REVIEWS -- Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit -- PC
A universal arcade racing experience
by Lazare Gvimradze
Fun factor: Fun
Worth to: Buy
One of the most polished, self-contained, solid, and true-to-the-roots Need for Speeds to have graced our screens for a very long time.
The Need for Speed evolution truly is a force to be reckoned with. Starting off as a stylishly simple but captivating racing series with a knack for exotic races across spectacular landscapes, the innovative arcade from Distinctive Software kickstarted its long and diverse metamorphosis in the far 1994, where the original NFS captured the hearts and souls of countless gamers around the globe, offering its first and foremost trademark gimmick: cop chases.
As the series progressed, the theme became more and more pronounced, offering you be the cat instead of the mouse and pummel illegal racers as a police unit already in the third installment, Hot Pursuit. Four games and four years later, as the series became the property of EA Black Box, Hot Pursuit 2 made a debut, drawing all the best from its roots, and, unbeknown to the millions of fans, laying the immortal style to a temporary slumber.
The new developers decided to take rough turns, transforming the franchise into a street racing-oriented experience starting with Need for Speed: Underground (2003), and stretching the quickly dated formula as far as through three more games, with Need for Speed: ProStreet (2007) offering a confusing change of things as it changed the stage with legal tracks, inheriting little similarities like car customization from the prior games but dismissing night runs and free roam altogether. Need for Speed: Undercover (2008) brought those back, simultaneously managing to stomp the once famous series to absolute shame, presenting itself as a recycled mix of the prior titles and losing every ounce of the original’s charm. Some of these games had cop chases, some were even decent, but they weren’t the same joyful rides anymore.
EA acted just in time, as series like Project Gotham Racing or Forza Motorsport were beginning to go places NFS had never dreamt of. Choosing the lesser of two evils, they recruited yet another new studio to help with the franchise, and even managed to pluck up the courage to double the development cycles for each game, thus laying soil for an epic comeback. Need for Speed: Shift (2009) from Slightly Mad Studios made a triumphant debut as anything but Need for Speed, featuring heavy emphasis on simulation elements and dazzling visuals, including the long-forgotten cockpit view (which first disappeared in Hot Pursuit 2) and real-world circuit tracks. It seemed that the success would forever graft the future of Need for Speed towards similar titles, but then, something incredible happened, as EA took another right guess and decided to suddenly go nostalgic.
Take me down to the Seacrest County...
Criterion Games, the critically acclaimed studio behind the explosive Burnout series, were tasked with creating a brand-new Need for Speed from scratch, resulting in plans to bring back the very first thrills of cop chases and epic sceneries along with elegant, exotic cars and drives counting dozes of kilometers in length. It was ambitious to say the least, but imagine how the 90% of all car-enthusiast gamers, who silently dreamt of an HD-remake for Hot Pursuit, suddenly found out when and how their dreams would come true. The developers who brought us the captivating speedruns and jaw-dropping trick races across Paradise City were known to have a smear-free track record. It remains so to this day.
Upon booting up Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit of the 2010, we are introduced with a massive, (read: 160 km-massive) free-to-roam map of a fictional Seacrest County, dotted with various events which let you tackle numerous types of races right away. You are free to choose between missions as a cop or as a racer, and an experience level-up system, or the “bounty” bar, will start granting you additional cars and events as you show off impressive driving skills and work out a habit of making it to the pedestal. There is no cliché-soaked story like in Most Wanted or Undercover, and no complex car customizations save for a few color variants for racers. You pick an event, grab your preferred ride, listen to the vehicle’s voiced description if need be (it’s a far cry from the very first NFS and its mini-encyclopedia, but still counts as an awesome Easter egg), and hit the gas. Then it’s just you, the road, and… Autolog.
The part that Hot Pursuit found the most potential in what it least advertised is stunning at first, as the NFS-version of Facebook offers you the possibility to not only compare and share every ounce of statistical data with your friends, but does this vigorously, shoving a better result from one of your buddies in your face after you’ve restarted a race five times over to get the first place. The competitiveness it awakes is astounding, and is guaranteed to keep you glued to the game whether you’re playing alone or in multiplayer, because the Speedwall (that’s right; they even shamelessly copied THAT) is always there to ruin your perfect throwback and turn your friends into loathed rivals.
Race or Chase
But as a key part as Autolog is, it still comes second once you’ve entered an event or gotten your first taste of free roam in Hot Pursuit. The traditional racing sequences always involve sprint-based tracks from point A to point B over dozens of kilometers, and feature well-balanced AI opponents making good use of shortcuts (some of which can be misleading, in fact – always make sure to minimap-check your preferred side-route) and not hesitating to try and ram you off the road whilst driving.
The physics and handling is also refined and somewhat interesting to explore – you’ll definitely be dead wrong to call this a simulator. Dig all you want, but you won’t find any trace of Shift here. What the game does have, is a strong sense of individuality in each and every car you control, at the same time retaining a certain shared cue which stands out as a trademark element of Hot Pursuit. In short, the vehicles control pretty smart, calling for tactical drifting and some skills in traffic avoidance, which is more than most driving games can boast about.
