Reviewed by Ste Carter
Developer: Criterion Games
Format: PS3 (Also on Xbox 360, PC and Wii)
Rating: 12 (PEGI)
Developer: Criterion Games
Format: PS3 (Also on Xbox 360, PC and Wii)
Rating: 12 (PEGI)
Us gamers like our franchises and long standing brands don't we? So much so that sometimes we even neglect titles that are new to the market and offer a fresh take on things, merely because of our love for big developers' installments. No more so is the case than with the popular racing brand Need For Speed (NFS), supplied to us each year generously by Electronic Arts, who seem to have let their standards slip in recent years when it comes to quality titles. Their last NFS outing last year, Shift, wasn't as easy a step into the serious racing genre as they would have hoped it to be, as people began to ask for a quality arcade title as opposed to circuit racing. It's not like EA don't have the acumen to do so either, as they've been around for 20 years now and have produced some memorable games across all formats, recently the likes of FIFA and Dead Space.
But with EA's creative fountain seemingly running dry, can they pull a top quality game out of the hat to get their followers back on side? Well if they ever were, they have no greater chance than now as Criterion have changed their stance and decided to give the Need For Speed brand a new lease of life and have a break from their own prestigious Burnout games. This is a very clever move by EA as Criterion know how to make cracking arcade titles, just look at their back catalogue of Burnouts across all formats and see how successful they have been. They have an uncanny knack at making their titles look as pretty as they can too despite their arcade appeal, you can safely bet that Criterion will make ever effort to ensure the game looks as polished as it possibly could be. So, fingers crossed, this amount of effort has similarly been put in to the fading franchise that is NFS because let's be honest, if it works for Criterion with Burnout, then surely it will work here too?
It's hard to gauge how much anticipation has surrounded Need For Speed as we have come to expect an iteration of it each year in the big build up to Christmas, whilst there has been very little media coverage of it pre-release. But those loyal to the brand will have paid close attention to EA's murmurings, promises of a return to form and better gameplay, in the hope that their beloved NFS brand will return to form and give them something to cheer about this festive season.
One thing is for sure when you first boot NFS up, and that's the fact that this is the best looking Need For Speed title there has ever been. There are very few jaggedy edges on each car which is something that even the mighty Gran Turismo 5 suffers from, especially when it comes to the shadowing. Although, GT5 does trump Hot Pursuit in the fact that EA's title does not offer a cockpit view whilst racing, so you won't see well-crafted interiors whilst you tear up the roads in a £1 million supercar. That's not to say this will spoil your fun though as you'll more than likely be too busy drooling over the outside of the car to be too bothered about its interior. There is superficial wear and damage to each car but not to the same standard that Burnout offered with its unlicensed cars but when taken down, bits are shed across the road and sparks fly when you collide against walls and other vehicles.
Not only do the car models look perfectly recreated, the environment you race in is equally as detailed and well-presented. You'll encounter numerous areas such as long open back roads, winding desert roads and echoing tunnels that cut through mountain districts. It's in these tunnels that Hot Pursuit shows off its quality especially when you're playing as a cop as not only does engine and siren noise bounce back at you, so do reflections from your lights and sirens. A small point granted, but when listening through 5.1 surround, you really sense the effect of these sounds and it makes you feel as though you're sat in the same tunnel.
Although not dynamic by changing mid-race, the weather effects are very impressive nevertheless with rain shimmering on the surface and the glare of the sun affecting your vision as you emerge from an enclosed tunnel. Given your struggle for traction when you hit wet patches on the road and the sun affecting your view, you'll need your wits about you to negotiate tight chicanes and avoid any traffic. Something that is easy to negotiate is the menu system which isn't cumbersome and most of the singleplayer menu is structured on an overhead view of the mini-map. The design of the menu makes it very easy on the eye and doesn't overstay its welcome as selection takes very few presses, letting you ‘pick up and play' quickly.
EA is also showing a bit more maturity when it comes to its choice of songs that make up Hot Pursuit's track list too as it isn't full of tunes you'd hear pumping out of the chavved up car sat next to you in queuing traffic. Instead, there's a balance of music from artists such as Pendulum, The Klaxons and Chiddy Bang so there's something for everyone to race along to. If not, then you can import your own songs from your hard drive and create your own perfect driving selection.
