By: Jonathan Kwan
December 10, 2010
When I read about the impending release of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit earlier in June this year, I was kind of confused. Was it a mistake? One can only think it was -- especially if you stopped paying attention for just a short moment. Normally, when new game titles are released, developers tend to increase the version number, not decrease it. Case in point: Pretty much everything that has ever been made. If we take things just slightly out of context, you will notice an interesting trend. First came Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit in 1998 (Yes, I understand the 'III' here is the version of the Need for Speed series, but you get the point), then Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 in 2002, followed by the latest release, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Um... yeah. That being said, after spending a good amount of time "testing" this arcade racer -- which is just really an excuse for me to play this game, except I can claim I am actually 'working' -- my advice to you is simply forget about everything you have seen with Hot Pursuit 2, dig up all those fond memories of the original Hot Pursuit, put it in 2010 context, and relive all those childhood hours you wasted evading cops in your Italdesign Schigera on your Pentium III computer. Well, 12 years have gone by, and while there are no more Italdesign Schigeras, and hopefully you no longer own a Pentium III, inside the box is a whole slew of modern supercars waiting for you to abuse electronically. What made us so impressed? Read on to find out.
Let's put aside all the stuff that makes no sense. Why would you drift around corners on public roads in a Bugatti Veyron at 350km/h with tires that costs $25,000 USD per set? Why would the police department try to ram you off the road in a Lamborghini Reventon? How come you can keep driving after you hit a spike strip? Why does your nitrous recharge itself if you drive on oncoming traffic? If you care enough to take all of these things seriously, then the game title you are looking for is probably 'Gran Turismo 5', not 'Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit'. I can probably list to you more than a dozen things in NFS:HP that makes no sense in real life, but anyone who has played this game in the context it was made in can only come up with one response: Who cares? That's not the point!
Now that we got that cleared up, in my opinion Criterion has done a fantastic job at focusing on the gameplay experience of Hot Pursuit itself, rather than emphasizing on gaining achievement levels or unlocking new cars. Yes, they are both elements of the game, but in the past I have found this stuff particularly unappealing, since it feels like a chore rather than entertainment -- and once you are way up there, suddenly everything becomes kind of pointless. We have all been there before. You either toss the game in the corner and never play it again, or give up half way since you have already lost all interest. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit puts you at fictional Seacrest County with miles upon miles of beautiful scenery and lots of road, with no lame storyline to boot -- just jump in and play. In career mode, you can work on both your racer career and cop career independently but simultaneously -- so whether you are feeling to run some racers off the road or take on half a dozen of multi-million dollar supercars in a race, the developers made sure they are not mutually exclusive and equally as entertaining from the moment you installed the game to the point you beat all the levels. Available events are unlocked as you move through your career as shown in the map demonstrated above, and I have found all events in career mode just as fun as the next. Since events are divided into classes of cars available (So you will never see a McLaren F1 race a Subaru WRX STI, for example), it is not crucial what cars are unlocked and whatnot. After completing events, you will collect a bounty to increase your rank and unlock new cars. But for the most part, your rank isn't really important -- other than to show off your elite status when you compete online.
Deep social networking integration is also a fundamental element of the latest iteration of Need for Speed. Think of the Autolog feature as the Facebook of the Hot Pursuit world. Seriously, you even get a 'wall' where your friends can interact with you. Wonder where they got that idea from? Yeah, beats me, too. The system also allows you to race your friends online, invite each other to race events, and the such. One interesting feature is that your race results are shared between people on your friends list on the Speedwall -- so if one of your beats you in a time trial, for example, the system will notify you right this screen, and you can replay that event to reclaim your virtual pride. It certainly enhances the meaning of replaying events, rather than to just beat a computer threshold time to get Gold because you slipped and missed it the last time you played by a fraction of a second. I will cover online competition areas of the game in just a short moment.