The mission types are varied; as a racer, you can tackle the aforementioned Sprint drags along with Preview events, which let you take a yet-locked supercar for a spin, Time Attacks to beat preset OR friend-set records with specified steel stallions, and, of course, the highlight of the show, the Hot Pursuits.
Now these are what shape the game into its current glory. As an illegal act, the races you compete in, provided they fall under the given event category, are full of vigilant police officers in hypercharged monsters just waiting for you to whiz past. And when you do, the chase begins: the extremely aggressive AI is relentless in its primal desire to simply obliterate you above all other competitors, sometimes sending three consecutive types of highway patrol squads to take you down, and never tiring of employing roadblocks, dropping spike strips to temporarily slow you down, or simply locking on and disrupting your systems with a well-placed EMP shot. The hunted are in obvious disadvantage at times like these, but even they have some tricks up their sleeves.
See, you cannot actually get busted unless your health bar (yes.) gets pummeled into nothing from the constant attacks, and you’re given a small arsenal of tools to bite back, starting from the already-mentioned spike strips which drop out of your rear bumper, and ending with things like signal jammers to fry any deployed weapon or shake off an EMP lock-on, or super turbo boosts which will rocket you to top speed almost immediately and keep you there for a good ten seconds. These anti-cop measures are drastically limited per track, and require you to wait a reasonable amount of time before deciding to have another try. They are gained and upgraded (both at effectiveness and time of activity, as well as recharge time) by the same old method of bounty gathering, and can sometimes make short work of several units at once if you happen to do something really wacky like slipping through a roadblock gap and leaving a spike strip in your wake. It’s ecstatic then to just watch, and in a well-directed slo-mo cut at that, as the entire mumbo-jumbo made up from cops and racers alike crash through the barricade or get their tires blown out, just as you triumphantly cross the finish line and finally beat the annoying roommate who kept nailing the event.
“That’ll teach them to mess with the SCPD!”
In moments like these, you sometimes wish you could just look at things from a different perspective, or, to put it more bluntly, from the eyes of the predator. As opposed to other games of the genre, and as a reminder of the original, genuine Need for Speed series, Hot Pursuit gives us this opportunity with all its potential in check.
Playing as cops is equally, if not more, fun, as you never compete, only disrupt. The black-and-white enforcers of justice are rolling weapons of destruction designed to deal with law-breaking scum, letting you either pursue one inventive professional across Seacrest or shut down an entire race of amateurs on a closed track. Both kinds of chase events are unique and enthralling in their own ways, having one core goal to achieve: hit and pummel and DAMAGE the racers until they’re left with their respective health bars depleted and their frames beat up to an ugly mess. As you progress through levels and earn recognition in Autolog, more and more sophisticated events will pit you against expert speed demons during pitch-black midnight chases or rogue agents on the run deploying traps in the most unpredictable of ways and not hesitating to jam your minimap and U-turn the opposite way, kicking dust and leaving you racing in the wrong direction with false hopes quickly faltering.
It’s pretty important to maintain a cool head amongst the chaos whilst playing as a cop, since the packs of racers making determined moves to shake you off can prove to be quite the tactical bunch at times, often dropping off several wingmen to get in behind you and fry your electronics, deliberately maneuvering through oncoming traffic in attempts to crash you (risking their own bumpers at the same times) or outright chipping off your health with well-placed bumps and pushes. They’ll even try to deploy spike strips in conjunction with their momentum and corner slides, making the tire-blowers slide across the road, threatening to take you by surprise. You’ll be soon left to stare at your battered Bugatti (the damage model might be impressive, but busting the race beats it) unless you keep your eyes peeled.
Tranquil beauty... in an NFS game?
And as similar intensity might just bore you out at one moment, you can always hit the brakes and go on free-cruising Seacrest in your favorite (and unlocked) vehicle. Apart from the obvious aesthetic value of going daredevil on a bright-yellow Lamborghini Murciélago LP-640, or on any of the forty (that’s excluding their cop alternatives) or so exotic dreams of any car maniac, there’s this important factor that Criterion managed to grasp the rare concept of what I call atmospheric driving, which is more of a trait for big-budget sims like Forza Motorsport or few standouts like Test Drive Unlimited, the point being: free-riding around in Hot Pursuit is fun and relaxing, and it doesn’t require you to entertain yourself via mid-air barrel rolls or spectacular crashes.
The level design plays a pivotal role in this, as the map layout features a minimum amount of crossroads or T-joints, making it seem as if you can go on and on forever without straining about taking decisive turns, simply taking the stride into an ever-changing world. This is further reinforced by the breathtaking beauty and notable diversity of Seacrest County, where you can expect to drift along canyons at the foot of snowy mountains only to find yourself kicking sand on the beach ten minutes later, and enjoying the view on a highway jutting through an epic canyon soon after.
