Need for Speed Hot Pursuit Review
Put the pedal to the metal as this classic racing franchise is reborn
Fans would agree, the Need for Speed franchise was once a dominant force in the racing genre. However, after a few mis-steps in the late 2000s, the series found itself in a bit of a slump. EA then decided to take drastic action, and create a new version of the franchise, Shift, which was much more focused on simulation. While the game was generally well received, there was still a void in the racing genre. Enter Criterion, the developers behind the popular Burnout Paradise. This developer seemed to be the perfect fit to reboot Need for Speed and bring it back to the basics that made the series great. As Need for Speed Hot Pursuit shows, they’ve done just that – this is a fast and furious arcade racer that delivers on almost all fronts. It’s the game that the series fans have been patiently waiting for since Most Wanted.
The game’s title borrows from Need For Speed 3, also subtitled Hut Pursuit. The game’s focus is racing on open roads in the latest supercars, while dodging the cops. The game is structured around a single player career mode, where players can become either racers or cops. The two career tracks are completely independent from each other, and players can progress either career at any time. The basic goal of the game is to earn bounty, which allows you to level up your rank and along the way unlock new cars, events, and equipment. There are 20 tiers for both racer and cop career, each progressing at the same pace. What’s neat is that the bounty to progress your career can be earned both offline and in multiplayer, so there’s always a way to unlock that next tier and a new set of wheels.
Without a doubt, Hot Pursuit is an arcade title in both car physics and handling. Driving the vehicles is both fun and easy, with drifting also relatively simple to pull off after some practice. There is also a boost meter that’s available to both racers and cops, which fills up under various conditions. Racers must slipstream, drift, or drive in the oncoming lane in order to earn boost, which temporarily increases your car’s speed. Cops, meanwhile, don’t have the option to drive in the oncoming lane, but instead their boost refills automatically overtime. These are clever gameplay balancing mechanics that work well. All through the car tiers, the vehicles handle relatively the same, but the sense of speed is never lost and differs greatly between 100 and 300 miles per hour. Because of such high speeds, you’ll be crashing a lot, but much like Burnout Paradise, the respawn location and timing is handled perfectly, so crashing does not eliminate your chances of winning by much.
As racers, players start off with the basic cars and some starter events available. The event types range greatly in their context and competition level. Duels are one versus one races to the finish, pitting together classic matchups such as the Subaru and Mitsubishi or Mercedes and Bentley. However, it’s puzzling that the player isn’t given a choice which vehicle to use – you’re stuck with the Mitsubishi and Mercedes in these examples. Races are straight-forward competitions between you and 7 other AI drivers, with no cops to worry about. Time trial requires you to make it from point A to point B within a certain amount of time, and Previews are the same type of event except you’re given a very top of the line vehicle to drive. Last but not least, Hot Pursuit are the races where you’re tasked with escaping the cops but also making it in first place, which proves to be the most fun mode in the game.
When playing as a cop, there are also a variety of race types to undertake in order to progress your career, though they are mostly the same as the racer events. In Interceptor, the player must take down a single enemy racer within a certain amount of time. In Hot Pursuit, your task is to apprehend all racers before they cross the finish line, and again this proves to be the most fun race mode. With Rapid Response, players must make it from one point to the other within the allotted time, and Preview events also allow you to drive a super cop car. The problem with these timed event s though is that unlike the Racer version of the event, the player has penalties to worry about. When you hit a barrier or a civilian car, extra seconds are added to your overall time, making it by far the more frustrating race type in the whole game. Driving perfectly, and yet still with breakneck speed, on a winding road with a Bugatti Vernon is just too much to ask for the given time limit.
The core experience of the game is the Hot Pursuit mode, and it is executed with near perfection. The basics are still there – Racers must escape from the Cops and be first to the finish line without getting busted (totaling their car). However, it’s more than just cars involved. Both teams have a set of weapons that they can use in order to get an advantage or take out their opponents. Racers get Turbo, Jammer, Spike Strip, and EMP; while Cops have Spike Strip, EMP, Helicopter, and Road Blocks at their disposal. The spike strips function the same for both teams, as they are deployed behind the vehicle and temporarily disable the car behind them. As does the EMP, which the player must target on a vehicle on front, and it causes the opponent to lose control temporarily. The Helicopter for cops calls in air support, which instantly finds the racers and puts a spotlight on their car. It can also fly ahead and drop an extra spike strip. Road blocks for cops are rather self explanatory, and the Turbo gives racers a super burst of speed for a limited time.
