Hot Pursuit channels classic Need for Speed formula

My relationship with the Need for Speed franchise has been a rocky one. In the mid-90s, I was introduced to the series by the original PC version, a game I still remember vividly to this day. Over the years since, I’ve sampled nearly all of the more than dozen NFS derivatives that have followed. Some of them have resonated more than others.

I’m all for game developers exploring new directions, but for me, the most successful Need for Speed sequels have been the ones that stuck to the franchise formula: hot cars, real roads peppered with traffic, and the wail of sirens from a police chase. Racing-oriented entries in the series, such as Underground, ProStreet, and Shift, experiment too much with the recipe for my tastes. I’ve enjoyed elements of them all, but none has produced the sort of intensely thrilling moments that a good pursuit can dole out with satisfying frequency.

Naturally, when EA revealed that the NFS franchise would revisit police chases with a new Hot Pursuit title, my interest was piqued. Then I learned that Burnout developer Criterion Games would be helming the project, and I started to worry. I’ve had fun with the last couple of chapters in the Burnout series, but they’re a little arcadey and cartoonish. The Need for Speed family has always had at least a veneer of realism that’s stretched from the environments to the general feel of the cars.

Criterion’s take on Hot Pursuit very much looks the part. Although there’s nothing ground-breaking in the graphics or effects, no doubt due to the game’s console roots, the visuals are still very pretty. The world is made up of a network of scenic roads that twist through varied landscapes set against picturesque backdrops. Your stable of cars is just as gorgeous, covering all of the performance models and exotics one might find plastered on the wall of a pimply teenager’s bedroom—or Facebook account.

As a Top Gear addict, I’m particularly fond of automotive pornography. Hot Pursuit delivers it in spades. However, the game also misses one important ingredient: personality. My time with the Forza Motorsport simulation series has given me a greater appreciation for the finer points of each sports car’s  handling as shouted by Jermery Clarkson while sliding through the Hammerhead with his face stretched sideways. Like Clarkson, you’ll spend a lot of time power-sliding through corners in Hot Pursuit, but it won’t be because you’ve mastered feathering the throttle of a rear-wheel-drive car with the weight of its engine at the front. No, in-game drifting is trivial to initiate and easy to control, regardless of the car you’re driving. A Porsche doesn’t feel much different than a Lamborghini as long as they’re in the same performance class. Although the handling isn’t as arcadey as Burnout, I get the impression I’m controlling Ken Block behind the wheel rather than piloting the car myself.

Block’s skills will come in handy, because you share the road with slow-moving traffic, plenty of rivals, and the 5-0. The cops aren’t limited to beaten-up Crown Victorias; they have a selection of exotics and a helicopter waiting in the wings. You can play a branch of the single-player campaign from their side of the action, too. Initially, I alternated events back and forth. Before long, however, I found myself embracing the dark side to get my fill Hot Pursuit from the fox’s perspective.

Wow, what a chase.

I was able to slouch on my living room couch for Hot Pursuit‘s first few races and time trials, but as soon as flashing lights appeared in the rear-view mirror, I found myself leaning forward and focusing intently. Weaving through traffic is hard enough at supercar speeds. Having the fuzz on your tail only ratchets up the intensity. Something about this cocktail triggers a dopamine dump deep within whatever part of my brain is associated with awesome.

Yeah, the handling is closer to Mario Kart than NFS: Porsche Unleashed, but it fits the surrounding action, which feels like Michael Bay’s take on The Fast and the Furious. Unfortunately, the game tries a little too hard to be cinematic. At some moments, like when you get tailed by a new brand of black-and-white hotness or take down another vehicle, the camera pulls out to provide a dramatic angle on the event. You’re then returned to the controls a little ways down the road, further reinforcing the feeling that someone else is doing the driving. The interruption is annoying. I’d much rather watch the carnage in a post-event replay, which doesn’t seem to be an option.