And to say it straight, Hot Pursuit is simply gorgeous-looking, with an immense emphasis on the original’s scale and bright saturation causing any nostalgic fan to tear up at Criterion’s dedication. Sure, the geometry might not be the best in the industry, and that damned cockpit view is absent again, but you only have to enjoy a sunset breaking through a lush timber forest with an enormous fountain adorning the background, to just shut the complaints and enjoy the view.
And even the enjoying part is made to last, as the game runs swift on any more-or-less modern configuration and does not stagger and freeze up like some of the more… discomforting prior games (I’m looking at you, Undercover!). In fact, when I said that Criterion built this one from scratch, I did so with the full meaning of the term: not content with saying no to recycled assets to create their own models and environments, they proceeded to write a new engine from the ground-up named Chameleon, and managed to pull off one of the best-looking racing games this year.
The only complaints might go towards the PC version, which suffered minor setbacks like the absence of the game’s awesome weather effects (which was eventually fixed with a patch) and no viable method of enabling anti-aliasing whatsoever, which puts a huge dent in the overall picture quality. It seems like the problem is an engine defect, and obviously goes unnoticed on the consoles since TVs require little smoothing as opposed to LCD monitors. Apart from this little miscalculation, however, the game runs on all fours with top-notch optimization and tolerable amount of graphic options – it all goes user-friendly from there.
Player feedback? Check.
There is full Xbox 360 gamepad support as well as MUCH better implementation of keyboard and mouse than in Criterion’s previous game, Burnout: Paradise. Buttons are mapped logically with corresponding visual cues popping up on-screen, and the menu is streamlined and extremely simple to use, regardless of Autolog and how scary it may initially seem. Pretty much anything that acts to support the link between the player and the game has the screws tight and in the right places.
While on the audio side, things are a bit unimpressive in the overall outlook. Criterion was always famed by its outstanding audio design. Pardon me for mentioning Burnout: Paradise for the thousandth time, but that game had fictitious cars racing around under Guns N’ Roses and Beethoven with their made-up engine sounds crafted with the utmost care, not to mention gazillion effects of cars crashing, metal bending under pressure, glass shattering, and tires bouncing off frames. In Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, some of the charm is a bit faded.
The effects are good though, no complaints there. Every time you choose a car in the garage, it starts up with a satisfying, unique revving roar which will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. The intense screeching of tires and the constant chit-chat of cops during events is equally impressive, and clever synthesizing does a good job of telling you what to expect from something you just heard, whether it was a spike strip coming online or a police chopper zooming overhead.
The music, on the other hand, is a definite disappointment, as the limited amount of tracks feature variety which is nowhere near to Criterion’s prior project. There’s some thrill to scratching paint under 30 Seconds to Mars, but we all know that people saw too much of the original Hot Pursuit here not to expect some soothing electronic tunes or swift beats (which are nowhere to be seen). The soundtrack shifts to scored tracks once chases kick off, though, showing off some pretty decent orchestral pieces for a racing game.
But there is no point looking down to the few flaws in this otherwise masterfully executed game, because Criterion’s newborn doesn’t really try to hide its shortcomings – Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit knows that enough strengths can make such things irrelevant. The sixteenth game in the franchise scored the single greatest achievement it was designed for, which clouds the beautiful presentation and rewarding gameplay with all the online gibberish completely. It wrapped the spirit of the very first games in a shiny, brand-new package which treats the original concept with care and multiplies everything that was great in it, delivering one of the most polished, visually stunning, and innovative racing experiences this year.
To hell with it, just look at it this way: you have a giant chunk of land with every possible environment type plastered all over it, filled with aggressive, straight-from-the-movie cops with choppers and a car park which will make anything with two eyes drool. If what I just described isn’t a dream you once had, then the exit is to the right. Otherwise, the roommate just made it first to the Speedwall and is about to start his pointless taunting again… so what are you waiting for?
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Criterion Games
Release Date: November 19, 2010
Review Date: 16-01-2011
Numbers of Players: 1
Players Online: 2-8
An uncompromisingly beautiful artistic style and an overwhelming sense of scale completely overshadow mediocre car models and some problems with the PC version.
Smart balance in mechanics and the adrenaline-filled Hot Pursuit events mix up and multiply as Autolog takes your achievements to a global scale – arcade racing will never be the same.
Utmost care of the source material shows through every detail in the game, with a Burnout touch only barely discernible – this is an NFS which goes back to the roots and improves on the old stuff in all the right places.
Discard the soundtrack in favor of engrossing yourself in the living atmosphere and you’re good to go: there’s quite nothing like the deafening roar of a chopper in pursuit or the dozen sirens wailing from just behind your speeding Reventon.
A borderline perfect arcade game, Hot Pursuit has it all: tight controls, tension during races, adrenaline-filled pursuits, scale and beauty of the environments, the bright style of its great-grandfather, and Autolog, coming with that rare ability to pull on emotional strings and make you howl with rage after bashing your head against one particularly tricky race.