Developer: Criterion Games / Publisher: EA / ESRB: Everyone 10+
NFS HP takes place in the panoramic Seacrest City where racers from around the world come to test their driving chops. You can take on the role of one of the felons or put your shades on and become the long arm of the law.
No longer is Need for Speed trying to wedge in narrative to a racing game. It is now simply hunt or be hunted, which is a welcome change. Advancing through the ranks of racing as a crook or cop nets you experience points known as “bounty,” which gains you access to newer exotic cars and new powers like roadblocks, helicopters, spike strips, and EMP blasts. Single-player offers include Interceptor or Rapid Response modes for Cops and Races, Duels, and Time Trials for the scofflaws. All modes either fall into chase or be chased or simply get the best time you can.
The gameplay structure is very simple and that is reflected in the controls as well. Blazing down the highway in the world’s most expensive production car, the Bugghatti Veyron, feels barely different than driving any of the other super cars. There is very little difference between the cars within each class. Sports is the only class that does well off road, while the other cars in the performance, super, exotic, and hyper classes simply get faster and handle better. That’s not to say that the simple play style isn’t engrossing; it’s hard to deny the appeal of the slow motion crash when you bust a player or the satisfaction of turning the tables and dropping a spike strip on a cop.
Multiplayer is where NFS has attempted the most innovation I have seen from a racing game since Bizarre Creations incorporated levels of social media into its racing bragging rights in Blur. The new autolog system allows you to share, brag, and taunt your friends with your latest achievements within the game. The menu system and the “wall” are more often than not simply jumbles of redundant information or shots of your friend’s cars that are exactly the same as the car you have. Your friends scores are also shared with you on every map and bonus bounty is doled out if you are the top scorer for that particular map.
The various multiplayer modes rehash the single-player experience, but this time against live opponents. The chases can get very intense at times and add a level of difficulty that seems to be missing from the computer AI opponents. I did have a few instances where connection issues caused me to ram an opponent that wasn’t there any more, but more often than not the gameplay was exciting.
One should also be aware that if you buy this game used you have to shell out 10 dollars to get a code to play online at all, a policy EA has adopted for most of its lineup.
Hot Pursuit is fairly unremarkable in this respect. Nothing is ugly, per se, but games like Forza and Gran Turismo cram in more realistic detail to the cars. Damage to the cars looks good but doesn’t really indicate where the car has been damaged; rather it just uniformly shows that the car is taking some abuse. The crashes are cinematic but once again this is nothing you haven’t seen in the Burnout series, hardly a surprise given that Hot Pursuit is from the same development studio.
Aside from a sport car sounding different than a super car, individual cars within classes do not sound very different. A Porsche Panamera’s sound is pretty indistinguishable from a BMW or any other car in the class. The music is an odd mix of pop rock, electronica, and orchestral scoring. I enjoyed the orchestral part as it was the only bit of the sound track that was actually cued by the gameplay.
NFS Hot Pursuit is a game that has some good ideas but doesn’t fully realize them. The chases are a great base for adding features but instead it feels like the only way to get replay out of this game is just going for better times on the same maps with the same set-ups. Car powers are great fun but having only five really puts a limit on the possibilities. The selection of cars is wide but the difference between them all is negligible. The autolog system is an interesting idea that suffers from poor organization and ultimately a lack of interesting material to support it. While the basic concept of the game is very fun, the repetitive nature and mediocre execution makes its replayability suffer. That’s why I am giving NFS Hot Pursuit a 7 out of 10.