It'd be fair to say the Need for Speed franchise has got its chassis in a twist over the past few years. Since Underground, none of the titles have lived up to the massive hype, especially bland affairs like Shift. I urge players not to be disheartened when a compulsory advert for Shift 2 appears at the beginning of Hot Pursuit, as once past the plugging, there's a truly engrossing game to knuckle down with. Think of the advert as your warning that, after Hot Pursuit, things might go back to the not so thrilling. Right now, Criterion have are in a honey-moon period with their new love, and are inviting players to indulge in some of the most addictive racing fruits seen this generation.
It doesn't take long to realise the majority of Hot Pursuit's races are balanced on a knife edge. You're rewarded for driving dangerously, but the more often you do this, the more chance you have of making a mistake. During the main events, your primary task is to reach the finish line first, but the presence of the police doesn't make it easy. Those wanting to ensure they've got a near endless supply of nitro boost must stay in the oncoming lane, slipstream behind their opponents and drift round corners seamlessly. Although these are all simple manoeuvres to execute, putting them altogether successfully in a race is a little trickier. It's not uncommon to speed into the dangerous lane of traffic, begin a drift round a corner and then end up nose-diving through the windscreen of another car. Only skilled players will take the risk and complete a race unscathed, as there's plenty of potential to make a slip up.
You'll be treated early on in the game with some beautiful vehicles
By far the most prominent threat to your hopes of winning is the presence of the police. Equipped with tools to stop your progress, they're as persistent as a toy-craving child. The best way to halt their insistence is by slamming them off the road (Note: this is not the way to deal with children), in a clash of vehicles that'll remind Burnout fans of Criterion's previous work. In fact, cause enough damage and a dramatic takedown will ensue, often sending your foes flipping through the air. If you're brutal enough, you'll witness cars plummeting off mountain tops, crushed by oncoming traffic, and generally destructing in a way that Need for Speed has never pushed before. It's brilliant stuff, especially when taking on the role of the cop and utilising their equipment. Pesky boy racer too far ahead? Call in a roadblock. Want to kill their speed? An EMP or spike strip will do the trick. As you make your way through the ranks, the power of your support increases dramatically, until you'll be able to call in air assistance and an army of behemoth trucks to crush those speeders.
Alongside the excellent racing, Criterion have installed the 'Autolog' system into Hot Pursuit. This is a social hub, and keeps you connected to your friends throughout your career. When connected to Xbox Live, any race you compete in will place you on a leaderboard against your peers. You're told before the race which of your friends has the fastest time, meaning extreme bragging rights are up for grabs. It really is an intelligent inclusion from the developers, as this interaction means players will keep coming back to the same races in order to improve. I spent way too much time trying to take the throne on each track; something that can be rammed down friends' throats when accomplished. If you beat anyone, you can post it to their wall. You're notified when your time has been surpassed, and are given the opportunity to jump back in for one more go. Combine this with the brilliant iPhone application that allows you to view stats on the move, and Criterion have created a system that keeps the Hot Pursuit world evolving every second of the day.
Competition against your peers is also enhanced through a multiplayer mode that is utterly thrilling. With a maximum of eight players, two sides will be formed: one full of coppers, and the other felons. If you're a criminal, your job is to win the race and avoid the ambitions of the human controlled police. It's fascinating to see how each race plays out, as tactics play a huge part. You can try and eliminate all the other racers quickly and burst through the track in first, or you may want to let the police do their work. Being the last racer left is daunting, as every police unit who hasn't been taken down will hunt your position. On the other side of the coin, teamwork is the best way to stop the pack. Lone wolves will often find themselves isolated by the racers they're trying to eliminate, and could be the victim of a major beating. That said, there's equal opportunity for both sides to win comfortably, as driver's skills are tested fully. If this is too intense for your liking, then fear not, a normal race mode is also available to play through in the online arena.
Roadblocks are tricky to get past unscathed, but there's always a gap
More subtly, Criterion have stripped the Need for Speed universe considerably. There's no silly neon lights stuck under your car, there's no open world to explore, just a streamlined series of entertaining races, time trials and chases across beautiful scenery. The series undoubtedly benefits from this, as even the lack of customisation barely seems to matter when the racing itself is so enthralling. This is going to be a huge loss for some, and there were times where the desire to spray paint everything showed itself, but ultimately, its lack of inclusion was forgotten. With a decent array of cars to choose from (including Lamborghini's, Porsche's and a rather sexy Bugatti Veyron}there's plenty of flair to utilise.
NEED FOR SPEED HOT PURSUIT VERDICT
The decision to let Criterion tackle the Need for Speed franchise has paid off massively. They’ve produced one of the simplest, yet endlessly engrossing racers of the generation, which is all down to their superb ability to balance how each race plays out. The sense of speed will have fans harking back to Burnout, and the cop chases steal the show by some way. At a time where a certain simulation racing game decided to launch itself, Hot Pursuit should be seen as an antidote for Sony’s realistic series. Take too much of it though, and you may become addicted.