Criterion, the British game developers who’ve made a name for themselves with the Burnout games have been tasked with resurrecting the Need for Speed series after a spate of rather terrible titles. They’ve gone ahead and injected the series with a sense of speed and intensity, synonymous with Burnout and in doing so have managed to put the “Speed” back in Need for Speed.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (HP) moves out of the urban confines of various fictional cities allowing players to drive some of the fastest cars in the world at near mach speeds. It’s clear the emphasis is purely on racing so the game cuts right to the chase never really bothering with a story. As soon as the game loads, you’ll be taken to the World Map from where you can choose to play as Cop or Racer. Both sides are armed with some of the most powerful cars in the world and as you play through the available races you’ll only unlock better. Both sides are also equipped with four weapons or power ups of sorts that add a strategic element to this game. Cops are equipped with upgrades like an EMP blast or the ability to call in Road Blocks while racers can counter their attacks with Jammers and an insane amount of turbo boost. The more racers/cops you take out with these power ups, the more they get upgraded making them even deadlier in the process.
While the sense of speed in Hot Pursuit is positively exhilarating, I was pretty disappointed by the lack of variety in this game. For the racers you’ll have your standard ‘Point A to Point B’ races and Time Trials. Once in a while you’ll go head to head against a single opponent but those boss fights of sorts are few and far apart. Even the races where you’re being chased as a cop lack the spark of Most Wanted where players could avoid road blocks in slow mo or destroy certain environmental hazards taking out cops in the process. But since this is a Criterion game, you can thankfully take your opponents out in the form of glorious slow motion crashes. Be warned though; this is not Burnout so concentrating on just taking out your opponents is pretty useless.
For me playing as a cop was the highlight of the game as taking down speeding racers was just plain mental. Even though you have four weapons to choose from, their usage is limited which makes chases all the more intense. Do you take a racer down with a spike strip or a road block? Or do you call in a chopper? Or do you shoot him with an EMP blast, slow him down and then ram him off the road. It’s these kind of choices that make playing as the Cops an utter blast. Sadly the lack of variety raises its head once again and besides Hot Pursuit events, all you have are Time Trials. Now I never really had a problem with the Time Trials as a Racer but as a Cop they’re an utter b*tch. Graze your car and you’ll shave off two seconds from your time making you feel like a bull in a china shop. I get that I was being punished for being rash but I thought the whole point of this game was to drive with reckless abandon.
Even though the game’s very linear and every event is accessed through the map, it includes a free roam mode, that honestly speaking feels highly redundant. As a Cop or a Racer you’re free to explore the country side at your own pace but that’s all you can do here. There are no random races to partake in, nor are there are illegal races to shut down. The only thing possible in this mode is taking pictures of your car amidst picturesque backgrounds. Umm yeah!
Road blocks can't stop me
The crux of this game lies online where Criterion show off their latest in-game social hub called Autolog. You see everything you do in this game is fed into the game’s Autolog system which when you go online is posted on your wall (just like in Facebook). Your friends can then choose to top your time or challenge you to decimate theirs. It’s a pretty sweet system that increases the longevity of the game as the option to humiliate your friends never really gets old. Through Autolog you can access the game’s multiplayer in which you can once again choose to play the Hot Pursuit mode, Races or Interceptor events which pits a Cop and a Racer against each other, mano e mano. While I never got to play too many online games, the few that I joined were extremely intense as human opponents offer a more significant challenge than the A.I.
Visually the game delivers combining an insane amount of speed with gorgeous outdoor environments although you won’t have time to smell the roses or even admire them at those speeds. Criterion have licensed pretty much every super car on the planet so gear heads will have a field day tearing up the open roads in these million dollar babies. I wasn’t too happy with the game’s OST and I would have appreciated the option of uploading my own tunes but like all Criterion games, I was stuck with the default soundtrack.
When I first heard Criterion was in charge of the new NFS game I honestly expected it to be a lot like Burnout. And in many ways it does capture the essence of the Burnout series while retaining core elements of older NFS games. In doing so it’s managed to cater to fans of both the series, which is no easy task. It is hampered to a certain extent by lack of variety and a redundant open world game but there’s no denying that this game is an exhilarating experience that should not be missed.
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