Review: The Need for Speed – Hot Pursuit
Driving in the fast lane never felt so good, at least for awhile.
The selling points for the new installment in Electronic Arts, Need for Speed franchise are clear, you get a chance to travel at blinding speeds, race, and most definitely crash a full array of fast exotic cars in a high octane battle between cops and robbers. Interestingly, EA selected Criterion Games, the creative minds behind the Burnout series, to develop Hot Pursuit. Therefore, you will get quite a bit of the usual Burnout flair, with cars which take damage and a crash camera capturing each accident in full slow motion glory.
The game play is straightforward you only have to select a racing location and event from the overhead map of the fictitious Seacrest county. Each location is marked as having either police or criminal events, and as you progress in your career different locations and events will unlock. Thankfully, the game allows you to tackle both career paths at the same time, so you are able to jump back and forth between racing for or against the law at your whim. Both career paths work through a leveling up system, with 20 ranks in total for each; as you gain more experience you will unlock more cars and gadgets. You can gain experience by completing races, reaching benchmarks, and wreaking havoc in either single events player or in online multiplayer action.
Hot Pursuit boasts some great visuals, with detailed car modeling and fantastic environments that depict a wide range of scenery from forests and beaches to cruising through the open desert. The racing environments are filled with twists and turns, with a sprinkling of short cuts and alternative routes. Backing the visual aesthetics of the game are solid arcade style racing controls, which are forgiving and loose. You will be able to boost and drift with ease after a few races, but don’t expect a deep driving simulator. Cars handle much more easily than their real world counter parts. Speaking of cars, there a loads and loads of them for you to select from; high performance and exotic cars are what make up the lion’s share of the vehicles to choose from.
Yet this racer isn’t without some major annoyances; right from the start is the problem of selective car damage points. For some bizarre reason hitting the rear of an opponent’s car does more damage while you are both moving forward than getting in front of him and fully stopping your car, causing him plow into you bumper at 200 miles per hour. It seems like the developers simply coded damages for what they expected players to do rather than what is actually possible. Don’t be surprised if you land a wicked hit on a fellow racer at a slightly odd angle and have it count for nothing. Speaking of hits, the crashes in this game need to be a lot more dramatic; if I smash into another car head-on with a combined velocity close to 300 miles per hour, I expect to see a little more than a bent fender and broken glass.
Furthermore, the law enforcement backup can be frustrating at times. I had to restart a good number of races because my own helicopter dropped a spike strip on me, including one case where I was on a side road parallel to the target, or after getting in front of a speeder my radio told me that the target had turned around, only to find after I had pulled a U-turn at top speed that the target raced past me having never altered course. Not using your helicopter special because it might do more damage to you than your opponent and not knowing if you can trust what the radio says are big problems for a game in which small mistakes can add up quickly.
For me the game really began to sink with the fact that the overall single player game fell short in length. While there are perhaps 50 events to complete for each side, it won’t take more than a few gaming sessions to finish off all of the races with ease, especially when you consider many of the starting events are only 2 or 3 minutes long. While a limited number of events might be countered by a strong leveling up system that encourages you to keep replaying races to gain more experience, Hot Pursuit fails to deliver. It is true that you unlock new cars constantly; however there isn’t enough of a difference between them. Each car you gain begins to feel like a new visual preference, rather than a new tactical option, and quite frankly begins to become boring. Once you get your fifth Porsche variant, it starts to feel less like an exciting new car to try and more like a tacked on new skin.
Instead, Criterion gambled on using the new online Autolog feature to hook players into continuing to play. Autolog works by keeping you connected to what your friends are doing in the game online, think of it as a high score list on steroids, where bragging and besting someone else could be taken to levels bordering on high art. My experiences with Autolog were underwhelming for a simple reason, no one on my friends list were playing this game. That becomes a huge problem for a game which ties a lot of its replay value up in what your friends are doing. With the majority of my friends choosing to play Halo Reach or Call of Duty: Black Ops, I suddenly have little motivation to continue racing just to beat my own scores. Starting matches online with strangers lost its charm about as soon as I began; the quick races I entered into had ridiculous start up and loading times, and playing against the random masses became a tired experience. While some people might completely disagree with my opinion, Hot Pursuit simply failed to deliver for me as an online experience, and that significantly lowers it value to me as a reviewer.
Overall, if you love racing games, and have a good number of friends who do too, this might be a great pick for you. There is a lot of fun to be had with groups of friends driving at high speeds playing cobs and robbers. However, if you are a single player person or just a regular gamer just looking for something new to try, The Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is a package which falls short in too many areas for me to recommend to you. The game has a few rough spots, but lives or dies with the Autolog and online play; for me I had some face paced fun for awhile, but after I had beaten the single player events, the whole package just got stale very quickly.