Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (360)
I mentioned when I reviewed Split/Second that I am not a major fan of racing games. I definitely approach most of them with a “wait and see” attitude, and if the game is being described as a racing sim, I just flat out avoid it. The only ones I tend to like are the more arcade style racers, and even most of them tend to leave me flat.
One company is the exception to that rule: Criterion Games. Ever since I first played Burnout: Takedown, I have been a fan of their games. Granted, not every Burnout has been worth playing, but most are, and Burnout Paradise was definitely a phenomenal game. So you can imagine my excitement when I head Criterion was going to be taking a run at the Need for Speed series, a series which up to this point had really failed to catch my eye. If anyone was going to make a Need for Speed game I was going to enjoy, it was going to be them. Couple that excitement with the rather high review scores for Hot Pursuit, and my expectations going into this game were high…
…and yet Criterion still managed to surpass them. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit may very well be my favorite racing game of all time.
Cops and Racers
For those of you unfamiliar with the Hot Pursuit variant of the Need for Speed series, you get a chance to play as two separate groups in the fictional Seacrest County: illegal racers with tweaked out cars or police driving souped up interceptors. The goal is simple enough: hone your skills in both campaigns to reach Most Wanted for the racers and Pursuit Agent for the cops. You do this by gaining bounty in the different events. Bounty is awarded for many different things, including driving skill, finishing position (for the racers), use of force (for the police) and reaching various driving milestones. What bounty provides is a great way to level up within the events, which allows you to unlock more cars for use in the various modes.
One thing that separates Hot Pursuit from other racing games is the variety of events. As a racer, you will find yourself choosing among straight up races against multiple opponents, one on one duels with other racers, Time Trials and “Hot Pursuit,” where you have to both worry about trying to win the race and keep the cops from busting you. As a cop, you can choose from one on one showdowns with other racers, race busters where you have to take down all the racers to succeed and rapid response, which is this game’s equivalent of the Burnout‘s “Burning Lap” races. Not only do these different modes help break up the gameplay, they give you the opportunity to really focus on what you want to play.
On top of the different race modes, each side has different weapons available for use in races. Now I know what you are probably thinking: weapons seem a little out of place in a game like this. Leave it to Criterion to to find a way to incorporate them into the game that makes sense. As the cop, you can drop spike strips behind you to damage racers, call in road blocks to slow them down for busts, use an EMP to render their cars useless for a short time and even call in helicopter air support to drop spike strips in front of racers which are ahead of you. Racers also have access to the EMPs and spike strips, but they also get jammers which will temporarily block the cops weapons and GPS and turbo, a short, massive boost of speed which will help them escape the interceptors. These weapons are upgradable; use them well, and you will gain more powerful versions of them. Both sides can also use the nitrous they gain from racing to wreck the other side; cops do this to bust racers, and racers do this to slow down the cops and gain a full bar of nitrous.
These two careers come head to head in the online modes. When you go online, you have three separate modes: Race, Interceptor and Hot Pursuit. Race is pretty much a straight up race. Interceptor is a one on one mode where you and an opponent square off as cop versus racer. Hot Pursuit is the crown jewel, however: 4 racers versus 4 cops, all armed with the weapons upgraded to whatever level you have unlocked in your games. This leads to insane races, and while there is some sense in working with the other members of your “team” to gain the most bounty, you can never forget the ultimate goal it to place first. What makes the pot even sweeter is the bounty you earn online carries over to your offline careers as well.
As fun as this all sounds, these features alone are not what vaults Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit past the likes of Burnout Paradise or Takedown. No, what does that is this new feature Criterion has added which redefines leaderboards and social gaming in a core racer: the Autolog.