One of the most acclaimed entries in the Need For Speed franchise is granted a full remaster, as it tries to keep up with modern racers.
Originally released in 2010, Hot Pursuit was the first Need For Speed game from Burnout developer Criterion. Although it’s hard to imagine now, the Need For Speed franchise used to enjoy Call Of Duty and FIFA levels of mass popularity, making its annual release a very big deal. At the time, the same was true of Autolog, its asynchronous social system that taunted you with friends’ best times to engender a little healthy competition.
Taking place in the fictional Seacrest County, your two conflicting careers in Hot Pursuit are as an illegal street racing contestant and as a cadet police officer working your way up the force by chasing down the very same illicit racers. Each career strand has its own car unlocks and ranking system opened up by winning races, being quick in time trials, and, in the case of the police, ramming unruly drivers off the road.
The Remastered edition arrives pre-loaded with all the game’s DLC, which includes a slew of exotic cars and an additional six hours of add-on challenges. You’ll find yourself drowning in Porsches and Lamborghinis pretty much from the start, and that goes for both racers and police, who drive similarly sporty rides to ensure they remain competitive during their frequent high-speed pursuits.
Despite being a Criterion game, it’s still very much Need For Speed at heart, with mile upon mile of sweeping American tarmac, only lightly populated by other traffic, but it does also borrow from Burnout. That’s most evident in its nitrous oxide boost, which recharges when you’re driving dangerously, giving you bonus top-ups for driving into oncoming traffic, near misses, and forays into cross country shortcuts.
Although those back road routes always recharge your nitrous, not all of them end up being shortcuts, with some dirt tracks actually taking considerably longer than simply staying on the road. It does add a bit of extra interest, which is important because as you rapidly discover, 10 years is a long time in video games, and while the visuals have enjoyed a significant HD upgrade, the gameplay has not.
Need For Speed was never meant to be like Gran Turismo or Forza, in that it at no point felt the need to court realism. If anything, it’s the spiritual successor to games like Ridge Racer and OutRun, where cars handle predictably but have absolutely no grounding in reality. That was all well and good in 2010, but these days it feels over-simplified and one note.
All the game’s cars, whether you’re rolling in a Porsche 911 or a Pagani Zonda, drift solidly around corners but none feels in any way distinguished from the next. They look different, and it’s fun to see how some of its supercars have been decked out for police use, but on the road they feel all but identical, accelerating, braking and steering in much the same way.
Another issue is that given the ludicrous speed of its cars, there are plenty of crashes that are literally unavoidable. A random car coming the opposite way around the same corner you’re drifting through at 300kph appears so rapidly that there’s no time for evasive action, you just have to sit back and watch the crash cam as your car pirouettes to a standstill.
That’s not so bad during races, because the game’s old school rubber banding keeps you near the pack no matter how badly you mess up, but in time trials just one of those random encounters is enough to make a gold medal unattainable, forcing you either to restart the event or abandon any lofty achievement goals you may have started out with.
The bland handling model and sameness of its cars are mitigated slightly by the diversity of events. Test drives lend you a one-off exotic for a time trial drive, while duels pit you against a single driver, and races against several. You’ll also find the Autolog system still posts friends’ times, although since this is a much less high profile release than it was originally it’s more likely that your friends will simply be playing other games, removing some of the draw of that feature.
It’s also much more fun being a cop. Along with a refreshed sense of purpose, you also have access to an interesting little arsenal of weaponry, letting you set up roadblocks, call helicopter back up, hit baddies with a car-disabling EMP, or a tyre-shredding spike strip. Of course, using those is only ever an adjunct to simply nitrous boosting into racers and smashing up their cars, a process that’s never less than satisfying.
Racers can also unlock a pair of their own defences, a jammer that prevents police from using their gadgets for a short time, and turbo, which gives a prolonged burst of high speed that once activated can’t be turned off until it’s run its course. They’re both fine, but the best events are still those that cast you as the long arm of the law, crashing your way through illegal racers with brutal abandon.
Time has been unkind to Need For Speed Hot Pursuit. While it’s been sitting gathering dust, racing games have moved on, adding layers of nuance and sophistication. It leaves gameplay that used to feel knife edge and thrilling, seeming a little flat. Hot Pursuit still has its moments, especially when you’re playing the cop, but its random crashes, lack of variety, and undistinguished car handling are harder to forgive in a world where Forza Horizon 4 exists.
Need For Speed Hot Pursuit Remastered review summary
In Short: The formerly classic arcade racer gets a high resolution makeover, but 10 years later and the one note driving model now feels functional rather than exciting.
Pros: Police chases are great fun, as are the anti-car weapons you get to use. A reasonable variety of events and a constant procession of unlocks.
Cons: Cars all handle identically, racing quickly starts to feel dull. The game’s supercars are starting to look a bit antique in many cases, and without its former AAA status the social side is less competitive.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Developer: Stellar Entertainment and Criterion
Release Date: 6th November 2020 (13/11 on Switch)
Age Rating: 7
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