When I had the chance to see Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit at E3 this year I completely jumped at the chance. I had seen so many screenshots, trailers and read so much about the game that I had to see what all the promises added up to being.
It added up to this: MY NEW ADDICTION
It was an easy transition trading my Call of Duty: Black Ops gun in for a badass racing experience. Why was it easy? Both games are incredibly addictive, so for entertainment needs it was a smooth/seamless transition.
EA and Criterion Games has reached back, dug deep to bring together one of the more entertaining and complete racing games of this holiday season. I'm not crazy enough to say that it's better than Gran Turismo 5, but I can guarantee that you'll find enough fun in here to have the game sit comfortably next to Gran Turismo 5 on your shelf. I do realize that GT5 is a racing game; pure and simple. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is something different (if you don't know the series). What you have with NFS: HP is a gigantic game of cat and mouse. You can either be the cat or you can either be the mouse. Either way you're not going to be robbed of any type of entertainment.
The gameplay in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is pretty simplistic in nature. You can choose to go the route of the cop or you can play the racer. Each way has its own benefits and disadvantages; in other words it's completely even. You get the chance to unlock a wide variety of cars (both practical and exotic). For example, as you progress in the game and earn bounty points you will unlock cars and car categories. So, you can unlock the Aston Martin of your dreams or the Dodge Viper that you always wanted. The more races or pursuits that you perform the more you get in return. Again, very simplistic in nature.
Outside of cars, you can also unlock weaponry for races and pursuits. At the beginning of the game you only have your eyes and your car to use. When you start gaining bounty points you acquire things like EMP (electromagnetic pulse -- slows down and even stops cars in their track), spikes (nasty things that you have to deploy at the right moment, in the right way), road blocks (cop only -- useful in slowing down racers), helicopter (cop only -- not as useful as a roadblock, but fun), turbo (I won't explain) and jam (racer only -- you can jam electronic equipment that cops use -- including spike, emp, etc). The weaponry adds a wonderful strategic element to the racing, which in turn adds more depth to simply just getting from point A to point B. A side note to the weaponry is the use of nitro in the game. The nitro allows for your car to get that extra boost. It's good for catching up to cars and good for an extra 'umph' to smashing into vehicles. It's incredibly precious and the only way to obtain it is to drive closely near innocent bystanders (cars -- not people). I think it is as important as weapons, especially when going around curves, and adds just a bit more to the entire 'extra' category to the game. It also adds a little bit more depth to the strategy of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.
Each type of driver is also given the opportunity to level up as the game progresses. This opens up more cars, upgraded weapons and whatnot. For the racer you've got a 'wanted level' and for the cop you have typical promotions (patrolman, etc). Again, another element that makes the game just a bit deeper.
With all these things mentioned above what you get at the end of the gameplay is something more than just your standard cat/mouse game. You have plenty of strategy to take into account and plan for. What's great about this is that the game becomes completely unpredictable, especially when you're playing a cop. Criterion Games has done a fabulous job with making this more than an online experience (I'll get to that later). The career mode of the game is incredibly deep when it comes to AI. For example, if you play a cop and you are in pursuit of a racer you will find that the racer never does the same thing twice. You read that right; the racer is not stuck to a pattern. You cannot predict what the racer is going to do against your pursuit. For example, there was a race I was running when I was in pursuit where a racer took a sharp left at a four way. I lost the pursuit and started again. I was ready for this insanity, but this time my wannabe criminal decided to go straight, which threw me completely off and, again, I lost the pursuit. So, I instituted a thrice pursuit and this time the f**ker turned around on me and sped off the direction I came from. That is some pretty significant and impressive AI, though frustrating.
Adding to that impressive AI is the computer player's intelligent decision making when it comes to using weaponry. Sticking with the cop theme, if I'm pursing a racer they use some intelligent strategy to pull far in front of me and lay down a spike strip where I can't get out of the path. Or they hit their brakes slightly to slingshot me past them and implement an EMP. Even better, there was a time where I was about to bust them and I had my EMP disrupted perfectly by their jamming device. Ultimately, what I'm trying to say here is that if you're going in expecting the career mode to be a cakewalk then you're going to be frustratingly mistaken.
Adding even more depth to the gameplay is the fact that you have multiple missions you can switch back and forth from during gameplay. With every complete race or successful pursuit, you unlock more stages to play. You can switch back between cop and racer during your career as well. So, if you're feeling a bit frustrated because you can't catch the crook then you can jump over to the other side and start playing as the racer. It's nice to have both options, so it doesn't feel like a chore if you want to try the other side. By the way, each stage in the game holds somewhere between 2-5 different stages inside of it. You can go back and reply stages if you're not satisfied with the results you got from them. For example, if you want to get a distinguished medal instead of a merit then you can go back and get it on a stage. Each time you play the record for that particularly stage is updated and you either receive points for the improvement or just simply try again.
