Need For Speed is arguably the most uneven ongoing series in videogame history. Some series installments are good (Underground); some are bad (Undercover). And some, like Shift, are competent but dull.
The one indelible moment in the series, and likely the sole reason the brand endures, is 2002’s Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2. It’s fêted in gaming circles as one of the great racing games of all time. It’s the benchmark against which all Need For Speed installments are forever measured. Electronic Arts wisely hired developer Criterion Games—makers of the consistently excellent Burnout series—and tasked them with recreating that indelible moment. The result: a high-definition do-over of Hot Pursuit 2.
As with the original, the core moment of Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit comes in two core flavors: chase or be chased. The chasers, of course, are the police. With the taillights of a reckless driver forever disappearing around the next bend, gamers get the chance to see what it feels like to be The Man. Slamming into prey until they finally slump off to the shoulder is cathartic fun, but deploying spike strips, then watching your victim spin out in the rearview mirror, is one of the year’s must-experience gaming moments.
Being chased also has its appeal. Speeding through roadblocks or juking a pursuing Crown Victoria into a collision with an oncoming car makes gamers understand why Bo and Luke Duke always yodeled while evading Rosco P. Coltrane.
One minor gripe: Hot Pursuit is entirely narrative-free. While the yo-dawg storylines in Underground and Most Wanted were heavy on the cheese, a narrative nudge—are you a bank robber? a drug dealer with a haybale-sized cache of marijuana in your trunk?—would have furthered Hot Pursuit’s dramatic reach.
Aside from the 15-hour single-player game, Hot Pursuit also features a Facebook-like online mode called Autolog. Via a steady stream of peer pressure—so-and-so just achieved a personal best in this event, etc.—Autolog is constantly hustling strong-arm gamers into one-upping each other online.
In a year already crowded with terrific racing sims—Blur and Split/Second—this hybrid of two franchises, this homage and evolution, distinguishes itself nicely.