by Joseph Barron
previewed on X360
In today's modern era of video games, the racing genre has become saturated with attempts at creating the most hardcore simulations possible. We have celebrated games like Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport to such an extent that even traditionally "arcadey" racing brands have attempted to reboot themselves for simulation fanatics. However, one developer has never taken its foot off the arcade pedal and now Criterion Games are taking one of the all time classic racing franchises back to its roots.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is the game which Criterion hope will take Need for Speed back to the days of exotic supercars and high speed police chases through stunning landscapes and open roads. Taking its name from the early PS2-era Need for Speed games, Hot Pursuit will feature a massive open world, 4 times larger than Burnout Paradise. It will be full of the kind of roads most drivers can only dream of and the cars are the sort of machines we all had pinned up on our walls as teenagers, from Bugatti to Koenigsegg and McLaren to Pagani. Early footage of the game shows that the handling model will be similar to Burnout with an emphasis on incredible sense of speed and precise drifting around long sweeping bends. Specifically the handling will be more realistic than Burnout, but less realistic than Need for Speed: Shift. The mechanics of your driving career though, will be very different to both of those games.
From the start of Hot Pursuit you can choose either a cop or a racer career with separate progression for both. If you are a racer you will face hordes of police chasing you through the huge world, with the emphasis on escaping their attention by reaching a certain safe distance shown on your mini-map.
Unfortunately, the longer the chase goes on, the harder the police will work, employing tire stingers, helicopters and roadblocks. You can expect the police to upgrade their machinery too. The E3 trailer even showed a Bugatti Veyron decked out in a police livery! Of course, in the interest of fairness you have a few tricks of your own, such as a radar jammer, decoy car and cloaking device. You could even choose to find a safe place to hide, such as in some bushes, if your car color is similar to the foliage. In the police career your job is to spoil the racers' fun using all of the same tools that the AI uses in the racer career, though you can't simply use them all at once.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Criterion game without some seriously cool multiplayer action. So far the developers have shown an online variation of the career gameplay where some players are racers and others take the role of the cops, creating intense chases through the scenic landscape. Other modes are still to be announced, however we do know that the game will have an "Autolog" feature which has been described as "Facebook for Need for Speed," allowing players to keep track of detailed stats and compare them with their friends and other racers. You will also have some sort of news feed showing the recent accomplishments made by your friends, both online and off. Perhaps most interesting though is that you can progress through the career, in terms of unlocking cars and other items, both online and off, meaning that you won't constantly find yourself backing out to the single-player game to find a ride as good as your friend's.
Back on track
The original Hot Pursuit games were massively under-rated when they arrived on the scene in the early part of the PS2-era. However, since then many racing game enthusiasts have come to respect them for their sheer sense of fun; from the cars and gorgeous environments, to the thrilling high speed chases and the sometimes unintentionally hilarious soundtrack (Uncle Kracker anyone?).
Since those games the Need for Speed series has lost its way, with the laughable boy-racer antics of Carbon and the failed attempts at attracting a hardcore audience with ProStreet and Shift. If anyone can bring this once great racing franchise back on track, it is Criterion. By using the Hot Pursuit name they have clearly stated their intentions to fans of this long-running series and so far it looks like they're taking the game in exactly the right direction. However, when it finally reaches its destination, will it be a wreck of twisted metal and broken carbon fiber, or a blur of high speed exhilaration? We will get to find out this Fall when Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit hits shelves in November.