Need for Speed Hot Pursuit is an unusual videogame in that you’re put behind the wheel of a cop car, and you haven’t stolen it. You actually play as a police officer in this game, something the Grand Theft Autos and street racing games of the world have made feel like unfamiliar territory. The rest of Hot Pursuit won’t feel quite as fresh if you’ve played the Burnout series, but when something’s done this well– even if it’s been done before– we can’t complain too much.
Hot Pursuit is set up like many racing games. In the single player campaign, you compete in challenges on 24 tracks across four tiers of advancing difficulty. You can earn up to three stars on each track, which gives you “bounty” that unlocks new tracks, higher tiers, and more specced-out police cars.
If only there was time to admire the sunset.
What sets it apart from other racing games is that much of the time the focus isn’t on being the first to the finish line. Instead, you’re chasing criminals, and the goal is to whittle away at their health meters by smashing into their vehicles or forcing them to hit oncoming traffic. You even get police tools to assist you, like road blocks, spike strips, and electromagnetic pulses. You win by making these low-lives crash and burn in glorious slow motion. Yes, victory is sweet.
Traditional challenges, where you race other cops or try to reach checkpoints before the time runs out, are also included; but these aren’t as exciting as the takedowns. The gameplay feels spot-on overall, with tilt steering and automatic acceleration. You can flick the screen to use a nitro boost or perform a skidding 180. It’s all very natural, and you’ll get the hang of it very quickly.
Another high point is the graphics. Big colorful skies stretch over a variety of environments that look great as they stream by. The cars are shiny, and they travel suitably fast. Everything looks particularly crisp and enhanced on Retina displays. Even the onscreen user interface stands out as particularly cool– it’s very Minority-Report-modern.
Road blocks only stop chumps.
But don’t expect to breeze through the game. Enemy cars drive fast and intelligently, and pesky civilians never pull over to let you by, so you’ll have to dodge them as well. Even earning two stars on most tracks takes serious precision steering. To reward you for your hard work, the game doles out achievements liberally. And if you re-play challenges you’ve already completed you can rack up enough bounty to unlock faster cars early.
So far so good, but there’s a pretty big oversight: Multiplayer is local only, via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, and it’s limited to one-on-one. We’ve seen plenty of other racers, like GT Racing: Motor Academy and Split/Second offer online racing options, making us miss them all the more here– particularly because we can imagine how fun it would be to run real people off the road.
But if it’s Burnout-style takedowns you’re looking for in a racer, look no further. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit has great racing mechanics, killer speed, and awesome graphics. It doesn’t push the genre forward like how Need for Speed Shift did, but the experience is highly polished nevertheless. We just wish we could bring our road rage online.