off the stellar Need for Speed: Most Wanted in 2005, the spark of inspiration in the following installments has been disappointingly weak. In 2009, EA took the series in an entirely new direction with Slightly Mad's Need for Speed: SHIFT but that too failed to be a captivating entry (though that may just be a personal sentiment, the game still did well enough to deserve a sequel, SHIFT 2 Unleashed: Need for Speed, in 2011). However, in 2009, EA also revealed that they had a trump card: enter Criterion Games, developers of the Burnout series of racing games and arguably the most talented group in the genre today. Promising a "revolutionary" entry that would see the series return to its roots, 2010 brings us face-to-face with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit and finally revitalizes the ailing franchise.
In a racing game, the graphics should attempt to bring alive both a vivid world and a sense of speed. Hot Pursuit's northern west coast-esque USA setting of Seacrest County allows us to drive through lush forests, sweeping switchback roads through frigid mountains, and serene coastal parkways. The world is ornately crafted with varied and believable changes in terrain and landscape that would not be out of place in real life. Personally I would have liked to see urbanized environments among the wilderness (there are some signs of civilization but they are far spread and diminutive compared to the rest of the world). In regards to the sense of speed, it's there but perhaps downplayed a bit by the somewhat low framerate (if I'd wager a guess, I'd say the game runs at approximately 45fps when normally 60 is best for conveying high speeds). It is not a huge concern as the game does feel fast once you're used to the pace but a little more fluidity would have been welcomed. One area the animation comes through in is when the cars wreck, causing an explosion of metal and glass to erupt from the damaged vehicles. It should come as no surprise as Criterion Games, the makers of the Burnout racing series, has made this their signature.
Setting the mood is an important element of any game. Mood is what allows the player to lose themselves in the experience and the better the game does at this, the more highly regarded it will be. A well-crafted sound scheme is a necessary component to achieving this. Hot Pursuit's sound effects are sharp and clear, driving home the sensation of an intense race or heart-stopping pursuit. Tires squeal realistically, police sirens blare, and engines rev with a forceful roar, which all comes together to weave a tapestry of sound. What disappoints me in this category is the choice of music. None of the songs on the default soundtrack (save for maybe the main theme, by 30 Seconds to Mars) really connect well with me. The soundtrack is a mix of hip-hop and rock. Hip-hop has never been a music genre I've appreciated and none of the rock music in the game comes across as memorable. The game also has some instrumental themes used for certain pursuit events, which is admittedly appropriate. Thankfully, the game does support custom soundtracks on the PlayStation 3 so bringing your own music is encouraged.
A hallmark of the Burnout series, at least in my mind, is the fact that the control is nigh-onto impeccable. Drifting through corners in Burnout has always been an easy-yet-satisfying experience thanks to the simple controls that emphasize grip and speed. Hot Pursuit inherits its forerunners' knack for intuitive arcade-racing design. Hot Pursuit's roads facilitate very fast driving through long stretches of open tarmac. The game does occasionally throw curves at you so you have an opportunity to slide through the turns. Drifting is as simple as it is in Burnout (tap the brake then steer into the bend), though it is stiffer by comparison (the cars in Hot Pursuit have a noticeable weight to them that can make drifting feel a bit sluggish the first few times you attempt it; drifting also costs you your speed, which might be a surprise for Burnout fans). Give the handling some time and you'll soon see that Criterion Games are definitely the minds behind this game.
