Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Hands-On Impressions
EA’s Need for Speed series has gone through many changes and iterations over the past few years. The series has delved into both sim and arcade play styles a few times, gone “Underground” into the world of street racing, and most recently has undergone changes to put players directly in the driver’s seat with Need for Speed: Shift.
The upcoming title, the Criterion developed Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit isn’t so much another revolution as it is a reimagining of one of the most popular iterations of the series. Bill and I got a chance to check out the new title at a special preview event held at Debonair Social Club in Chicago in August.
From the moment I picked up the controller, it was obvious that although Criterion has now taken over the reins, it still feels like a Need for Speed game. The arcade driving feel that was present in previous iterations of the franchise is back, and series veterans will feel right at home.
Controls are fairly straightforward, with the only new additions being the tactical deployments assigned to the D-pad. Pushing a direction deploys one of these power ups that differs whether the player is a cop or racer. While the racers get radar jammers and the like, cops can call in roadblocks or deployments of spike strips to impede any unlucky racers in their sights. This gave an extra layer of strategy to Pursuit mode races and made for some very fun gameplay.
One of the new features being shown in the game is the integration of social media and friends lists to create a front end that constantly feeds in new data about rival’s score challenges sent by friends and the like. Criterion originally used a similar system in Burnout: Paradise, which fed in the best times from a player’s friends list during gameplay. Hot Pursuit seems to be an evolution of the initial work they pioneered, allowing players to track progress and milestones outside of the game itself. What we saw was a bit early, but if the developers can really pull off all the features that they’re planning, players are going to be in for a real treat.
The graphics of the game are fairly impressive. The cars look great, and damage modeling assures that they crumple and deform with each crash and errant scrape of the guard rail. The track itself, while good looking, was a bit sparse on details and pedestrian traffic. This may just be because the build of the game was still a bit early, or that certain game modes limit large traffic use. Burnout Paradise did such an excellent job at making me feel like I were driving through a real little city, though when playing Hot Pursuit I couldn’t help but feel I was on a track. There is plenty of time for minor issues like this to be tweaked before release, and from what I saw, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is already worthy of being on consumer’s radar.
Bill’s Double Take
I’ve got to agree with most of what Archie said. I was actually a little surprised to see what I initially perceived to be a lack of a Criterion influence on the game. And what I mean by that is I guess I automatically assumed when Criterion came on board, Hot Pursuit would feel like more of a Burnout game than Need for Speed. But instead Criterion has shown a great respect for the old Hot Pursuit formula and Need for Speed style of play.
Instead, it seems like Criterion’s influence will be seen more on the interactivity side with friends. As Archie mentioned, much of what they pioneered with Paradise will likely be present in Hot Pursuit’s Autolog mode. And in short the competitive insanity of Trials HD’s leaderboard for each track will reincarnate with Hot Pursuit. Players will be notified of things like best Bust times in Pursuit mode, and trying to one-up friends will likely become a constant. Plus, it was hard to get a hard confirmation of the details, but there has been talk about these scores and challenges transcending consoles, likely through EA’s login.
But EA’s producers were still coy about how some of those interactions would work, and wouldn’t divulge too many details about many of the game’s modes, so it’s hard to know how it will all play out when the game hits retail. Most of what we saw is the game’s signature Pursuit mode.
The way we played, it was one cop, one criminal, both in badass Lamborghinis (real-life versions of which, painted to match those in the game, were parked on Milwaukee Ave.). The object for the criminal is to get the hell away from the cop, far enough away for long enough that he wins by escape. The object of the cop is not only to prevent him from doing so, but to see how fast he can stop the criminal. How do you stop a criminal, you ask? By battering the hell out of the vehicle until damage hits 100 percent, of course.
Archie and I played roughly 10 match-ups (which for the record, I mostly won). It was neat to see in the same setting, same vehicles, same scenario, how much the match lengths fluctuated. Sometimes it was a quick stop by the cop, or quick escape by the criminal, but most of the time the two kept close enough for long enough, while still staying far enough apart, that matches lasted more than 5 minutes. And every one of them played out differently. It became quickly apparent that players will love experimenting with different techniques. For instance, sometimes as the criminal I relied on gunning it straightaway and deploying my tool set, while other times I’d try to get fancy and pull 180 spins just as the cop was about to run me down, sending him speeding forward while I was already going the other direction. In one instance, I actually used an awkward loop of track to kill tons of time with the cop chasing me around in circles like two kids running around a table after each other.
But it also became apparently that simple 1-on-1 matches with the same scenario would only hold interest for so long. Luckily, we saw eight slots in the multiplayer lobby. Though EA wouldn’t tell us much about the other modes, Pursuit mode was confirmed for eight players, and the best part about it is just about everything, including win conditions, is customizable. So it’s possible for a true badass criminal to try to outrun seven cops, or have a 4-on-4 where once 2 criminals escape it’s over for the police. The options seem to bust things wide open for user creativity online, from what we were told.
The brief demo we got of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit was undeniably fun. As Archie mentioned, some of the polish isn’t quite there yet (I saw assets disappear when heading through a tunnel and other minor bugs), but it’s still got a few months until its release. Pursuit mode was a lot of fun, and the options available in the final code sound awesome. But until more modes and options are announced, it’s still hard to know what gamers will receive for their money when the game hits shelves. But with Criterion behind the wheel, it stands to reason that they’ll be constantly tweaking the game to perfection, and post-release content will be plentiful.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is scheduled for release in November 2010, on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC.