I'm in love. In screeching tires, wailing sirens and roaring engines. In the surge of adrenaline I get when I burn down the side of a mountain in almost 300 kilometers per hour, throw my Lamborghini into a wild turn, barely missing a truck coming from the other side, before I push down the nitro-button and fly forward like a rocket. That feeling never gets old.
During the 16 years the series has existed, Need for Speed has been all over the place. The relationship between arcade and simulation has differed from game to game, and if you prefer your racing game with realism in the driver's seat, you should probably stay away from Hot Pursuit. Because this is arcade-racing with a capital A, to the degree that you can't even choose to have a manual stick shift.
Criterion Games are in charge of development, and their earlier experience with the Burnout-games shines through. If you like Burnout, you'll probably feel right at home here. Early on, the cars feel a bit heavier than one would expect, but you'll get used to that fairly quickly. And soon you'll be throwing your expensive sportscar into the wildest maneuvers, because the steering and controls feel just right.
Like both the box and the game's startup screen reveal, police chases are an important part of Hot Pursuit. Generally you can divide the various races into one car-races, duels between two cars and racing with four or more - all with variants with or without police. You can play as both an outlaw or the long arm of the law, and unlock new cars and races as you collect more points. The career mode is cleverly made, so in reality there's really two campaigns. But you don't have to do a certain amount of street racing-races to unlock the next police events, or vice versa.
When you sit down in your police car, it's mostly about running one or many speeders of the road. To that end you have a couple of things to help you out, like a short EMP-burst, spike traps, road blocks and helicopters. There's something oddly satisfying in setting out after a criminal road race, smash up the competitors and stop the race long before anyone reaches the finishing line. On the other hand the racers have their own weapons, like jammers and a turbo-boost.
The game's car park is huge. You start in the roadster-class, that has a top speed of about 250 km/h, but slowly but surely you work your way upwards. In the top you find amazing supercars like Bugatti Veyron and Koenigsegg, and you get small teasers about what you have to look forward to. Most of the cars come in regular and police variants (we're obviously dealing with the best equipped police force in the world), so the teams are balanced.
You choose your races from a map, and while the world's environment is shaped like a large net of roads, side streets and exits are blocked during the races so you don't find yourself off route. All the races have smaller alternative routes, which in some cases work like shortcuts, and in the police missions where you chase a car the roads are completely open. If you just want to drive around on the 160 kilometers of available streets, you can do that as well, even if you can't drive from mission to mission like in for example Burnout paradise. Those are all limited to the menus, and the so called freedrive-mode is only there for you to be able to enjoy the view.
And that view is pretty breathtaking. The fictitious Seacrest County covers everything from snow covered mountains to forests and deserts to beautiful coastlines, like a fantastic melting pot of the most beautiful parts of the US. The frame rate is solid, and I've never seen it stutter, not even when a lot of things are happening on the screen at the same time. And even if it's a pretty easy trick, it looks great when the red and blue sirens light up the night.
The difficulty gets higher throughout the game, but it's a pretty soft curve. If you're a Burnout-veteran you'll probably get gold medals on most of the races on your first try. The opponents don't drive perfectly, and you really have to make an effort to end up on last place in some of the races. The exception is the timed races, where you have to drive almost flawlessly to be able to score gold. And those get even worse in the police versions, where you get seconds added to your final time for damaging your expensive and state owned car. I get gold in most events, but even with more than ten hours of playtime I still only get silver in the timed ones.
And that takes us to one of the things in Hot Pursuit that Criterion have talked a lot about - the so called Autolog. The philosophy is that no player wants to know that he or she is 347 000 on the global leaderboards. Instead the game tracks your and your friends' times, and show you what race you should beat to be able to brag to your friends. It can also show you events based on your friends' activities, so you quickly can get your revenge if one of your mates beats your old record.
It gives an extra dimension to the game. If your friends don't like racing games (or if you simply don't have any friends) it doesn't add very much, but because the Autolog is such an integrated part of the game, it quickly becomes just as important to beat your friends as it is to beat the computer. I have many times done an event over and over again, not because I didn't win, but because I couldn't live with being two seconds slower than the guy over me on the list. At the same time it's incredibly satisfying to completely crush a friend's record. Every time you do you can post about it on the so called wall, which all your friends can see, and even add a little comment to it - just to rub it in even more.
It's a great idea, the way you can play against your friends even when they are not online. That kind of offline-multiplayer would be a welcome addition to many racing games.
Even if Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is amazing, it does have a couple of scratches on the otherwise fine paint. The AI tends to rubber band, and even if it's discreet, it's not like you don't notice. And as you get further into the game, the Hot Pursuit-races (racing with the cops after you) often become more about survival than dedicated racing, which I guess can also be seen as a good thing if you want even more variation. The police part doesn't seem as well done and varied as the racing - luckily you can play the two completely separate if you don't enjoy it.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is a breathtaking arcade racer for adrenaline junkies. It's for you that want to feel that rush in your stomach while you swoosh back and forth between opposing traffic with the police hot on your trail. The game also tells me that after more than ten hours I have about two thirds left to go through, so there's nothing wrong with its longevity. Fans of simulation will probably not like this, but for the rest of us it's all about throwing ourselves head first into the hunt for the world's largest speeding ticket.
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