Criterion can do Better
It's never a good sign when I find myself trying hard to like a game. Such is the case with NFS Hot Pursuit, a game that dared to update the beloved PC classic and rekindle my passion in arcade racers. Taken as a whole, Criterion has done a solid job of repackaging the game for the current console generation, blending the "no brakes required" thrills of their previous Burnout games with the sort of sticky socia media hooks that is sure to plague video games well into the next generation.
Kudos have to be passed along to EA as well. Autolog is a brilliant online feature. It fires up the competitive spirit among friends and makes even strictly Career mode gamers feel connected to the greater online experience. It's a wonder that it has taken someone this long to implement this kind of device but you can bet it'll be showing up in all of the Need for Speed games going forward.
So how bad is it for a game that, if stripped of Autolog, it reveals itself as an empty, frustrating slog? Let's start with the handling of the cars, which is a critical aspect of even the most arcadey racers out there. In short, it's borderline terrible. This assessment is coming from a gamer who's been raised on a variety of arcade racers as well as the simulation racing games over the last twenty years. Regardless of the make or model of car, the rides in Hot Pursuit are all uniformly twitchy as hell to control. It's even more sensitive than some of the beastlier cars in a serious sim like Forza is with all the assists turned off. Driving in this game is akin to sliding around in a tube of hot grease as the slightest nudge of the thumbstick will threaten to oversteer your car into oncoming traffic or a barricade dividing the track from one of a myriad of shortcut routes on any given course. Two straight days of the Career mode and I have yet to feel like I'm in control of any of the cars that I take for a spin.
And while the car handling is glaringly poor, the Career mode also comes up a bit short. For a game so focused on the rivalry between cops and racer, the Career mode seems content to throw time trial after time trial at you right off the bat. It's as if Criterion had no faith in the core game-play and found it necessary to hit you with the filler content early to get it out of the way. No, I don't feel compelled to drive along a barren course all by myself for four minutes and be penalized for grazing guard rails because grazing guard rails is what you end up doing because of the slippery car handling (see above).
My complaints get more minor after this point. Just little things, like how they force you take your left thumb off the stick in order to utilize your "weapons" (spike strips, EMP, etc.) on the D-pad when there are still the bumpers, Y and B buttons available, the blatantly rubberbanding AI or how the whole experience of gaining XP and "leveling up" is largely meaningless. They all add up to a product that is flashy and shiny as all hell but ultimately very poorly thought out.
Playing online? I haven't had the pleasure of racing with fellow humans. I've heard positive things about it which is why I'm rating Hot Pursuit three stars instead of the two I think it rightly deserves basedly solely on the single-player experience.
If you want a fun arcade racer, your local game store's bargain bin is probably overflowing with superior alternatives. Hot Pursuits flawed handling and over-reliance on Autolog is best reserved for only the most loyal Need for Speed fans.