The Need for Speed series, in spite of the recent increasingly poorly met and unremarkable installments, remains one of the most prolific and influential racing game series of all time. However, with recent entries to the once hallowed franchise like Undercover, ProStreet and Nitro, one begins to wonder if the franchise has simply lost its way. It’s not as if EA hasn’t tried to bring it back on track, though- in the years following the superbly successful Need for Speed Underground series of games (which includes both the Underground games, Most Wanted and Carbon), EA attempted to mix things up and reboot the formula several times, by attempting to returning to realism (ProStreet), then to a storied underground racing based scene (Undercover), to both, arcade and realism (Nitro and Shift). None of them really worked out well at all.
Apparently, turning to gifted developers Criterion- creators of the superb Burnout series of video games, which swiftly replaced Need for Speed as the arcade racing experience- was a desperate move by EA. The Need for Speed franchise, after all, deserves much better than what it has got these past few years. But can Criterion work its magic? Or is Need for Speed totally beyond redemption?
A RETURN TO ROOTS
There are no two ways to say this, so I’ll just come out and say this- Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit looks great. It looks better than great. Simply put, I haven’t been this decided for a racer outside of Mario Kart since the first media for Need for Speed Underground was shown all those years ago. Criterion Games really know their stuff, and it shows here- from the superb graphics to the soundwork, from the thrill of speed and acceleration to the arcade style takedowns, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit looks simply stellar as of now. Apparently, the house that Burnout made has worked its magic on a seemingly dead franchise, and in the process, has crafted what may be one of the best arcade racers since Burnout 3.
Everything about the game- from the central cops and racers concept to the driving mechanics, from the graphical palette to heck, even the name of the game- all of it is steeped deeply in the franchise’s rich mythos. Deriving from the Hot Pursuit and Underground series of games, the upcoming title forgoes to the pretentious realism and the redundant plots of its immediate predecessors, in favor of a more arcadey, pick up and play style of gameplay.
Look at it this way- the one game mode we have been shown so far- Interceptor 1vs1- involves exotic cars racing around on lush locales, with one player the cop, and the other, the racer. The cop has to, you guessed it, take the racer down, Burnout style, whereas the racer has to evade the cop’s attempts at busting him. Both sides have special abilities, like calling for roadblocks to block the racer’s path, or jamming the police’s radar. Unlike previous games in the series, where being the cop was always more difficult, this time around, the cops seems to have it better, what with them racing around in Bugattis and all (I wish the police department of my city had such a budget, things would probably have been loads better for me and everybody else then). Being a racer involves considerably more skill, as not only do you have to avoid the cop cars’ constant aggression, but you also have to outrun and outmaneuver a car much better than yours, all the while avoiding things like roadblocks, and trying to evade those darned choppers flying high above you.
EA has described Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit as revolutionary, where it actually is anything but. The game is a thorough, faithful, modern interpretation of undisputed classics, and it has one the job incredibly well. Whereas Hot Pursuit definitely brings nothing new to the table, what it does bring is pure, unadulterated fun, in copious quantities to boot.