While I’m griping, I also much prefer the bullet-time power-up used in NFS: Most Wanted to the mix of spike-strip, EMP, jammer, and secondary turbo accessories in Hot Pursuit. Slow motion gives an almost on-demand cinematic feel, maintaining a focus on driving rather than managing an array of weapons and equipment. Alas, stretching time is difficult to coordinate for multiplayer matches. With all sorts of social networking features, this latest Need for Speed game makes online play a clear priority.

I may never indulge in an online pursuit if the single-player campaign continues to satisfy, though. Dropping into a quick race or pursuit provides instant gratification, and if I’m not careful, I’ll get sucked into a series of failed attempts to do "just one more" chase.

It’s a strange feeling, to play a game and be so conscious of its flaws yet still not be able to put down the controller. That’s kind of what Hot Pursuit is like for me. I may cringe occasionally at the Burnout handling that strips cars of their character, the unnecessary replays that interrupt my immersion, and the fact that yet another console port has squandered the power of the PC, but I thoroughly enjoy every other moment of the experience. I’m not sure if that means Hot Pursuit is good enough to rise above its flaws or if I’m simply a sucker for this well-executed gameplay mechanic. The truth, I suspect, lies somewhere in between.

Comments closed
    • DPete27
    • 9 years ago

    I feel like NFS has been on the downhill slide for a couple of iterations now. To the developers’ credit, Hot Pursuit is headed in the right direction. These guys just got so far away from a successful recipe that they cant “find the road” anymore. The cars are nice but what ever happened to car customization????? I loved upgrading my engine or suspension, bolting on new body kits, changing the paint job, even doing specific performance tuning (which has also been falling from glory in each new NFS game for a while now). Now you can’t get attached to your beloved car anymore. Indeed it does feel like you just sit down at an arcade game. Not all is lost though, this approach does allow the player to explore many different cars rather than beating the game with 3 or 4 cars. Scenery is gorgeous (I have PS3 verson) but the grind gets a little old after you’ve gotten halfway through the game. This game gives me hope that the NFS franchise is not completely lost yet…..we’ll see what the future has to hold.

    • FireGryphon
    • 9 years ago

    I got into the series with NFS II. The game was fun, and the music was great. Remember when you lived for cutscenes?

    §[< http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OwZNx7bsMo<]§

    • anotherengineer
    • 9 years ago

    top gear for the snes > all racers

    😀

    • DrCR
    • 9 years ago

    It’s so awesome to see that other guys on this side of the pond are familiar with TG nowadays.

    • PetMiceRnice
    • 9 years ago

    I very much enjoyed the Need For Speed series up until Underground came out. I thought it was OK, but my interest in the series declined after that. I have yet to pick up either Undercover or Shift, and barely played any of the last few games prior to that. I’m hoping that this new iteration of Hot Pursuit is decent, but I won’t pick it up until it drops below $25 CDN for the PS3 version.

    • designerfx
    • 9 years ago

    why does the first screenshot show the word police backwards (mirror reversed)?

      • knate
      • 9 years ago

      It’s common on emergency vehicles to write it backwards so you see it normal in your mirror.

    • Nikiaf
    • 9 years ago

    i very much like this game. To me, this is going back to the tried and proven formula for NFS, mostly unrealistic racing on closed circuit type roadways with a bit of traffic. Add in the cops (how about that veyron police cruiser? :D) and you have a winning combination. I found very little appealing in the underground and other games since then mostly due to the open world and tuner cars. This takes me back to when i played the original hot pursuit game on xbox, and it even has me reminisce back to NFS2, one of my all-time favorite games.

      • swaaye
      • 9 years ago

      The original Hot Pursuit was NFS3.

    • TravelMug
    • 9 years ago

    The game was great fun, but the “AI” gets really annoying after a while. It does not really matter what you do, the game will shape the race as it wants. The opponents speed by you regardless of what car you are using or if you have nitro or not activated if it thinks the AI car should pass you. The graphics is great though.

      • djgandy
      • 9 years ago

      True, at one point the opponents were pulling away from me no matter what I did, then suddenly at the end of the race they were pathetically slow in comparison.

