A chase worth experiencing
It says a lot about Criterion as a developer when I find myself thoroughly pleased with Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit despite not wanting a Need For Speed game since... ever. Hot Pursuit embodies many of the things that I could possibly ask for in a racing game, from the constant and powerful excitement that is felt in every race to the occasionally stiff but always rewarding competition of the online multiplayer. Simply put, Hot Pursuit is one of the finest and intense racing experiences to come out recently. Although the game can occasionally be frustrating, the satisfaction one feels after violently taking out an opponent at 200 miles per hour is enough to make you forget most of the game's flaws.
Just as you'd expect from a racing game, Hot Pursuit puts you behind the wheel of exotic cars that go faster than any car should legally be allowed to go on public roads. And that's where the cops come in. Both the cop and the racer have tools at their disposal to gain advantages or to use against opponents. Racers are equipped with extra turbo that can be used once for a big boost of speed and a jammer that will prevent the cop from using their abilities. The cops themselves can call in helicopters that drop spike strips on the track and radio in roadblocks that set up further down the road. It doesn't end there, however. Both sides of the law are also able to drop spike strips behind them and use EMPs which function similar to guns but take a while to lock on. These features make the game stand out and causes even more chaos and excitement in every race.
Hot Pursuit has a hefty online component, complete with a Facebook-like Wall that allows you to post record times and screenshots and even comment on them. One of the biggest new features is the Autolog, which recommends single player events to you based on what your friends are doing. You'll be able to jump straight into the events from the Autolog list, and it's a good way to experience the otherwise dry and rather pointless career mode. Should you decide to dabble with the single player component, you'll be pleased that you can jump between racer and cop events on the fly, giving you the ability to advance through the game the way you want to. However, many of the single player events are simply not fun to participate in. You'll find yourself facing plenty of irritating time trials that just aren't worth the effort. Both the racer and cop careers have 20 ranks for you to advance through, and playing through the single player career exclusively will not be enough to get you to the top. Ranking up will upgrade your abilities and unlock more vehicles for you to destroy others with. Unlike many other games, Hot Pursuit has no economy whatsoever; you won't be buying anything. Mainly, you'll be focused on expanding your collection of cars, although you'll probably find that you'll be sticking with the same 4 or 5 vehicles for most of the game.
The online multiplayer is where the game truly shines. Three game modes are available, which may not seem like a lot at first glance. Frankly, the game could have easily just shipped with the Hot Pursuit mode, because the other two are largely forgettable in comparison. You can do 1-on-1 cop versus racer event or a normal race, but neither of them contain an amount of excitement comparable to that which is found in the Hot Pursuit mode. Four cops and four racers battle it out in this mode on tracks of varying lengths. The cops must destroy all four racers before one of them crosses the finish line. The racers need to primarily focus on getting across the finish line, although they also need to prioritize not getting killed by the police during the process. These races are always more intense than anything else and they are what people will likely be coming back to later on down the road.
But where there's a rose there's also a thorn. In this case, a few thorns. The A.I. in the single player can be exceptionally irritating because it makes heavy use of rubber band artificial intelligence. In addition, the helicopters make no attempt to decipher between friend or foe. This means that you'll probably get spiked by your own chopper many times simply because it was too eager to try and take out an opponent who was in front of or behind you. Lastly, there are a number of people online who's only wish is to ruin other people's day. Sometimes you'll come across a player who decides to take you out at the last second during a Hot Pursuit race simply so they can have the glory of finishing before you. Other times you'll just have guys who will straight up spike you for no reason. Overall, though, the online experience was quite enjoyable.
Visually, Hot Pursuit is quite astounding. The game runs at a solid 30 frames-per-second and looks remarkably good. The weather effects specifically look incredible. The sounds of the engines and crashes is also well-produced, as is the police radio chatter. Whenever you are involved in a chase, a dramatic orchestral score kicks in that surprisingly fits the action quite well.
Anyone looking for an explosive and intense racing experience should look no further than Hot Pursuit. While the game's single player component leaves something to be desired, the online experience is what makes it worth checking out.