This ain't no Burnout
I’ve been a fan of Criterion's racing games for a while now, and give them a lot of credit for pulling me into genre. As such, I was a little wary of the decision to move them to the more high-profile Need for Speed license, and it seems that my fears were not unfounded. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit definitely shows off Criterion’s skill at making quality racing games, but it also feels like an underwhelming compromise on the style of racing that made their games so much fun in the first place.
First and foremost, Hot Pursuit is by no means a bad game. In fact, it's almost certainly the best Need for Speed game in a long, long time, and if you're approaching it from that perspective you’ll find a lot to love. The graphics and sound effects are fantastic, the controls are sharp, and there’s a lengthy, challenging career mode to keep you going for a while. Combine that with tons of unlockables and some robust online modes, and Hot Pursuit proves to be a great, content heavy package. In fact, playing online is easily the best way to play. Not only is the team based Hot Pursuit mode the game’s most exciting, but the Autolog feature does a great job at keeping you up to speed on your friends’ activities. By constantly updating you with their status and records, there’s always a new challenge to try and beat. All of this stuff is great, and makes Hot Pursuit a technically proficient racing game that fans of the Need for Speed series, or even the genre in general, will undoubtedly enjoy.
At the same time, as someone coming to Hot Pursuit from the Criterion camp, I was fairly unsatisfied by its relatively conservative style of play. Where Criterion's past works are completely crazy, over-the-top, arcade style racers, Hot Pursuit strikes more of a balance with traditional racing simulators. Cars rarely ever come off the road, the courses are straightforward with minimal diverging paths, and the primary focus is to stay on the road while avoiding contact with other cars. As someone who doesn’t care about realistic racing (or cars in general), I’ve always appreciated Criterion for packing more action into their games than most. Hot Pursuit tries to spice things up with a few awkward Mario Kart-like abilities, and also retains a few Criterion staples such as a fantastic sense of speed and the nitrous boost, but it still ends up being too mundane for my tastes. That may or may not be a fair criticism of an otherwise well crafted game, but it was an aspect that constantly left me feeling underwhelmed.
It goes to show just how talented of a studio Criterion is that they can pick up such a long running franchise, and without abandoning any of its defining features make perhaps the best Need for Speed game to date. As such, whether or not you'll like Hot Pursuit comes down solely to your personal preferences. If you're a fan of the series and its conservative style of simulation, then you'll be wholly satisfied. But if, like me, you prefer a little more action in your racing games, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit will feel like a step down from what you're used to seeing from Criterion.
For additional information on my review style and scoring system, click here.