imperiousrix's Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (Xbox 360) review

Not my speed.

I honestly don't know why I keep doing it.  Other than a few cart racing games, I'm really not a fan of the racing genre as a whole.  Yet, whenever a new racer comes out, I find myself at least somewhat intrigued by it and, if I'm feeling extremely kooky, buying it.  This is a choice I almost universally regret as I once again find myself not being compelled to continue racing.  Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is a game  that almost broke me.  It's combination of real-life vehicles, unique duel style racing, arcade controls, and compelling online features almost had me whistling a different tune.  However, the natural repetition of the genre, a lack of meaningful differences among vehicles, and some genuinely troubling mechanical inconsistencies makes this a very good racer, but still shackled by those limitations inherent with the name. 

CONTENT

 Hot Pursuit has a strange dichotomy of both having a lot of content, but not TRULY having a lot of unique stuff for you to do.  There's the single-player that has you building up both your Racer and Police profile by taking part in a number of events.  Depending on your performance in these, you'll gain more experience and unlock new weapons, new cars, and of course new events to play.  The problem here is that this is ALL you do, and although you are unlocking stuff as the game progresses, you'll be doing the same three or so events for Police and the same three or so events for Racer throughout its entirety.  This is somewhat alleviated by the AutoLog feature, which tracks your friends' times over the events they've completed.  If they beat one of your times, the AutoLog will let you know so you can re-play the event in an attempt to beat your friend's time for more XP.  AutoLog will also recommend events for you based on what your friends have been playing, and you can post photos and comments to let everybody know what you've been up to.  Overall, its probably the most impressive feature in Hot Pursuit and one other games in other genres should adopt in the future. 
 
And of course there's online play.  Three events are featured for online; Race, which is just like it sounds like, Hot Pursuit, which pits a team of up to four racers against four cops to  see whether the racers will make it to the finish line, and Interceptor, which pits a single racer who is tasked with losing a single cop.  The events are broken up into different car classes, which ensures no matter where you are in the game, you should be able to jump into an event and have a good time.  Ultimately, the online is an intense and really good time... if everything's working out.  It's when some weird balancing problems and odd inconsistencies pop up when multiplayer can become extremely frustrating.  It doesn't outright ruin it, but it is strange to see.  More on that in the next section. 

GAMEPLAY

Despite the real-world cars, the gameplay in Hot Pursuit is as arcade-y as one can get.  You reach the highest of speeds in a few seconds, never needing to shift up or down and are aided by a constantly re-filling nitrous meter.  You can drift around corners with just the tap of the brakes, and ramming and bumping other cars is readily encouraged.  The controls feel silky-smooth overall, and it's a joy to get behind the wheel of some of the faster vehicles.  There's nothing quite like hurtling down the road in a supercar and then flipping it sideways to burn around a tight corner. 
  
Of course, there is more to Hot Pursuit than just driving.  As a racer, you more often than not are not only trying to finish the race in first, but escape the cops, and as a police officer you're going to be trying to bust racers at all costs.  This plays off of a simple health system that has cars taking damage whenever they're rammed from the side or the rear, or when they hit any number of hazards with the force to wreck them.  Both Racers and Police also have a number of tools and weapons at their disposal in order to deal damage or escape it from other cars.  Spike strips and EMP launchers are used by both sides, Racers come armed with electronics jammers and turbo, and cops can call in back-up in the form of helicopters and road blocks.  All this seems extremely balanced, and they certainly all work as intended in the single player, but when they're thrust into the unpredictable world of online mutliplayer, they, like many of the game's other mechanics, fail to work as intended more often than I would've liked. 
 
And that's my problem with this arcade-y Burnout style of gameplay.  It all works when there are a strict stringent set of rules to work on, but throw in the human element, and there are just too many ways that the system gets "gamed".  Too many times was I in awkward little circles with a Racer on his last legs, only to be defeated when I was gently nudged in the right place.  Combine that with an inconsistent "wreck" trigger that has you being able to escape some genuinely harrowing collisions unscathed, but becoming wrecked in other less impactful crashes.  It's also noteworthy to mention that cars don't necessarily drive all that distinctly, and even when you do notice the differences, it isn't really apparent on the car select screen how one car is going to drive compared to another.  They also seem to have distinct "toughness" factors, but again, that's left up to the player to decide through trial and error.  These "problems" can be overlooked, and genuinely the multiplayer and overall gameplay in Hot Pursuit is fine, and more intense and great than not, but these quirks really drag down the experience. 

PRESENTATION

The graphical style in a game with such highly detailed machines is definitely important, so it's a good thing that the graphics in Hot Pursuit are gorgeous.  The cars are all highly detailed even when severely damaged, and the environments you're zipping through have a very authentic and real-world quality to them.  It's also worth noting a pretty stellar lighting engine is in effect here, which is particularly noticeable in night courses and when police lights bounce off the walls and ceilings of tunnels.  The sound effects are all appropriate, from revving engines to screeching tires to metal on metal collisions.  There's little voice acting, but what is here is well done (especially the lady who narrates what can only be described as the "car porn" descriptions to each of the game's cars), but the soundtrack falls a little flat, with only the dramatic orchestrated Hot Pursuit theme being noteworthy. 

FINAL VERDICT

If you love driving and racing games, Need for Speed is a no-brainer.  There's enough straight up aggressive style racing that'll get any racing fan excited.  However, if you need a bit more incentive or are anything like me (meaning not a big fan of racing games), then you'll probably only be able to stomach so much of Need for Speed.  The AutoLog is a great feature, but there are too many gameplay inconsistencies and just not enough variety for someone seeking more than just a straight driving experience. 
 
For that, Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit gets a 3/5 for me, but a recommendation to buy it if you're  at all curious.
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