The Need for Speed series. One of EA’s longest-running franchises and without doubt the oldest and most successful race series of all time. It has, for some people like me, been a catalogue of “must try harder”games, despite its sales. It was conceived by Distinctive Software, who were well known in the 8 and 18 bit computer days, including developing the initial games in the Test Drive series and some PC Sega conversions including Outrun.
The NfS series kicked off with a blast on the PC and 3DO systems, featuring an early team-up with Road and Track magazine to market to non-gamers, and also to obtain accurate car details. As a distinctive semi-realistic title, the NfS series has been followed by arcade junkies, those who want something easier than a full sim racer, and those who just like cruising in open U.S countryside. And it’s here that NfS: Hot Pursuit comes in.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit – Intense!
Intensity is a good word. Something that’s intense is usually something that is a huge amount of fun. And Criterion know all about combining intensity, fun and racing games, particularly with the Burnout series. The fact that the NfS series has split, with Shift 2 due in Spring 2011 for more hardcore simulator racing has also freed Criterion from the split personalities that dogged many of the earlier games in the series.
Hot Pursuit digs back into NfS history to revisit a game which was part of the upward trend of the series (which for me peaked with NfS Porsche). The main gameplay consists of racing a fairly large number (around 80) of exotic cars whilst being chased by police forces (also in around 40 exotic cars of their own), around a fabled land known as Seacrest County. Matching the cars, this is also rather exotic, featuring pretty much everything which you’d like from North American scenery, and it’s even better to drive through – especially fast.
Racer or rozzer?
You can play either as part of a “racing crew” – which is not narrated so don’t worry – or the police giving chase but whichever path you choose you can be guaranteed nothing but action, intensity, carnage and chaos.
In both cases you’ll make your way through 20 levels of progression. In addition, you have an experience system (or bounty) which rewards good driving, close-car-calls, crashes, winning and drifting. That will unlock more cars, more events and more kit.
Kit you say? Yep. There are four techs that you can use to assist your progress. Both Racers and Police have spike strips, which are deployed from behind to disable cars, and EMPS, which fire a bolt of juice to temporarily disable (or “takedown” – yes, they’re back) a target vehicle. The Police also have Road Blocks and Helicopters to impede Racers, whilst their opposite number get Jammers and a Turbo. Jammers give you warning for roadblocks, disable locked EMPs and stop police radio’s from working to call for help.
It may sound a bit unfair, but the game doesn’t unlock all the tech straight away, and even then, you have a limited number of uses per event. And the events themselves are well thought-out with both teams having hot pursuit events, as well as time trials and special car duels (Similar to NfS Shift).
At first, racers will only have 1 or 2 cops giving chase without weaponry. But as the game progresses, more cops and technology will appear alongside faster cars. The good news is that it’s always kept well-balanced. Skippable FMV before each event does a good job of raising the excitement levels, and as a bonus event the world is open so you can drive anywhere on the map. That’s important for the photography element, should you wish to pursue it – and I’m sure you will because graphically the game is lovely.
At first you may think Burnout Paradise looks better, but you’ll soon change your mind. The area is four times the size for a start, featuring 160km of roads, made up on freeways, highways, backroads, trails and shortcuts. Each of the 16 or so areas usually have two themes – forests, deserts,highways,canyons,lakeside drives,seaside drives, mountain roads, etc. Driving along it actually feels a bit like the classic Outrun, only not as linear.
And you’ll enjoy the sights because everything looks amazing. A big issue I have with arcade racers is that developers will often forego a sense of scale. Not just the size of the game, but areas that put your heart in your mouth. Those huge drops that induce vertigo, not only by height, but because the background objects are so big, and you’re going so fast and didn’t expect them. Of course, one you know where they are, you’ll approach them with vigour (just wait until you reach Vanishing Point and there’s plenty more). There’s also plenty of auxiliary detail, including plans, birds and non-police helicopters in addition to the road trafic AI, which depends on the time of day and type of road. Again, very Outrun-esque, but in this large open world.
Lighting effects only serve to amplify the world’s look (rather then for pointless effect). A special lighting engine is used and all weather is represented, as is sunlight casting.
Sometimes you’ll cross into a new area, after an overcast day, the road surface and area will change and everything will suddenly bloom into colour as the clouds move.
Suffice to say that sometimes, this game looks as good as Red Dead Redemption in its portrayal of landscape. And as for Night racing, i’ll just say its like the best portrayal of Intial D you’ve ever seen. Only its not just mountain roads. Oh and while we’re on the subject of Initial D…
How’s Hot Pursuit handle?
In terms of the controls, this game is a nice balance of sim and arcade, and it’s nothing like as skittish as Burnout. The cars are all unique and feature certain weight and inertia levels, but overall they’re all likely to feel heavier than anything you’re used to. That adds to the game because the heavier the weight of the car, the faster and more intense the game feels – and once you nail the handling, it feels great. Suddenly everything gels and things that may have passed you by will suddenly impress you. You’ll realise why I’ve gone on about landscapes and scale, speed and intensity. And once you earn the Turbo tech, you’ll realise it again because your eyes will bleed as much as your face will grin.
Powersliding is the name of the game in tight corners, feels solid and is very easy to control – the less you hold the brake, the quicker the car will run. If your deft you can slide a corner whilst only losing around 15-20mph. And that’s important because of the Autolog system.
Autolog is Criterions answer to Blur. A system that allows you to create your own community of friends all vying to beat your best times, especially In the TT events but also in the police takedown events. This is in addition to eight car racing and chasing battles – all of which are massively unpredictable but great fun.
Even once you’ve finished the massively addictive single player mode, you’ll want to go back and explore, or beat your friends times – because they’ll be sending you messages. You can even go straight to any event you’ve been beaten at and try again. Any win earns you extra bounty and allows you to send a message back letting them know you’ve hammered their time.
So to end, Hot Pursuit takes a recipe of win, with ingredients such as American police chase movies, and adds a dose of Burnout, a larger dose of Blur, and elements from Outrun. Then retains (or brings back) the original elements that made the game great in the first place. Not only does it cook up something special, but for me at least, it’s the arcade game of the year.
Not arcade racing, but arcade, full stop.