Imagine you’ve been gaffer taped to an office chair, and that you’ve just been pushed down an exceptionally steep hill. Stuff hurtles past you at blinding speed – trees, fences, livestock. You can feel every stone clatter beneath the chair’s tiny wheels, and your heart pounds with fear. Oh, and just to add to the terror, someone’s set the chair on fire.
That’s the kind of feeling you get from Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit’s blinding, unsettling turn of speed. This is racing so mind-meltingly fast that it’s mildly stressful.
For EA, Hot Pursuit is the culmination of its multi-game rejuvenation of its ageing Need For Speed franchise. It was clear after the dull Prostreet and the dreadful Undercover that the series needed a serious mechanical overhaul, and EA responded with no fewer than four games, each with its own approach to the racing genre – there was Shift, which did a reasonable impression of Race Driver: Grid or Forza, and Nintendo-exclusive Nitro in 2009, followed by the so-so driving MMO World earlier this year.
Hot Pursuit, however, is a rather different proposition, and inarguably the best Need For Speed game we’ve yet played. Thanks to Criterion, a studio that has already proved itself to be the master of arcade racing games with the mighty Burnout series, Hot Pursuit has given the NFS series a much needed shot of nitrous, and more than any other racing game we’ve played this year, it’s a coiled spring of automotive fury.
Bizarre Creations’ underappreciated Blur was an engaging marriage of Mario Kart-style power-ups and arcade racing, while Black Rock’s rival racer Split/Second fused frantic driving with Jerry Bruckheimer pyrotechnics. In terms of speed and thrills, Hot Pursuit easily beats either of those games to the chequered flag, and few would have had any complaints had it been rechristened as a high-definition Burnout entry.
Like Criterion’s other racers, Hot Pursuit eschews subtlety, strategy or driving finesse for extended bouts of dangerous driving. The racing lines and cerebral vehicle tuning of GT5 are left far, far behind.
In a nod to the Burnout series, gonzo driving tactics such as drifting, driving on the wrong side of the road, and narrowly avoiding hideous head-on collisions are rewarded with a gradually filling boost bar, which can be engaged at any time with a press of a button.
At the helm of an absurdly powerful vehicle (even the least pokey car in the game’s garage, the Porsche Boxster, goes like a rocket), players compete in illegal street races while avoiding equally blistering police cars. To even the odds against competitors and the law, there are a few weapons. Spike strips puncture opponents’ tyres in a shower of sparks, turbos give a temporary boost in power, jammers temporarily disable any cars’ weapons within a small radius, while an accurately targeted EMP will cause damage to an opposing vehicle.
The offline career mode is divided into varied challenges, including time trials, police chases and regular races, and there’s even an entirely separate career mode where you get to pursue other cars as a law enforcer. Do well in any challenge, and you’ll boost your XP, which in turn unlocks more cars and further challenges.
Like Blur, Hot Pursuit has numerous well-integrated online features, which allow you to share pictures of your cars and compare achievements, as well as take part in races.
Whether you’re racng online or off, Hot pursuit’s turn of speed is astonishing, and no other arcade racer comes close to the sense of velocity or danger presented here. Every corner and undulating road comes hurtling from the horizon, and in the game’s most powerful metal – the Bugatti Veyron, or Pagani Zonda – it doesn’t feel so much like you’re driving as clinging onto the controller for dear life.
Eventually, you’ll crash. The result is an exploding volcano of twisted metal, a mess smoking wreckage. Hot Pursuit shoves you back on the road again, right back in the thick of the race, but the impact of your mistakes is often jarringly brutal.
With Hot Pursuit, Criterion has taken the arcade racer genre and honed it to almost faultless perfection. It’s accessible, thrilling and addictive, and the sense of jubilation and relief at the completion of a race, as you narrowly evade capture by the police and crash through a roadblock that doubles as a finish line, is simply unparalleled. Few other driving games are as gratifying, or as pulse quickening.
Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit is our now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.
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