Don't chase me, bro.
From Split/Second to Gran Turismo to... Superstars, racing fans have had a lot to enjoy this year, and Criterion has given La-Z-Boy gearheads another reason to celebrate. Hearing the name Criterion would give anyone fond memories of zipping and crashing in every square inch of Burnout Paradise's sprawl, but this latest Need For Speed leaves that game in the virtual dust by creating a more structured, more focused experience while still casting a huge net over multiplayer racing fanatics (in a good way).
[image1]Hot Pursuit doesn't refer to the more cerebral, detail-lickin' enjoyment you might get from Gran Turismo 5's insane amount of detail. Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit is all about breaking the normal limits of speed and either running from cops or chasing down offenders. In the single-player campaign, few events will challenge you in a way that doesn't involve this relationship between predator and prey. Cars are tuned towards this interaction as well, with cops generally getting stronger, more powerful machines and racers the better accelerating, nimble vehicles. You can take on the computer in the campaigns and other players online across a multitude of tracks.
Playing as predator or prey is tons of fun, no matter the side. Criterion makes it easy to switch back and forth between cops and racers in the single-player campaign, and you'll frequently switch sides while playing online. Cop cars feel like beasts on the road, especially when you figure in the multitude of tools they have at their disposal, including the ability to drop spike strips, call in road blocks, and helicopter support. Racers have some of the same tools, but most of their tricks are for defense, apart from their EMP blasts. Sabotaging your own team and taking first place for yourself is evil fun.
Cars and environments look and sound beautiful. Hearing the initial roar of a car's ignition can be spine-tingling. Even more important than the revving of engines or menu selection blips is the way the background soundtrack stays out of the way. Need For Speed games may be known for a lot of things, but the soundtrack just isn't important. Criterion smartly lets the cars and crashes do the talking and leaves the driving soundtrack in the backseat.
[image2]While Seacrest County is another open world, you'll hardly spend any time roaming freely. It's not as if the option isn't there, but Hot Pursuit's rewards don't come from exploration or crashing through billboards. Still, a ton of ground awaits those willing to scream their tires over it, and it sure does look good when you go flying by at 160 MPH. The map reaches from sandy shores to snow-drifted peaks and everything in between. Rarely will tracks seem the same.
Instead of a racer's paradise, there's a definite focus on the interactions you have with other human players. Of course, the single-player campaigns take away the spontaneity and thrill of racing others, but Hot Pursuit's Autolog feature constantly reminds you of the accomplishments of your friends (or foes).
Hot Pursuit's Online modes are really the star. Players can choose from Hot Pursuit, Interceptor, and Race. Hot Pursuit has the legs and will be the most played online mode, pitting four cops against four racers. Cops win if they force all racers off the road, while racers win by completing the race and besting each other in the process. The same is said of Interceptor, but this mode limits cops and racers to one player each. Race does away with cops all together. Good luck finding players in that lobby.
[image3]When the online modes work, they really sing, allowing for hours to slip away into tons of entertaining crashes and near-misses. Unfortunately, they can also be extremely broken. If you find yourself in a lobby with even a minute amount of lag, you might as well quit before the race even starts. When races are won and lost on collisions, having an opponent slip through the road and appear behind you can be a massive headache.
Nevertheless, there are so few missteps in Criterion's take on Hot Pursuit, that it's a game that even the most casual of video game racing fans must experience. If your last racing game was Mario Kart (and you were scarred for life because your cousin never let you pick Yoshi and he always won), get yourself some counseling in the form of Hot Pursuit. You'll finally be able to take out all that aggression you've tucked away deep inside your virtual racer.