With all these wonderful unlockables, cars, promotions, AI and what not, how do the tracks add up in the end? Well, for me I think the track is that one last element that you can use in your strategy. The tracks range from straightforward to downright frustrating. At the beginning of the game you'll get stages that have simple curves to them, so that you can practice your drifting (you'll need it, otherwise you won't survive). When you get into the later stages you'll find places where you have to do 700+ yard drifts around corners; that's a huge drift. They make the pursuits and racing more difficult and force you to rely on your wits more than your controls. This type of stuff isn't easily planned and it's so much fun to go through. Criterion Games did just a fantastic job with making sure the stages weren't afterthoughts to options.
Speaking of drifts, let's talk about controls. One of my friends who came over to watch me start this game up mentioned that the demo turned him off because of the slippery controls. While there is truth to his statement, the best way to get beyond the slippery controls is (and I quote Allen Iverson), "Practice." At the beginning of the game he was spot on, but by the 20th or so hour I fully had an expert grasp on drifting, determining curves and moving out of the way of oncoming traffic. You will have to give the game a chance when it comes to controls, but ultimately you will pull through. I hate drifting in most racing games (I avoid it like the plague) and I tried to not do that in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, but it's so damn easy after practicing. Anyway, you will have frustrating moments at the beginning of the game with the controls, but (again) ultimately you'll appreciate the time you put into the controls.
Now, with all this said, there are some caveats to the game. The first thing that positively just wore me down were the time trials you get during your cop career. There were multiple stages that gave you nice cars, but simply asked you to drive as fast you can from point A to point B. The first five were fun, but as soon as you get the taste for pursuit you want less and less of these stages. Regretfully, you get the same amount through the majority of the game (or at least it felt like it). I'm all for time trial type stages in races, but after a while it felt like it was just an option that made the game drag a bit. Again, I'm not complaining too much about this, but there's enough 'blah' in this type of stage to make me notice it is there quite often.
Okay, so that's my only complaint.
Let's talk about presentation and what to expect visually and audibly. The presentation in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is pretty impressive. The car models you get are slick and properly lit. What's even more impressive is that when you're driving your vehicle through stages you will see proper reflections and visual reactions to the car as the environment around you changes. For example, when you're going from rain to sunshine you will see the car go from not so brought to reflective. It's properly done visually and, again - again, impressive. As for the models reflecting the real life vehicles you won't have a problem appreciating the beautiful goodies Criterion Games put together. The cars are so incredibly detailed that you have the option of photographing them through a 'photo' feature in the game. You'll probably want to do that anyway. From emblems to tires, Criterion Games did one helluva job with recreating the real life cars into NFS. Probably some of the best visuals I've seen from the series (and I own the NFS for the 3DO).
As for the environments in the game, they're just as impressive as the models -- with the exception of the trails. While the main road stuff actually makes you believe you are on a main road, the side road stuff is not as detailed. I'm not sure the reasoning or the decision making behind it, but the side roads look like a bit of an afterthought. Is it bad? Sorta, but not bad enough to take away from the game. Anyway, the environments do kick up things like rain from the roads and dust from the side roads, so these small things help forgive that one big thing. Overall, the environments are fun, fast and furious to race through (you didn't think I was going to omit such a pun, did you?).
So what about the online play? Well, the online play is about as simplistic as the offline play. You get three different types of races through a quick match option and they are as follows:
- Hot Pursuit: This is simple stuff where cops chase racers and try to stop them from crossing a finish line. It's like the team deathmatch of online racing. It's standard and easy fun.
- Interceptor: Here's where the challenge begins. You play head-to-head against another online opponent and try to bust them before they wreck you (depending on if you're a cop/racer). You get a set amount of weapons to use and every race is pretty intense. It's certainly one of the hardest online challenges I've played in some time.
- Race: It's what it means -- it's a race.
While this may not be a large amount of options, especially for someone coming out of Call of Duty: Black Ops or Medal of Honor online play, it's enough to keep racing simple and fun. You really don't need a deeper, richer experience outside of the three options above. For me, I don't expect more than what I just stated. I'm sure that Gran Turismo 5 will have new ideas about what to include, but for Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit this completely fits the bill.
Now, with all this said, is the game worth $59.95? You will get somewhere between 20-25 hours out of the offline mode before you shift gears to go online. That's if you're doing it in a reviewer's order. The online play is not deep, but it's addictive. You will probably find a ton of hours out of the multiplayer mode, especially if you love cars. This is one of the finest racing experiences that I've had in the last year, even more so than F1 2010, which is saying a lot. The incredibly deep career mode is a turn on and the online mode is icing on the cake. This game is definitely fun enough and worthwhile enough to warrant the $59.95.