As you'd come to expect from any NFS title, you can thrash exotic cars to their limit down rural roads, but this time, on either side of the law. The Seacrest County Police Department (SCPD) have been given a stupendous budget to bring crime to an abrupt halt and boy have they spent it well. All officers fly round in dream cars and use any force necessary to bring chases to a stop, be this through the use of stinger traps, helicopter assistance or via a good old takedown. On the flip side, Seacrest County citizens have ignored the on-going economic downturn and spent their hard earned pennies on equally dreamy cars, which they don't care if they damage or even wreck. They have even splashed out on kitting them with anti-police devices such as EMP strikes, spike strips, electronic jammers and a prolonged boost. Cops can also be eliminated with a takedown, which is as equally satisfying when you get the edge over your law enforcing enemies. You'll feel the speed of your vehicle no matter which side of the law you race on, as scenery and innocent road-users fly past your screen with blurred effects. Each car handles in its own manner too as expected, there are no transfers of steering and braking control across a given class of cars, showing how effort has been put in to make the game as realistic, and that bit more challenging, as possible.
All cars are easy to tame unlike previous games, and no longer do cars have that tendency to drift round every corner you come across. Drifting isn't altogether neglected though, as you can still fly round corners sideways which will in turn fill your nitro bar, which is deployed by holding down X. Nitro is granted for racing in a dangerous or skilful manner, so it will get awarded for mobbing up the grid, driving down the wrong side of the road or evading a crash. Nitro is very handy too when it comes to pipping a racer to the finishing line or using it at the right moment to evade an attempted takedown. Takedown's don't feel too easy or hard,and you can gauge when the perfect time to strike is as your foes have health bars above their vehicles, which indicate when the end is nigh. Damage isn't too easily dealt either, with side swipes and attempted takedowns often resulting in cosmetic damage as opposed to mechanical.
Despite having two ‘sides' to race for, all races are shown on the same map which allows you to flit between cops and racers on the same screen. In order to boost your career as a cop you build up points from taking down opponents and the time taken to do so, whilst drifts and skilful driving is also rewarded. Each race has a level to aim for too, a gold medal which is a distinction, a silver medal being a merit and a bronze medal is a pass and for trophy hunters out there, one is up for grabs for earning a distinction in each race. Racers aim for gold, silver and bronze medals and even if you don't achieve the highest award, a loss can feel like a win at times as you gain points for your driving abilities regardless of your finishing position. Your abilities will be stretched to the limit too as the higher awards and ratings require near a near perfect run through with minimal traffic collisions, utilisation of short cuts and alternate routes. This never makes the game a chore as you'll have fun boosting your level regardless of the outcome of the race as firing up a Lamborghini's engine and thrashing it is fun no matter what the scenario.
Despite having more or less everything at your feet upon first playing NFS, there are plenty of races for you to compete in, and in effect there are two campaigns for you to play through as a cop or racer. Furthermore there's a vast array of cars for each side to get their hands on too which will make their time easier as each new car has a more effective use, so one car will accelerate quicker whilst the next will have a greater high speed. Whilst you're not racing, you can free roam in any one of your unlocked cars and find shortcuts and new routes that will enable you to outdo your on and offline foes.
Online is probably where most people will spend most of their time if they're of a competitive nature and doing so will also boost your offline career at the same time, so there's incentive to play both sides of the game. Online offers group chases, 1v1 chases and straight forward races to the finish line several miles down the road. Each type of race is narrowed down by the type of cars you want to use too, so you won't find yourself hard done by in an Audi TT against a Bugatti Veyron. Not only is competition amongst peers encouraged, socialising is too via a board where your friends' times and accomplishments are broadcast for you to challenge and hopefully beat. Your times are also complemented with the very easy process of uploading pictures mid-race, by pressing R3, to your wall where people can view and comment on them.
There's no question about it, this is the best NFS title in years and hopefully EA have finally found their feet and have secured a place in the racing market once again. The market has moved on from supermarket donutting and fairy-lit underskirts so this is definitely a big stride in the right direction in order to confirm their return to form. Whilst those of a more serious nature will find a better game in Gran Turismo 5, Hot Pursuit offers a perfect alternative to circuit racing with its over-the-top style and appeal. There will be some Downloadable Content heading our way soon too that will no doubt add more races and challenges so holding onto NFS will be a good move for sure.
A need for speed
- Brilliant visuals
- A great game on and offline
- You get to be a road traffic officer
- The best Need For Speed/Burnout game for a long time
A want for something else
- Not enough variety for some