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Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit

I am not a car guy.  As long as my car gets me from point A to point B without losing parts on the way, I’m pretty happy.  So when a game like Gran Turismo 5 comes out, my reaction is pretty meh.  I know there are tons of gear heads out there that want to adjust the torque or over inflate the tires or upgrade the johnson rod to eek out that last few horsepower on their virtual dream machine.  That does nothing for me.  Sounds suspiciously like math, so f that.  What I want from a driving game isn’t amazingly accurate real world handling.  I want total insanity.  I want cars doing things that would destroy them in real life.  Now, for those of you out there like me, forget Gran Turismo with its fancy PHYSICS and REALITY.  Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is our over the top salvation.

The premise of the entire game establishes very quickly that reality is not invited to this party.  Wrap the old noggin around this setup!  A fictional coastal town, called Seacrest County (I figure this is slightly in the future where Ryan Seacrest has taken over the world), has the best god damn roads in the world.  So, naturally, all the illegal street racers in the world basically move to Seacrest Country so they can drive around at insanely high speeds for 24 hours a day.  So, Seacrest has a problem.  So the Seacrest police force, what are they to do?  It would make sense to impound cars, have road blocks everywhere, or do some actual detective work to find out who is running these races and shut them down.  But noooooo, not the fine folks of the Seacrest County PD.  They had a better solution.  If those dastardly criminals are going to drive around exotic super cars, the only way to catch them is if WE drive super exotic cars too, only ours will be modified into POLICE CARS.

So, there you have it.  In gameplay terms, this works out great!  The meat of the game comes from the career mode, which is somewhat odd in that you go down two different paths at the same time.  There are racer and police events.  As you might imagine, racer events sometimes involve trying to escape the cops, while police events task you with busting the racers.  Some traditional (read: sane) stuff also comes up, such as racer events where the cops are not actively trying to stop you or time trial modes for the police that they justify by saying a new car is being tested.  The two career paths have separate “experience” meters, enabling you to rank up as a cop, racer, or both.  If for some reason it struck your fancy, one could totally ignore cop, for example, and focus solely on racer, but that would be missing out on much of the game.  Doing both at the same time keeps the game fresh.  I like to think that my character is a policeman who moonlights as a street racer because he just freaking loves driving that much.

Ranking up nets you goodies of course, the big one being new cars.  All the cars are real world models, so yes, you will be racing around in James Bond style Aston Martins or Jaguars.  And, even not being a car guy, I have to admit that seeing a Lamborghini COP CAR is completely bad ass.  Unlike the aforementioned Gran Turismo 5 there is no ability to tweak the settings or upgrade the cars in any way, they’re just unlocked and available as is, but that isn’t what Hot Pursuit is going for anyway.  This is wwaaayyy on the arcade side of the arcade vs simulation slide o meter.  In support of that statement, I offer that the other unlockable goodies earned with rank are weapons.  Now these aren’t Mario Kart level insane (although I would kill to be able to launch giant turtle shells at fleeing street racers.  I bet the Koopa kids would be street racers.  Those bastards!)  but they fit in well with the giant middle finger to reality the game has adopted.  Spike strips are given to both cops and racers, but these are spike strips that get deployed from the trunk as you drive at 200 mph to mess up anybody behind you.  Or any unfortunate normal citizens that happen to be driving near.  (Tangent:  Normal traffic is present in the game, but this begs a question.  Why in the hell would anybody drive in Seacrest County.  I would have moved the second time I was going to the grocery store and got spike stripped BY A HELICOPTER.  I’ll get to that.)  Also available are single target EMP’s.  They require a lock on time which forces you to stay within a sight line and certain distance, but once locked on, instantly hit the target car, causing them to be unable to steer for a few seconds and slow them down.  This is useful on long straight stretches of road as a means to catch up of course, but really shines when you hit somebody going into a turn.  Being unable to drive becomes more of a problem when you careen into the side of a mountain.  Each side also has two unique abilities.  Cops get road blocks, which set up ahead of you and cause any racers some issues as they slam into them.  The “ultimate” cop ability is a helicopter, which will come in and track a target and strategically drop a spike strip right in front of them FROM THE SKY.  Good times.  Racers get a jammer, which causes any cops in the vicinity to lose their minimap and, more importantly, will disrupt any EMP lock on that’s attempting to target you.  The big racer ability is turbo.  Now, there is a boost meter present in the game and it will turn on the jets for short periods of time, useful for getting to top speed out of corners.  Cops and racers constantly have access to it, although it only refills when you drive awesome (which in this game is pretty much all the time so it’s basically constantly refilling).  Turbo on the other hand, is nuts.  This will almost instantly put you at a few MPH OVER the top speed of the car you’re driving and has an awesome motion blur effect coupled with what sounds like a breaking of the sound barrier.  Now, let’s be clear, you are NOT breaking the sound barrier.  It just sounds and feels like it, and using a turbo is never not adrenaline pumping.  Just try not to have to turn too much….turning becomes somewhat difficult.