From the developers of the highly regarded Burnout series, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is not designed to exhibit more accurate driving characteristics of EA's Need for Speed: Shift -- it slots nicely in between a simulator and an arcade racer. Each car actually feels different enough. From the relative agility of a Lamborghini Gallardo Superlaggera, to more boat like handling characteristics of a Dodge Charger SRT-8, they are actually programmed in to correspond -- at least to a certain extent -- to real life physics. This mean an Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione is not necessarily always better than a Shelby Mustang GT500. Your low slung exotic may be faster on paved roads, but routes with lots of offroad shortcuts may benefit cars with a higher ride height. Additionally, the tradeoff of a big and heavy vehicle for poorer handling may pay off later on when ramming a racer in Interceptor or Hot Pursuit events. Each car is there for a purpose, and there is no single 'best' car for the event. The highest top speed and fastest 0-60 times does not translate to best practical performance.
Since Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit brings back police chases into the games, let's talk about your role as a cop first. As far as career mode is concerned, there are three main types of events: Preview/Rapid Response, Hot Pursuit, and Interceptor. Rapid Response is basically a time trial; where you have to beat a preset time threshold with a very limited selection of available cars to earn Bronze, Silver, or Gold. If you hit traffic or the wall along the way, you will incur a two second or three second time penalty, respectively. Right at the end of the race, a cut scene will show you sliding into a gap in a road block to stop a black Audi sedan. Yep, it is him again and again.
While I still find it quite satisfying to race against the clock and drift around hairpins with absolute precision followed by a nice shot of nitrous to accelerate out of the corner, if you are like me, then Interceptor and Hot Pursuit is really what this game is truly about. In Hot Pursuit, you are stacked up against several other racers that you have to knock out before they reach the finished line. There is nothing quite like the joy and satisfaction of ramming your opponent hard off the road and send them flying off at a distance. Seriously, the destroyer personality inside of me loves every single moment of it, haha. It is impeccably awesome. And if you like to play with a mix between the two modes, Interceptor puts you against the clock to knock out one but usually tricky to catch suspect as quickly as possible.
But what do you have against those notorious speeders? Well, for one thing, you got your car itself -- which is really one of the best weapons available. You can cause damage to your suspect by ramming into them with the front of your car without damaging yourself. If you want to hit the racers hard, nitrous into them. However, if you attempt to clip them into the wall with the side of your car, it won't cause them any damage. So be sure to aim your car precisely to hit them squarely, which will take practice especially if you want to compete effectively online. The computer players -- for whatever side you play on -- is designed very well; from my experience they are just at the upper limit of my skills. I have never been frustrated in beating a level, nor have I found them too easy throughout the game.
Other than that, the Seacrest Police Department has four things in store for you (Or against you, if you are on the other side of the law), where its availability and quantity depends on the event. EMP locks into a car in front of you, and after it is done charging, will inflict a good amount of damage on your target. It can be avoided if your target shoots out of range, swerves and brakes so you overshoot them, or use their jammer. Spike strips should be self explanatory, but it will only cause damage to them and spin them out if they still have enough health left. They will be back on the road after a couple seconds. Helicopter goes around and also dumps spike strips on the road in front of the racer for you. Finally, road blocks slow down racers and deliver significant damage if they crash into it, as demonstrated in our screenshot above. However, there is always a car width's gap near the middle for evasion. Yes, none of the listed weapons are not necessarily realistic (To put it in perspective, if you are not a physicist or not clear what EMP is, look it up on Wikipedia haha) -- but they are very well balanced in practice, and it definitely adds positively to the experience of the game.
