Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit

It’s fair to say that 2010 has been a vintage year for racing games. We’ve had Split/Second and Blur with their manic destruction while Codemasters showed us what they could do with the Formula 1 franchise. Gran Turismo 5 turned out to be worth the wait (well, almost) and both ModNation Racers and Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing offered plenty of fun. I can’t think of any other genre that’s done quite as well this year, expect maybe the ‘flinging furious birds at green pigs’ genre.

Despite purchasing Burnout developers Criterion way back in 2004 this is the first time they’ve been let loose with the Need for Speed brand. The end result is a well conceived mixture of the best bits from both the Need for Speed and Burnout series with some frantic police chases thrown in for good measure. It has Burnout’s realistic crashes and ability to gain nitro by drifting combined with the long winding roads similar to those found in the original Need for Speed, complete with some cleverly placed shortcuts.

As you may recall EA had a go at including police chases in a couple of Need for Speed games in the past (Need for Speed III was subtitled Hot Pursuit too) but this is the first time they’ve hit the nail square on the head. This is due to having some well-balance abilities at your disposable. During single player – in which you can pick and choose either police missions or racer/suspect mission from a map – these abilities are drip-fed for the first couple of hours of play and can be ‘levelled up’ by successful deployment.

An example of the balancing: racers can activate a turbo boost, but police can call in a helicopter to fly ahead and drop a stinger in their path. EMP blasts damage a vehicle but need to be locked on first and a jammer will block all police electronics for a few seconds. Road blocks can also be requested but they’re not unavoidable – every blockade has a small gap that you can squeeze through if you slow down and look for it carefully. The jammer also blocks the radar; handy if you want to turn your vehicle around and head back in the other direction to avoid being busted. Abilities have a cool down period so you can’t constantly use them and some missions don’t even let you use abilities at all.

Online Hot Pursuit races, in which four cops take on four racers, are brilliant fun while one-on-one races can be rather tense and challenging as one accidental crash can costs you a match. Each track has a message board where you can post high scores and challenges for people on your friend’s list while photos can also be taken and shared. Be warned if you buy a second hand copy though – you need a pass to play online.

The licensed vehicles have been lavished recreated in polygon form and are available in both racer and police variants. Did you know that the Porsche Boxster doesn’t even have a CD player or cup holder in order to make it as light as possible? I didn’t, but I do now thanks to the brief insightful vocal descriptions for each vehicle. It’s slightly disappointing that the vehicles can’t be tuned though – even Need for Speed: Underground let you tinker under the hood. Another downside is how annoying the constant police sirens are. You can turn the siren off by pressing Y but after a crash or such they’re automatically turned on again. These incredibly minor quibbles aside though, it’s hard to imagine anybody not enjoying this.