      Very weak AI

    • Prospero424
    • 9 years ago

    I STILL have my copy of Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed, and yes, I still pull it out and play it all of the way through every once in a while.

    I really don’t ask for all that much in a racing game: realistic handling, realistic powertrain/chassis upgrades, and the capability to record and play back entire races from multiple camera angles.

    I cannot for the life of me understand why EA could do this 10 years ago but no one seems to be able to do it now.

    I played the other NFS games, sometimes for hours. They were, at times, enjoyable. But I would never have bought them for myself. They’re just not what I want.

    I waited and waited and waited for NFS: Ferrari to be announced. Then I basically gave up on racing games altogether when it started to look like idiotic “street” racing BS and arcade racers were all that were going to be made, anymore.

    The rally-car games are occasionally amusing, but they’re not the same thing.

      • Mourmain
      • 9 years ago

      Exactly this. I reinstalled NFS Porsche unleashed a couple of months ago myself. Still playing through it, and once you get past the slightly out of date graphics it’s got delicious handling.

      • Firestarter
      • 9 years ago

      Because NFS:PU doesn’t deliver the instant gratification that publisher think we want. And for the most part, I think the publishers are right. It seems to be up to the smaller publishers now to make games that don’t cater to the lowest common denominator: a short attention span.

        • BobbinThreadbare
        • 9 years ago

        Forza and Gran Turismo are both wildly popular, which kind of disproves that.

      • branko
      • 9 years ago

      I’m something of a NFS veteran, playing through the first NFS and most of the others that followed.

      In my highly subjective opinion, NFS: Porsche Unleashed is still the best NFS ever made.

      • PetMiceRnice
      • 9 years ago

      I actually still have all of the early games in the series and must agree with your comments about Porsche Unleashed. I guess the handling aspect is the thing I miss the most about the more current games in the series. I used to also be big into the racing genre, but not so much anymore.

      • JdL
      • 9 years ago

      That was my all-time favorite as well. I would love for them to do a remake, with the new Hybrid 918 and some Cayennes thrown in. Anyone want to join me in a petition?

      • juampa_valve_rde
      • 9 years ago

      i miss that game, ea why not a porsche remake too? it would be a good timing launch it after this new hot pursuit.

      • DrCR
      • 9 years ago

      +1. If the handling isn’t as good as NFS:PU, I won’t bother.

      I’ll never forget flying through […that French chateau map that ending in the mountains] with […that 1975 or so 911 whaletail turbo, supped up…man I’m rusty] and being on the edge of my seat the whole time as that old 911 was a killer of a hard car to drive fast without royally wiping out.

      I’m going to put Windows 98 on an old box to introduce Warbirds 2.7.x to my nephew (I hope my LCD interpolates 1024×768 well). I think I’ll put NFS:PU on there too.

      • heater19
      • 9 years ago

      second that!!!, NFS PU is still on my PC, runs kind of grainy on my 19″ monitor, but you’re absolutely right, EA really missed an opportunity to update the classic hot pursuit (or it’s better twin – high stakes),
      no damage modelling – unforgivable
      vehicle diversity is very good, but i liked the economy model in NFS High Stakes, earn the money to get the better car!!!, don’t just get it handed to you

      the online play is fun, but that wasn’t going to by my major area of focus anyway
      autolog – waste of time

      all in all, it’s rent worthy; I have a feeling I should have gotten the new Gran Turismo and just play the old Hot Pursuit

    • derFunkenstein
    • 9 years ago

    Need for Speed really got out of its funk with Shift. I really enjoyed NFS Shift on PC. I’m also a huge Burnout fan, at least numbers 3 and 4. Paradise was really good too but driving around to get to the race got old after a bit. I really want to check this out. Is there a PC demo yet?

    • Sargent Duck
    • 9 years ago

    350 million people can’t be wrong. Top Gear is simply the greatest tv series ever. New episode this Sunday!