If you are inclined to play on the other side of the law, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit has a whole racer career set for you as well. There are four main types of events available at your disposal. Preview/time trial is practically identical to Rapid Response in your cop career, except you won't incur any time penalties if you hit stuff along the way. Gauntlet is similar to the aforementioned, except you will encounter cops parked on the side of the road that will chase after you (Just an interesting point to make, the cops come after you even if you are not speeding. That was not the case in the original Hot Pursuit). A Race is just a good old point to point race with several other fellow racers -- no cops or weapons involved. Hot Pursuit is the same as it is as aforementioned, except you are now the prey rather than the predator. Again, depending on the event, there are four limited available/quantity weapons under your belt. EMP and spike strips are common to both sides, so I won't go over them again. But instead of Helicopter and Road Block, you are now equipped with a jammer and a 'turbo'. The jammer kills off EMP lock ons in an instant, prevents your opponent from seeing their map, lets you see road block locations on your map, and disables all police weapons for a short amount of time. On the other hand, anyone who is somewhat mechanically inclined will be quick to point out that the Turbo featured in the game differs in practice than the stuff in real life. In Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, you get a limited number of activations, but when you kick it in, it makes your car go real fast in a straight line for a short amount of time. All in all, you can use the same tactics against cops as the cops use on you to end their game, but you are probably better off passively defending yourself and just make a run for it in most cases. Just remember -- drifting, popping into oncoming traffic, slipstreaming behind other drivers, shortcutting, and engaging in near-misses with traffic will all recharge your nitrous. (And no worries if you crash -- the game will automatically reset your position on the road with a 100km/h+ start and a small time penalty given that you have sufficient health. Your car will never sustain more than a few cracked windows and damaged panels visually.)
With that aside, the driving experience is common to both sides. The tracks are great, and in free drive mode, all the roads are linked together as it should be so you can enjoy roaming around the entire Seacrest County from shore to forest as a cop or a racer. While the graphics may not be considered absolutely spectacular in a photorealistic fashion by today's standards, everything in the game is developed down to the commendable detail, other than the fact that everyone has the same license plate (ND 4 SPD), and speed limit signs will stay in imperial units regardless if you swap between km/h and mph. From posters on buildings to the background scenery, it is an absolute pleasure to enjoy Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit's digital artwork. With varying weather conditions, different routes per event, and even really cool gradual time shift in cop or racer free drive, the game proves to be unique and will continue to be a not repetitive experience for quite a long time. As you watch your light bars reflect off tunnel walls, to the engine sounds that is audibly different when you move outside, the environmental effects are well coordinated for an immersive effect. Speaking of sound, if you have a surround sound setup, you can actually hear the engine behind you for mid-engined cars if you switch into windshield view, and listen to traffic move around you accurately. There are even chirpings at the dead of night, and cafeteria noise if you drive next to a diner. With everything combined into a single package, even considering that yours truly is using a pitiful keyboard, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is impeccably fun in any mode. And while the keyboard is not very precise, with sufficient practice anyone can be competitive online or offline. But gosh, do I wish I had a racing wheel on me!
Just a list of for fun things: The developer actually has paid attention to the difference between HID projector and reflector headlight beam patterns. However, as you can see in the screenshot above, your headlights are always aimed very high at oncoming traffic, haha. Also, you know regular traffic on the road? I actually paced them -- all those Chevrolet Cobalt, Infiniti G37, Nissan Frontier, Dodge Caliber, Cadillac CTS, and Audi A4s go like 60mph in a 35mph zone. To dump the clutch for a hard launch, hold your handbrake and gas down. Your car will stay in neutral until your release your handbrake. According to my tests, it won't make your start any faster than from a dead start. If you want to make your starts faster, you can do a burnout before a start by holding down your brake and gas at the same time. And if you want to stop fast, hold your handbrake and regular brakes down -- but be sure to aim your car straight. If you want to do a J-turn, just hit the handbrakes and steer. Drifting is the easiest; simply tap your brakes and turn while staying on the gas, and this is probably the one most crucial skill you need to get a grasp on in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. There are tons of corners and turns on various routes, and if you can't drift, you are simply not going to win any races. By the way, you can even turn off your car's ignition. You know, you should save the environment and never idle your car. My only complaint is that in Free Drive, there is absolutely no difference in being a cop or a racer other than the car you drive. You can't pull anyone over if you are a cop, nor would you ever encounter any law enforcement if you are a racer. There is so much that could have been done to make Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit infinitely replayable in free drive mode, but right now free drive is too plainly, well, free drive... and nothing more.
