It's been on quite a long hiatus, but Hot Pursuit is finally back as part of the Need for Speed brand. To mark this occasion, there's also a new developer at the helm in Criterion Games, known for their work on the Burnout franchise. It seems like a match made in heaven, as Hot Pursuit is all about high-speed fun, with crazy drifts and of course, the cops.
The premise behind this rendition of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is a simple one. Rich, sports car owning people have taken to Seacrest County and have decided it's the perfect place for their thrill-seeking joy rides. Not an opinion shared by the Seacrest County Police Department, who have started using commandeered vehicles in their attempts to thwart this new spate of speed related automotive crimes.
Because of this, the gameplay in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit takes on two forms; that of the sports car driver and that of the police officer. It creates an interesting dynamic as you get to experience the thrill of outrunning the cops, but also the thrill of nailing the bad guy.
The game starts off relatively slowly, giving you access to the low-end cars, such as the Mazda RX-8 and the Mitsubishu Lancer Evo X. The objective in the early races is purely time-based over short courses. However, things do start to set-up quickly and Criterion were kind enough to not make players wait too long before they can experience a fast car.
This is enabled through "preview" events, whereby a manufacturer comes to you and asks you to test out their latest beast of a car. This could be a Pagani Zonda or a McLaren F1, but it allows you to get a sense of what's to come early on in your Hot Pursuit experience.
As things ramp up, you'll start entering into different types of races, with the most troublesome being "Hot Pursuit". In this mode, you have to square off against opposition racers and, of course, the local law enforcement. It certainly adds a different dynamic because the whole experience becomes more about self preservation. You become distinctly more aware of your car's health bar and you'll need to be weary of spike traps and road blocks on your way to the finish line.
It can also be a bit annoying though, as no matter how fast you go, the police can always seem to go faster, even if your car should blatantly walk all over it. The mantra of the police is also "at any cost", but sometimes they severely lack self preservation themselves - charging head-first into their own road blocks, if only to make you crash too. It can be a bit annoying. Attempting to get through road blocks can also be quite frustrating because the collision detection in the game is quite unforgiving. This also applies to other cars on the road, but going semi-close to them will likely result in a heavy thud, but not always a crash. Going through a road block completely unscathed is a challenge in itself, although the use of shortcuts does help to negate this.
You will get a few tricks that attempt to turn the tides, but you can do just as well without really using them. They allow you to drop spike traps, jam EMP devices and see road blocks, gain a turbo boost and shoot out an EMP. However, using spike traps is only a temporary stop-gap, cops rarely use EMPs, turbo boost isn't much different from using the generic Nitro and firing an EMP, especially later on, is more trouble than its worth.
The other side of the game, driving as the cops, is actually a rather different experience. Instead of the objective being to simply finish the race, it's usually to arrest the wrong-doers.
This is naturally performed by ramming them until they submit, but you also get some tricks, which are a bit more useful. There's the EMP, which now has much more purpose as you're supposed to be chasing, not leading, the ability to call in choppers, set up road blocks and lay spike traps, which are again more useful now. Rewards in this mode are presented for taking down felons in quicker times, or different numbers of felons.
There are racing challenges for the law enforcement too though, but they revolve more around precision driving. You'll get penalised for any collisions that you make throughout your run, so it promotes clean, and safe driving, as opposed to hell for leather. It's helps to give the game a nice balance, although playing as the felon is much more fun.
Graphically, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is great. All of the licenced cars are true to form, it's just a shame they couldn't be smashed up more thoroughly like Criterion's non-licenced cars. The licenced soundtrack isn't so hot though and most of the music doesn't really feel like it fits in with the nature of the game. There aren't enough tracks to really get the pulse racing; they just lack any real oomph.
There is also a huge annoyance which comes in the form of highlighting key actions throughout levels. This could happen when you take down a rival racer, a cop, or when a new opponent is introduced to the fray. The action carries on, but the camera pans to focus on this new object. The problem with this, is that when the action continues, the game can place you in terrible situations. It might bring you back when you're literally on top of a road block, which is then made impossible to avoid, or put you back in control during the middle of a hairpin turn - it's very frustrating and can lead to unnecessary crashes and race failures when you did absolutely nothing wrong as a driver.
Completing all of the races to a gold standard will take quite a while, especially if you're doing it for both the felons and the cops. However, where the game's real replay value comes in isn't with attaining gold medals, or competing in the online arena, it's with the Autolog system.
The Autolog system monitors actions of you and your friends and tells you about what they're doing. If one of them beats one of your times, it'll let you know so you can beat them back. It can create never-ending back and forths and some serious rivalries out of almost nothing. It's a genius system because while other games do compare scores, Autolog specifically draws attention to the fact and encourages you to go out of your way and put your friend in their place.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is a whole load of fun, but that's to expected from a game that lets you drift around corners at over 200mph in a Bugatti Veyron. It does feel as though it misses a trick here and there though, as the "battle" between the felons and the law enforcement, which is supposed to be the main highlight of the game, is probably the least fun. It is nice to be able to play as the law enforcement though and the Autolog system helps to give Hot Pursuit some real lasting appeal if your friends are up for it.