The highlight of the entire game is the events which have you as a cop stopping an illegal street race.  This is because “stopping” in Need for Speed lingo apparently means “murder”.  Racers get busted when enough damage is caused to the vehicle, which can be caused by the aforementioned weapons or just straight running into them.  However, the hitting them is not nudging them into guard rails and having the friction slow them down to zero.  Oh no.  Slamming into a racer at 200 mph and sending them careening over a guard rail and off of a cliff into the rocky waters below, that is the stopping.  I love how the game says “Nice bust!” right after this.  That was not a “bust”.  That was state sponsored homicide.  And it was AWESOME.  The lack of reality aside, these events just play well.  Trying to stay with a Porsche as you drive through a redwood forest in a Bently cop car as a helicopter swoops overhead both of you just has that “nice!” factor going the whole time.  Visually, Need for Speed runs at a smooth as silk frame rate and has spectacular models for the cars.  If one stops to really check some of the textures on the various doodads around they aren’t the best, but you won’t care while doing hairpin turns without dropping below 150 mph.

Man being arrested in the real world. (Apparently captured by some sort of skateboard camera)

Being arrested in the world of Need for Speed. NOT THE SAME.

The online stuff is what you would expect, with all the modes found in the single player available to play online with other real people, which adds a nice rush of unpredictability.  That’s good but standard, the real online kicker that Need for Speed brings to the table is the Autolog.  I’ve talked about the social network aspect of gaming that seems to be coming in to its own (thanks, Blizzard!) and the Autolog basically does that.  Basically, it tracks all of your friends who play this game as well.  Instead of just having access to leaderboards in a sub menu somewhere, the friends thing is in your face.  If you do an event in single player, ANY event, the game will tell you where you stand among everybody on the friends list.  Not only that, if you top the list, you can instantly add a comment to your new top time, which your friends will see.  Maybe something like “I JUST PWNED YOU IN THE FACE N00BSS!!!!111” or whatever you kids say on the internet these days.  To facilitate friendly competition, the game will actually recommend events for you.  If a friend has just posted a better time on an event than you a message will be received.  One button press from that message will take you to that specific event so you can work on reclaiming the throne.  It’s this ease of use that encourages competition and more playtime, which is exactly what a racing game should be, namely repayable as hell.

That’s really the key to this game:  you want to keep playing it.  Between the smooth visuals, wicked sound, sharp controls, and easy way to make fun of friends, the game has a ton to offer.  The career mode will end before you hit the max level for racer and police, but there is enough incentives even if you are NOT an achievement whore to go back and keep playing, such as the crazy expensive concept cars.  By embracing the total lack of reality (thanks, Bayonetta!) Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is the perfect game for anybody who looks at Gran Turismo 5 and wonders “why all the hype?”.  While those guys are in the garage menu for hours at a time, I’ll be busting criminals by having them run into boulders at 200 mph.  Because in the world of Ryan Seacrest, criminals will receive no mercy.



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