Welcome to Seacrest County, where speed is the currency of choice. It is a place where both racer and police do battle to control the streets. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit lets you choose which side of the law you want to walk on. Racers live for the competition, be it from their opposition in the race or the police trying to take them in. The police of Seacrest County are dedicated to cleansing their roads of lawless drivers. During a racer career, you'll be trying to outrun your opponents (or the police) and take first while serving as an SCPD officer will task you with bringing in reckless drivers. Depending on the event, both police and racer alike can equip "weapons" to help their chase or race (police can call in choppers and roadblocks while racers can power up their machine; both racer and police share an EMP and spike strip drop). The range of cars you can drive in either career is impressive, ranging from tuners to muscle cars and even into the upper echelon of automobiles, such as the Pagani Zonda. There should be a car for anyone in this game. The world of Seacrest County itself is also quite daunting, being larger than Burnout Paradise's Paradise City by a significant margin (the game claims to be over 100 square miles of drivable area), though the design of the region is much more sparse compared to Paradise City as well. The road system in Seacrest County emphasizes speed over precision cornering or drifting, though exploration will yield some off-road shortcuts that can take you through a few exotic areas. Like Burnout, Hot Pursuit has a boost system in the form of a nitrous bar that, also like its creator's legacy, fills up by driving aggressively. Getting away from the track, Hot Pursuit introduces us to the "Autolog", a dynamic algorithm that will let you compare your times on specific events to friends also playing the game. The Autolog will then select events that it thinks you should try to beat their times in to keep the social competition flowing. Autolog's simple suggestion system means you'll know which events are waiting to have their top times taken. Hot Pursuit overall is a great entry in the racing genre but it does come with a few downsides. The game does possess a free-roaming mode but absolutely nothing progress-related can be accomplished. If you enjoy driving on the streets of Seacrest, then this mode is apt but you cannot launch races while free-driving nor can you add Bounty (the method of tracking your progress through a given career) while exploring the roads. Being able to strike up a chase or leisurely pursue a fugitive as a racer or officer (respectively) would have added a lot to the open world. Furthermore, the event types offered in the game are simply too few (each career only has about two unique event types and then the Hot Pursuit event type is a shared event that changes perspective depending on who you're driving as). These are not major hangups and I'm not trying to deride the game's positive aspects, but it is worth mentioning their influence on the experience. Criterion could really have given more thought to the game's variety but once you're burning up the roads, all the complaints fades away.
Replay Value: 8-8.5
Criterion's racing titles have always been a joy to replay. The basic gameplay of each has proven to be polished and competent examples of the best arcade racing has to offer. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is no slouch here either. The basic single player experience allows you to stand on either side of the law and tackle a list of events around Seacrest County. The number of events is fairly long for both law enforcement and racer alike so you can sink a decent amount of time into the single player game (though the lack of variety does rear its ugly head here). The open world is an option, despite not adding anything to the game's content, if you like the opportunity to drive with no restriction. However, what truly earns this game its keep in replay value is the Autolog. With Autolog, your friends will always know what the last record you set or broke was and will let you know what records they currently hold. This opens up a fantastic back-and-forth of record breaking that adds immensely to the game's replay value. Every time you power on the game, you can just jump right into the Autolog to see which records you should push to break and so you will never run out of competition. If direct competition is what you desire, the online mode serves up some basic event types (Race for racing, Interceptor for cop-and-fugitive action, and Hot Pursuit for a combination of the two) but is somewhat bare-bones due to the game's slim event variety overall. This might have been eased had Criterion included a local multiplayer option but this game skips on that. With a go-anywhere-anytime game like Burnout Paradise, this approach makes sense. However, Hot Pursuit closes its tracks once a race has begun, forcing the racers to stay on the designated route, meaning it must only load the environments that are being raced through for both players. So the exclusion of local multiplayer is unfortunately unwarranted. And though it is more of a personal complaint, I do feel obligated to say that this game requires the use or purchase of an EA Online Pass. Without it, the game will not be playable online and thus you lose a critical component of the replay value. This by itself hurts the replay category as I am personally objected to anything that could hamper or otherwise deny the player the online experience. Aside from this, NFS: Hot Pursuit provides a fun and exciting racing experience both online and off.
In the end, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit shows that once more, Criterion Games is one of the most talented racing game developers in the industry. With a great racing engine and some well-crafted gameplay for both the police and racers, Hot Pursuit is a solid throwback to all things that put Need for Speed on the map. Though I personally liked the customization of the Underground-style games, first and foremost I come for the race and NFS:HP is more than qualified. Though the event variety is not as diverse as I would like and the open world is too much of an afterthought, the racing itself is simply too pure to pass up. Same-console racing should have been an option but, in spite of the EA Online Pass, the online can still provide good fun. If you like arcade racing games, I can't emphasize enough that Hot Pursuit should be in your garage.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 01/04/11, Updated 01/06/11
Game Release: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (Limited Edition) (US, 11/16/10)
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