Due to a shipping “error”, I received my copy of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit three days before its release so I’ve been playing this game a lot. Also, this review is written from the racer career perspective, not the cop career.
Being a fan of NFS from the start, I preordered Hot Pursuit without a second thought. Most Wanted is by far my favorite racing game. When I heard Criterion Games was developing Hot Pursuit, I was a little disappointed. I've seen their work on the Burnout series and, while it's okay, it looks and feels too generic for my taste. I was worried that Criterion would bring that generic flavor to Hot Pursuit. Unfortunately, I was right. It's not as apparent as I thought it would be, but it's still there. The cars handle a lot like Burnout cars. It feels like they do all the turning from the middle of the car instead of the front of the car where the wheels are. It's like they're pivoting from side to side instead of steering (if that makes sense). This makes controlling the car significantly more difficult. Not only is controlling the car more difficult, but acceleration and braking seems too simulated. These cars stop really quickly and gain speed almost unrealistically. If you look at the 0-60 times and count, the specs are realistic but the graphics make it seem like you're going a lot faster than you really are. For example, the scenery whizzes by faster than it should be.
One thing that really annoys me is how dramatic driving these cars is. If you casually graze a "common" car, your car has a complete meltdown which includes exploding into a million little pieces. All this happens while the clock keeps running and the competition gets miles ahead of you. These wrecks take about 5-8 seconds to happen and recover from. By then, the other racers are long gone and catching up is difficult. I liked the older NFS games (like Most Wanted) when the wrecks just caused you to lose speed but were usually not too damaging to the race results. The wrecks in this game are over done (like Burnout). Something else I've noticed is that if you get too close to a guard rail (or something similar), the game seems to pull you into them. It's like a magnetic force. And, of course, once you run into the guard rail, dramatic effects. The screen jerks around, the car bounces, etc. Basically, the wrecks in this game are unnecessarily theatrical and very distracting.
Graphics are probably the best of any Need for Speed game. The scenery and cars are very realistic. That saying, Hot Pursuit is definitely designed to run on HDTV. I don't have an HDMI cable for my Xbox so I'm playing the game in standard definition on a 65" screen and the words are next to impossible to read. Another problem for me is seeing oncoming traffic. It blends in with the horizon until it's right there in front of me and nearly impossible to avoid. Then, of course, I hit the car head on and have to go through a dramatic car crash sequence and end up losing the race.
Gameplay is a little more challenging than previous NFS games. The roads have side trails (shortcuts) that you definitely have to use if you want to win first place. The only problem is being able to see them. Maybe it's because I'm not using HDTV, but I can never see the turnoff for the shortcuts and end up missing them or hitting a guard rail resulting in a crash. Winning races is also a lot more difficult. Most Wanted was great because it was easy enough that you had a sense of accomplishment but challenging enough that it wasn’t boring. Hot Pursuit is the first NFS in a long time that has gotten me to swear out of frustration.
When I heard Hot Pursuit wasn't going to have a story line, I was curious about how they were going to approach the purpose of the game. It's basically like the original NFS combined with free roam. In all honesty, I think they made a poor attempt. The only time you can play "Cops and Racers" is if you select a race that involves cops. Even then, there is a set course for you to follow with a finish line. I don't like this because it's basically an endurance race to see how long you can go before the cops get you or how quickly you can get to the finish line. There's not the same thrill as Most Wanted because you don't get to choose where you want to drive, you follow the course. And you don't have to evade the police, you have to cross the finish line to end the pursuit. It's not as fun. The free roam feature is nothing more than letting you drive around Seacrest County. As far as I know, there are no police chases in free roam.
Unlike the newer NFS games (and more like the original ones), you don't buy cars and upgrade them. You choose the car you want to drive from a list. That's it. No upgrades, no garage, and very little customization (you can change the color of the car from a preselected color palette). The farther along in the game you get, the more cars you unlock.
Now I’m going to nitpick at all of the tiny flaws. First, the sound effects are very cheap. The tire squeal noise doesn’t sound like tires. In fact, it’s a very obnoxious sound. Also, the sound it makes when you move up and down the menu items grates on your ears. I think they should have spent more time making the SFX more aesthetically pleasing. Finally, the map doesn’t enlarge. I have no idea where I’m driving because the only part of the map visible is a 1/4 mile ahead of you and a 1/4 mile behind you.
Alright, now that I’ve got the things I don’t like about the game out of the way, I’ll focus on what I do like. The cars are great. I’m glad they still include the Porsche Carrera GT in their games even though it’s getting pretty old (it’s one of my favorite supercars of all time). I do wish they added more variety to the car list, though. They have four variations of the Lamborghini Gallardo but they left out the Lexus LFA (how could they leave that car out, have you heard the sound it makes?!). I also really like Seacrest County. It reminds me a lot of NFS: High Stakes and some of the ProStreet tracks.
Bottom line: Criterion, in my opinion, is not the right developer for the Need for Speed franchise. The game is fun enough that, if you’re a Need for Speed fan, you’ll want to buy it. But I would definitely recommend waiting for the price to go down.
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