All of these weapons are limited for both sides, so there is always strategy involved when using them. They are also mostly well balanced, providing ample attack and defense skills. The downside is that some abilities are underpowered, such as the EMP which barely slows down your opponents, or the Helicopter which often does little more than produce a lot of noise flying overhead. Much like the cars you drive, these pursuit abilities level up as you progress through the career ranks. For example, level 3 roadblocks introduce strong SUVs to block the road, while upgraded EMP and Spike Strip increase damage and speed of deployment. All of these abilities get introduced into the single player mode gradually, and some races differ simply based on what weapons are available to you. The AI doesn’t get any more challenging though as the game goes on – without a difficulty level, the producers focused on creating a fun rather than difficult experience. Your opponents will mostly stick within reach, and once you’re ahead they are unlikely to catch up, but won’t be too far behind either.
The events in the game take place in Seacrest County, which is an area that stretches for hundreds of miles, from the beach to the northern mountains. The roads in the game are mostly wide and linear, with a few sharp turns and twists thrown in. Each race in the game takes place on one of these stretches of road, and it is always a point to point race, so fans of laps will be disappointed. There aren’t that many races, so halfway through the game you will have learned a lot of the tracks in the game. What keeps them interesting is the career mode, as it throws different race types and challenges on the same stretches of road. The locales are different enough that players should never get bored from racing the same track repeatedly, and to mix things up further, the game uses those same tracks in varying day time and weather conditions. There’s something very exciting about racing at insane speeds down a twisting mountain road during a late night thunderstorm, and the game does well to capture this adrenalin rush.
One of the big features promoted with the game is the multiplayer Autolog system. It promised to revolutionize the online gaming experience, but unfortunately falls short. The system is somewhat of a double-edged sword, as it assumes that you will make a lot of friends online and only then does it become at all useful. Because of Autolog, there are no classic leaderboards to compare yourself against, as players are only ranked within their friend circles. It makes sense in theory, and the system does work – but again, you’re left feeling stuck in the same circle of people you already play games with, always needing to go into a random online race just to find new people to compete against. Once you have friends, Autolog dynamically lets players know when their best scores are beaten, where they stack up on the “speedwall”, and delivers other tools such as image sharing and wall posting (similarly to Facebook or Twitter). All of these tools function well and it’s easy to use and navigate the Autolog, but again be warned that to get the full experience, it’s recommended to have a significant number of friends.
When not competing for offline leaderboard scores, the online play is just as fun. Developed with the help of DICE of Battlefield fame, online play is mostly a smooth in-game experience that’s miles more fun than the offline modes. As expected, the Hot Pursuit mode is seeing the biggest amount of player activity, but other modes are also easy to find a match in. Player lobbies range from 1v1 to a full 4vs4 races, but in public games nobody has control over the race settings or the track – everyone must simply wait patiently and hope the next track is a good one. If the game decides to continuously throw night-time tracks in your lobby, there’s no choice but to leave and find elsewhere to race. There is also no way to chat with your lobby group, be it text or voice, which is an appalling feature to miss on PC. To add friends, you must select the player in the lobby and send them a request – however, it’s unlikely you will want to add friends before you’ve actually had a race with these people. Afterward though, you better be quick because if the player leaves the lobby, there is no way to get in touch with them ever again. It seems that while the in-game experience is relatively lag-free and fun for all involved, the lobby and matchmaking systems feel underdeveloped and very basic. Similarly, the game doesn’t support mouse navigation at all and has a very limited amount of graphical options. The game was tested on a variety of hardware and scales fairly well, though the action is locked at 60fps.
The presentation in Hot Pursuit is on-par with the excellent racing. From the opening screen to the roar of the engines, the game showcases the best of racing. The roads and environment in the game world all look fantastic, even as it flies by your car at high speed. Seacrest County is an exciting locale with many different types of areas, from populated districts to private driveways; from snowy mountain rounds to the offroad mountain trails. The world looks great with many sights to behold, though it doesn’t affect the actual racing that much. Vehicles in the game are designed with expert care and attention, from the BMW to the Lamborghini, everything is detailed and true to life. During the many crashes in the game, the body is deformed realistically, though no parts ever become unattached and the bottom of the vehicles are fairly generic. There is little customization, with Racers being able to choose from a select variety of body colors for their cars. The same level of attention also went into the car engine sounds, which sound unique and utterly deafening. On the other hand, the musical soundtrack during races is mostly throwaway hits that have little to do with the game - it’s mostly drowned out by the engine anyway.
Need for Speed Hot Pursuit was taking a risk when it borrowed the name of a previous title in the series, highly regarded to be among the best arcade racers ever. Luckily for EA and Criterion, they’ve pulled off an excellent reboot of the franchise that many were hoping for, and this game deserves to carry the name. With a combination of super cars and their cop counterparts, a vast world to explore, and tons of fun on offer with Pursuit modes, this Need for Speed title comes highly recommended to arcade racer fans. The offline career mode and overall progression are all well balanced and presented. While the Autolog functions well, it does so with some significant drawbacks and an underdeveloped global multiplayer experience hamper the overall game experience a bit. Still, if you’ve been looking forward to the day you can take down a Porsche with your police edition Lamborghini at 300mph, the wait is over.