    But on topic, I had an absolute blast with GRID and I all but forgot about NFS. However Grid 2 won’t be out for some time so perhaps this may keep my interest for a while

      • Usacomp2k3
      • 9 years ago

      I love the show, but I get really tired of their bias (Is a Mercedes e63 really the direct competitor to the Camaro?) and the fact that the show is meant to entertain, not to educate or show things in a fair light.
      I feel that the US version does this better, but the hosts aren’t nearly as interesting.

        • pikaporeon
        • 9 years ago

        It’s not as biased when you realize in the UK, acquiring a Camaro costs around the same as the e63

          • Corrado
          • 9 years ago

          Its still biased. Clarkson especially. If its American, its rubbish. It could be a Corvette ZR1 for the cost of a Kia Rio, and Clarkson would say its trash and he’d rather drive a Peugot. He hates American cars and hates BMW’s for some reason. He’s entertaining, but allows his pre-conceived notions to cloud his opinions on a car before he even gets a chance to drive it.

    • gtoulouzas
    • 9 years ago

    Yes I was. Dag nabbit!

    • balzi
    • 9 years ago

    Is this all to do with the original Hot Pursuit? And is he comparing to old Burnout games?
    I love Burnout: Paradise, so if Hot Pursuit (1, 2 , 3, ?) is better in some ways then I’m interested. But given the current games, it makes it look like this article was written 4-5 years ago.

      • swaaye
      • 9 years ago

      The problem is that NFS3: Hot Pursuit is not much like the Burnout games. I don’t know when they turned into Burnout-like games but it wasn’t until sometime after Underground.

      My personal favorite is probably NFS4 High Stakes. I think it was the peak for the classic NFS style. NFS PU was Porsche-only. Hot Pursuit 2 was fairly poor unless you are talking the PS2 version. Underground is when they wanted to go after a new crowd and I lost interest.

    • sweatshopking
    • 9 years ago

    You know what the best racing game is? trackmania. CAUSE I CAN MAKE MY OWN F’ING LEVELS, AND MAKE MY FRIENDS FURIOUS.

    • gtoulouzas
    • 9 years ago

    “My relationship with the Need for Speed franchise has been a rocky one. In the mid-90s, I was introduced to the series by the original PC version, a game I still remember vividly to this day.”

    I hate be pedantic (don’t you just KNOW this is going to be followed by a pedantic comment? 😉 but the original Need for Speed originally appeared on the ill-fated 3D0 console, not the PC. That was a later port.

      • Dposcorp
      • 9 years ago

      He stated “I was introduced to the series by the original PC version….”

      He was talking about his initial exposure to the game was the first version that came to a PC.

      That has nothing to do with which medium the game was introduced on first.

      POW! BAM! KABOOM! In yer face!

        • ssidbroadcast
        • 9 years ago

        Yeah, gtou, you just got served.

          • gtoulouzas
          • 9 years ago

          Yes I was. Dag nabbit! 😛

          And I missposted, too!

            • indeego
            • 9 years ago

            In a sense, aren’t we all constantly being served by TRg{

    • Jigar
    • 9 years ago

    Although Hot pursuit 3 was a good game, Most wanted is where NFS had nailed it… No other game even came close to NFS Most wanted’s reception…

    BTW, NFS MW is still installed and after finishing Hot pursuit 3, i was back again playing the same old MW and still very much enjoying it.

      • djgandy
      • 9 years ago

      The oldies were goodies, but MW is definitely the best of the newer generation; although I find it hard to accept the game is 5 years old now :S

    • geekl33tgamer
    • 9 years ago

    Geoff, you really need to give on-line Interceptor and Hot Pursuit modes a go. They are fantastic. There’s one thing that I don’t quite like in the game though…

    …I really liked Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2. It’s very similar to what we have out at the moment, only in “free drive” police would still pursue if you run red lights, were speeding or hit another car (assuming a police unit was in the vicinity). The constant sense of not knowing when you were going to get picked up my police units was very exciting.

    I miss that in this game – Free drive is pretty boring as it’s just you and A.I. traffic. To engage in a pursuit you must go on-line, or locate some of the hot pursuit races on the career menu.

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