Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit at Eurogamer Expo 2010

Right, this is going to sound weird, but Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit looks like a NFS from the PS1 days. Honestly, the first thing we thought of was Need For Speed 2, the one in which you could pop in the cheat to race around as a T-Rex instead of a car (with hilarious crashing into bridges too low for a T-Rex head to pass under). It has that crunchy graphic style, the scrubland and the foliage on the trees that are zipping by hark back to the days when consoles just couldn’t cope with realism on a race track. Is this a conscious decision by Criterion to ensure the series still has that Need For Speed look, even though it’s been in desperate decline for the last decade? Who knows. What we do know is that EA handed this game to Criterion because of their masterful handling of Burnout. Pressure? Oodles of it!

EA were demoing the multiplayer part of the game, which, by all accounts, is the most exciting aspect of NFS:HP. With eight players per match, four playing as cops and four playing as speeding convicts-in-waiting, the turn around on the 360s was pretty quick, especially since the queuing system was more like the arcades in the 80s, where you stood close enough to whoever was playing to put them ever so slightly off their game and let them know that as soon as it’s over you’re in the driving seat. Which is apt for a game where you’re constantly looking over your shoulder for opponents and cops alike.

Fans of Burnout will be chuffed to know that NFS:HP plays a lot like it. The cars handle slickly, and though it becomes very easy to lose control and rip your bodywork up on fences beside the roads, it’s also delightfully easy to drift round corners at hair-raising speeds without flipping the car or ploughing off track. Those speeds? According to the staff baby sitting Need For Speed over the weekend, the track we were playing on allowed top speeds of 200MPH – as do all the tracks in the game, we’re reliably informed.

But with Gran Turismo 5 being demoed elsewhere within Brompton Hall, Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit needs a USP to gain any interest from racing fans at all. Wisely, Criterion haven’t gone all bonkers and tried to make a realistic racing sim, the rubber being burned throughout Seacrest County (the fictitious location which NFS is based in) is most definitely of the arcade variety. Hence the game specific selection of, for want of a better word, weapons. Making a welcome return are road blocks, which can only be called into the game by cops, and spike strips, which are available to everyone. Regardless of what side you’re on, any spike strip dropped in front of you will mangle your tyres, which changes the dynamics for all involved. Racers can ruin opponents by dropping spikes and cops can mess things up for their counterparts just the same. Drifting, driving in the wrong lane, going off road, finding a shortcut, all these things will up your car’s boost and give you XP for levelling up and making new cars available. But it’s important to note that in this demo oncoming traffic was scarce and there were no opportunities to see how this cat and mouse game turns up the heat because four cops after four racers on a road that’s pretty easy to drift through does not make for much excitement.

Playing as a cop gives you access to the EMP bolt, which causes whichever car you’re zapping to lose all power for precious seconds – an excellent way to precede a good, hard shunt. Cops can also call in a chopper to spot suspects further ahead and drop spike strips that are far wider than anything racers can deploy, or set up one of those dastardly road blocks which, during a number of games we played and witnessed, come in all shapes and sizes and can quickly ruin your race.

For all that seems encouraging about Hot Pursuit, it remains to be seen just whether this game can take on Burnout, Blur, Split/Second and the other arcade racer on show at Eurogamer, Motorstorm Apocalypse (more on this elsewhere). Back in the 90s, Need For Speed was a force to be reckoned with when it first introduced cop pursuits to racing games. Today, with Split/Second adding insane explosive features, Blur mixing Wipeout with Mario Kart, Burnout goading you to wreck in style and Motorstorm Apocalypse literally bringing the entire world down on top of you and GT5 looking to own realism, Need For Speed’s catch me if you can gameplay is a luke warm comparison.

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Written by Neil

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