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Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit

Need for Speed

2010 has been an excellent year for racing games and the hits just keep on coming. With Split/Second and Blur holding down the front end of the year, Sony has alleged that Gran Turismo 5 actually exists in a completed form (I won’t believe it until I actually hold the game in my hands, though). And to keep us busy until the most complete racing simulation ever released actually hits the market, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, an update of one of the most beloved series in the Need for Speed franchise has finally hit, courtesy of Burnout developers Criterion. Though the game plays much more like Burnout than a Need for Speed, Hot Pursuit is the most enjoyable racing experience of the year.

All of the hallmarks of the Need for Speed brand are here. Drivers take control of some of the fanciest vehicles on the planet and run them at white-knuckle speeds against intensely competitive AI or human drivers. It’s also absolutely gorgeous, with stunning vistas complimented by great weather effects. Following the Need for Speed tradition, the latest installment puts you behind the wheel of some of the finest cars on the planet. Paganis, Porsches, Lamborghinis and more are at your fingertips. You’ll also get access to some cars that you might actually see in real life, maybe even drive if you’re lucky. In addition, Burnout’s brilliant damage modeling and an unrivaled sense of speed have come along for the ride. The combination proves intoxicating.

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In Hot Pursuit, drivers assume the role of either the police or street racers, depending on which the chosen race casts them as. Obviously, the bulk of the game centers on the chase. As cops, players are charged with taking down fleeing AI racers. This mode plays a lot like Burnout, with a few more toys at your disposal. While you can usually convince most resistant drivers to pull over by slamming into them at high speed, causing their cars to flip and crash in dramatic fashion, the police also have other tools to earn obedience.

“…the most responsive and balanced racing game I have ever played.”For starters, police can call in a helicopter to track the movements of racers who take shortcuts and disappear out of sight. Officers can also call in roadblocks and drop spike strips for a little help when they can’t do it themselves. The fourth and final tool is an EMP that can be shot at a vehicle, disabling the electronics system long enough for you to close the gap. Racers have most of these tools too, and they can also use brute force to ram the police off the road. But racers also have the added challenge of not only having to avoid the cops, but also competing against challengers for position. Since they obviously can’t benefit from helicopters, they have one unique advantage over their police pursuers – in addition to a nitrous meter filled by drafting, drifting and pulling dangerous stunts like driving into oncoming traffic, racers also have an additional turbo meter that acts like a warp drive.

The single-player offering consists of completing a standard series of events to unlock new cars. Time trials are often brutally difficult, requiring absolute precision and a mastery of each track. The controls are sharp and responsive, and each vehicle has a unique feel that encourages you to learn how each drives. Pursuit mode is obviously where all the action is and I couldn’t get enough. I have to say, I liked chasing after cars more than being chased, but there’s nothing more thrilling than being one hit from elimination and dropping a life-saving spike strip down at just the right time to take down a pursuing officer. This is capped with an incredible sense of speed, tight controls and fair-but-frequent traffic from non-competitor motorists, making Hot Pursuit the most responsive and balanced racing game I have ever played.

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Though single-player is a lot of fun, multiplayer is where Hot Pursuit really shines. As strong as the AI drivers are, they cannot compete with human competition. The only real disappointment is that there’s no local multiplayer offering at all, not even two player splitscreen. But the Xbox Live play is very strong, offering loads of fun throughout with no slowdown and quick matchmaking. Hot Pursuit also tracks the progress your friends make in their single-player campaign and encourages you to best their times. If you’re successful, the game will then notify whoever you beat that you did it better. It definitely encourages replaying tracks over and over again until you achieve total dominance, which gives the game a ton of replay value.

The only other disappointment is that career mode and Xbox Live play are really the only modes offered. There’s no quick race option for when you just want to select a track, set the parameters for the race and go. This proves to be just a small quibble though because once you open up a bit of the career mode, there’s always a race available to fit whatever itch you need to satisfy, whether you want to drive at dusk in the rain at the wheel of an American muscle car or if you want to hit a nice dry piece of tarmac in an import in the desert. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is easily the most enjoyable racing game that I’ve played this year, and definitely the most thrilling. This is a game that fans will not be able to put down and though it may be a little sparse on game modes, it is an experience that racing fans absolutely cannot afford to miss.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

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