If you get tired of playing against the computer, setting up matches against your friends or random people online is a very rewarding experience. Stack up against other racers online in different types of events, and your choice of the class of cars. This is where your skills (And to be honest, a good portion of luck) you obtained from past experiences really count. I am a big fan of playing Hot Pursuit over other types of events online, because this is truly what that makes this game unique rather than just engaging in a good old race. Bounty points earned online goes toward your rank -- so playing in career mode is not the only means to become the Ultimate Enforcer or Most Wanted. You can set up matches with friends, but if you have no Need for Speed friends -- or if none of them are online -- the other option is to fire up a quick match from your game menu. Everything is up to the discretion of the computer from here; you don't get to choose your server, route is completely random, teams are automatically balanced by the computer, and you cannot chat with any other players while waiting for the game to begin. The only choice that you can make is what car you want to drive... and just a word of advice, choose carefully.
What makes playing online different and more entertaining than competing against the computer is not only the dynamics of interacting with other real human players, but to simply imagine their reaction on the other side of the cable can be quite priceless sometimes. Like the time I nitroused and busted a guy a hundred meters before the finish line. Then I dumped a spike strip the following race to eliminate a fellow cop near critical damage, because he keeps bumping into me and attempting to steal my kill. All the times I was on the run? Try to stay in first place... chances are that the cops will be too busy with the slower players in the first minute of the game, by the time they get eliminated and you are the only one left, you will be heading down to the finish for free because they can probably never catch up. It could get quite stacked this way, as nearing the back of the chase means you are an easy target. And if you are in that position, it is hard to shake off four cops off your tail without being rammed into repeatedly. The first minute of the race can pretty much determine the outcome of it.
My only true complaint with regards to online play is that your rank and achievements are fully dependent on the client machine, and are not stored online. It would make much more sense if Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit syncs with the Autolog servers, and not the other way around. If you have the game installed on two computers, despite being associated with the same EA account, your rank and achievement is dependent on how far you have been on your local game profile. For example, if you are ranked Cop 20 and Racer 20 on your first computer and Cop 5/Racer 5 on your second computer, and you start Hot Pursuit on your first computer, your Autolog profile will show that you are at level 20/20. Once you fire up the game on your second computer, your Autolog profile will show that you are level 5/5. The server synchronizes with the client computer, and this doesn't make much sense in my opinion. The client should sync with the server at the very least, or if at the time you are playing the game you do not have an active internet connection, then optimally we would like the synchronization to go both ways.
For all those hours I should have been studying Numerical Methods for Electrical Engineers, a good portion of it went to playing Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit... as we are nearing the exam season for university students such as yours truly, consider holding off the purchase of this game, haha. The game is incredibly fun to play throughout, and can become quite addicting quickly. From hot pursuits to time trials, Criterion has done an excellent job at making every type of event just as fun as the next for whichever side of the law you are on. Sure, a good amount of stuff may not make perfect sense (Self recharging nitrous eh?), and driving physics does not necessarily always reflect those in real life (Let's go uber drifting around every corner in my AWD Bugatti Veyron). But who cares? This is not a driving simulator. The point of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is to provide hours upon hours of engaging entertainment, and having a beautifully implemented career mode in conjunction with an equally as capable online gameplay makes Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit fun not only for the first two weeks of ownership, but for a long time to come. In my opinion, this iteration of Need for Speed is a true home run since Need for Speed III. What would I like to see changed? Well, if they could make those annoying introduction scenes at the beginning of each race fully skippable, unlock all the potential that free drive mode could have brought to the table, as well as making achievements and profiles saved online rather than offline, would take an already impressive game to a completely different level of awesomeness.
Electronic Arts provided this game to APH Networks for the purpose of evaluation.
APH Review Focus Summary:
Variants of A indicate the game is excellent.
-- Final APH Letter Grade Rating is A-
Please note that the APH Letter Grade Rating system is based off our proprietary guidelines in the Review Focus, and should not be compared to other sites.
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