In pursuit of perfection.
Electronic Arts has earned the adulation of racing fans around the world by gifting us with the Need For Speed series of arcade-style racers. Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2, the sixth bright-eyed, bushy-tailed puppy in the litter, is the series' introduction to the PS2 and is easily the best of the bunch.
The game offers a variety of game modes: Single Races and Challenges, 2-player, 2-player Challenges, Championship, and Cop Chase. A veritable extravaganza of racing options, and all of them are playable, fun, involving and possessing unique merits. All styles can be played in either World Circuit or Hot Pursuit modes, the main difference being whether or not you're just racing other drivers or frantically avoiding cops (or frantically BEING a cop).
The namesake mode, Hot Pursuit, is well implemented. Here the objective is (as a cop) to run into the speeding cars a few times and then try to block them against an embankment until they cannot move, or (as a non-cop) to avoid having this done to you. It's made even cooler thanks to the emergence of helicopters, spike strips to take out tires and even the ability to set up (or crash through) roadblocks.
Both Hot Pursuit and World Circuit mode feature an 'Ultimate Racer' sub-mode that puts you in a branching career spanning 30 events. Winning races lets you unlock more events and cars. There's certainly plenty under the hood here.
This time around they have dispensed with the sad upgrade and customization attempts that had marred the series after the popularity of Gran Turismo. The game focuses instead on its strong point: the illusion of being able to rip the road apart in a priceless piece of metal and fiberglass.
The NFS series maintains its dedication to the plentiful selection of exotic speed monsters like the Lamborghini Murcielago, the Mustang SVT Cobra R, and the Ferrari 360 Spider. There are 49 total cars in here - fans of the series will also get the opportunity to jump behind the wheel of old friends like the Mercedes Benz CLK GTR, the Porsche 911 Turbo, the Lamborghini Diablo, and (of course) the McLaren F1.
Regardless of your ride, the graphics are crisp and smooth. The cars are beautifully rendered. Smoke, sparks, dust, solar effects and gorgeous light-sourcing are all present and accounted for here. Vibration is brilliantly implemented, registering not only resounding impacts but also the texture differences between asphalt, dirt, gravel, wood, cobblestone and grass. It's not quite as polished at Gran Turismo 3, but it's no slouch.
A fully customizable HUD offering a rearview mirror without confining the player to a cockpit view (hallelujah!) provides a valuable addition. The ability to see what is behind you without sacrificing your view (and, consequently, control of your vehicle) allows you to wreak havoc on the cars behind you, swerving left and right to keep them on your six.
Following tradition, most of the tracks are lapped circuits. But uniquely, the tracks in this game are almost unbelievably vast for a driving game of its kind. In addition to their incredible length, they are littered with alternate routes. These aren't just shortcuts; they are weighty decisions with which you, the player, will be faced...frequently at over 200 mph.
The tracks are set in beautifully realized, detailed, varied and expansive environments. Getting to know the tracks is essential, and you will come to know them well as you race them many times, backwards and forwards in the NFS tradition. Here is where the sheer length and varied terrain of the tracks comes in handy.
You will be racing against up to 6 other drivers; typical of the series, but it seems a little sparse in this game. The long tracks thin out the direct competition, as do the plenitude of alternate routes - which other drivers are quick to take. This adds up to stretches of time when - although you are, position-wise, in the middle of the pack - you'll see neither hide nor hair of your opponents. In close quarters, however, their will to feed you their dust becomes glaringly apparent. Though not exactly what you would call "fierce" competition, without a doubt they are committed opportunists who - in proximity - never miss a chance to cut in front of your vehicle to let you sample the airborne grit from their tires.
Thankfully, the control is very responsive with noticeable differences in the handling of the vehicles and, while the cars are very maneuverable, they are realistically heavy. The vehicle physics are really quite good. Which leads us to the puzzling matter of collisions...
Although there are collisions in NFS: HP2 involving objects, opponent vehicles and occasionally random traffic, the consequences of crashes are noticeably delinquent. Though cars will show damage, they never manage to flip out the way you might expect them to. A head-on collision will slow you down considerably and a terribly executed jump might land you on your side, but don't expect big wrecks.
This is forgivable in the Championship and Single Race modes, which come down to out-driving your opponents. It is a lamented tragedy, however, when it comes to the Hot Pursuit mode. Given, Hot Pursuit is is pretty darn cool, but it would have been much more fun if they let you smash into other cars and really feel like you're smashing into them, or at least be the source of a massive chain pileup from time to time.
As if to make up for this, cars that are out of control seem determined to not only land on their wheels, but they also take great pains to end a spin with you facing in the right direction. Speed is the focus here, not cheap spin-outs. Still, you never really get the satisfaction of seeing someone you just side-swiped suffer a devastating crash.
Replays in NFS games have always been good - sometimes very good. Plenty of camera angles were offered which allowed you to get a good look at what was really going on during the race. Conversely, the replay in NFS: HP2 is just plain awful. You never get a chance to sit back and take the race in from a decent distance. Instead, you are offered the same camera angles that were available when you were racing along with another vantage that is, for the most part, fastened so closely to the vehicle that it might as well be inside it.
Though most of the sound is decent, ubiquitous engine rumbling and tire screeches, Hot Pursuit 2 comes equipped with some very interesting police chatter. You can actually hear the cops plan out how they intend to stop your progress. It's a kick.
Despite the lack of cool crashes and the poor implementation of the replay feature, NFS: HP2 does just about everything else right and stand out as the best arcade racer to hit the PS2. With it's combination of really fun gameplay, good delivery, terrific tracks and robust modes, this is definitely worthy of gracing the collection of any console racing fan.