Review by Jerrynsteph4eva

Reviewed: 01/07/14

Criterion takes over a dying series and doesn't disappoint. Which side will you join?

As I stated in my Need for Speed 2012 review, I grew tired of the same old same old that EA was pushing out every year and quit the series after Carbon was released. But after having a craving to play a new one and loving Most Wanted 2012, I was keen on replaying what I missed (even though many reviewers confirm I didn't miss much). Thankfully, around that time, there was a Need for Speed sale on Xbox Live. I nabbed up Most Wanted 2012 for the DLC and seeing several other games listed for $10 or less, I couldn't resist. One of those games was Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, another reboot of a game I really enjoyed playing. But is it still the great series that it once was or does Hot Pursuit prove that Need for Speed is merely an outdated franchise that EA can't help but continue milking? Read on.

Like the rest of the titles in the series, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is a racing game, where you take control of an illegal racer. Players race in numerous events, trying to grab the top spot as the law chases them down and as you level, you unlock new cars for use. However, there's a huge catch with the Hot Pursuit series and it's a fun one: you can play as the cops too as you try to bust illegal street racers.

As soon as you start up the game, you're asked to create an Origin account or link one to your Gamertag. While some people will not like this, it comes in the form of a new addition to the Need for Speed games and one that would be further refined in future games: Autolog. This new system is integrated into game and acts as your own personal leaderboards, allowing you to immediately see your friend's times on each event and see how you rank. But it also includes your own personal "wall" where you can post comments, pictures and challenges to your friends and see theirs. It's a neat integration but isn't as cool as future Autolog integrations.

From there, you are asked to pick a side: Cop or Racer. Each side has their own perks, events and weapons and each side is tracked separately. For example, you may earn a ton of Speed Points as a Racer, which will unlock tons of cars on the racer side and level you up to Racer Level 13, while your Cop side is only Cop Level 4 with a few cars unlocked. You can swap sides at any time, keeping your saved progress at the same time which is an awesome feature. Both sides have two unique weapons and share EMPs (which disable the car for a few seconds) and Spike Strips (which heavily damage a Car). These weapons can be upgraded even further by leveling up and completing events, which increases their potential (Level 3 Spike Strips drop two strips back to back, Level 2 EMP is stronger, etc).

The Racer side is pretty typical and like most other illegal street racers. You get cars by getting speed points (which you earn from doing things like drifting, drafting, winning races or taking out cops) and your goal is ultimately to win races. Cars are split up into class (Sports, Exotic, etc) and you can unlock different weapons to use against Cops along the way such as a Jammer (which disables their minimap and weapons) and the Turbo, which acts like a onetime Nitrous boost.

However, the true fun comes from the Cop side, which is an extremely fun change of pace. Cops aren't interested in medals so they can get merits and distinctions based on their performances. They also don't care about racing, so their events are different. You have Interceptors, which is basically where you have to take down a single racer, Hot Pursuits, which has you taking on a full team of racers and rewarding you for busting a number of them, and Rapid Responses, where you're radioed to a specific spot and are given a better rank the faster you get there (though you get penalized for bumping into edges or traffic).

Most events have you trying to bust racers, which you can do by smashing them around until their health runs out, firing weapons at them or trapping them in one spot until you bust them. However, if you take too much damage trying to bring a perp in, your car will shut down and you'll automatically lose. Cop Cars are pretty much the same as regular cars but with additional boosts in speed and power. They also come with their own unique upgrades: you can call in a Roadblock to stop the perp or a Helicopter who will track the perp and drop spikes near them.

The real fun for most people will likely come from playing online, where you can choose sides and play in specific events. Challenge others to a race or see if your friend can take down a bunch of racers in an online Hot Pursuit. If you have the DLC, you can even play a game similar to Perfect Dark's "Pop a Cap", where players divide into sides and one is randomly chosen as the "Most Wanted", which racers protect and cops get extra for bringing in. It's honestly a blast when you bust an online racer or elude the cops and hit the finish line.

One thing that's noticeably good is the varied terrain that is present in the game's fictional Seacrest County. You'll find yourself speeding through the desert, along mountain roads and past oceans and they all look beautiful. While it's nothing to buy the game over, the fact that you don't feel tied to one type of terrain is a point worth noting and is pretty cool, though it will likely go unnoticed by a lot of people.

The car list will also bring a lot of happiness to people and there's a good selection and variety in the game. You'll have options like Lamborghini, Ford, Chevy and many more available for car fans and even casual gamers who simply want to try out the series. There are even more options if you buy the DLC such as Bugatti, Porsche and Koenigsegg. The list of cars will not disappoint.

One of the things I'm not too keen about on Hot Pursuit is how cars are unlocked, which is pretty confusing. A lot of times, the game will pop up and tell you you've unlocked a car, only to find out it's for a car class you can't use in your chosen event or haven't unlocked yet. Sure, you can take it for a free roam but it's pretty confusing when the game simply tells you "Car unlocked" and you aren't quite sure where.

The car's handling is also a bit wonky and I found myself crashing a lot due to the inability to precisely turn. At first I thought it was simply the car I chose but after using additional cars and ones I know have better handling (such as the DLC Bugatti Veyron), I realized it's mainly the game physics that are to blame.

Weapons are also extremely hit and miss in this game. You could lock onto an opponent with the EMP until it's about to hit, only to have him get a swift boost of speed and miss at the last second (or crash and miss due to the game's imprecise handling). The roadblock oftentimes stops you instead of the racer (with the racer slipping through as you crash) and the helicopter misses 9 times out of 10, sometimes dropping spikes on you instead. A minor point that disappoints me as well is the fact that spike strips don't deflate the enemy's tires. Rather, they simply damage them. This usually means that, if you're like me and rush to catch up to a deflated suspect, you'll be sorely disappointed to find out that it's just for cosmetics. While the options work a lot of the time and help you take down a perp (or cop), there's still too often where it fails or worse yet backfires onto you.

The game also features free roam, but honestly I don't see why as it merely allows you to drive around the world. Since there aren't any collectables and the events have to be started from the event menu anyways, I'm not sure why this feature was included (aside from the fun of simply driving around or trying to get one of the achievements).

The achievements are somewhat of a mixed bag. While the single player ones offer a good mix of different tasks, such as "Level up to X", "Gold every mission on X side" and "Spike Strip an opponent targeting you with EMP", there are a lot of online achievements as well and we all know how EA loves to shut down online servers. They range from "Share a photo", "Comment on a friend's wall", "Take down a friend online" and the dreaded "Get 5 NFS friends", which requires you to have five people on your friends list with Hot Pursuit. There's a good variety here with plenty to do, but watch out for the online achievements if you're looking for an easy completion.

All in all, Hot Pursuit is a blast and I'm glad that Criterion took over the NFS series from Black Box. The racer side is solid enough to play through on its own but playing as a cop further enhances an already great game. This is a definite buy, especially if you feel the NFS games have gone downhill since Most Wanted 05 or simply like racing games. It offers a fresh outlook on them and though it has some problems to watch out for like bad handling or flawed weapons, the gameplay is good enough to overlook those things. Achievement hunters may want to find a boosting buddy, but it's worth it as you're practically getting two games in one.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (US, 07/26/11)

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