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Preview | Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit

Thrill in the Chase…

Format: Xbox 360/PS3/Wii/PC | Genre: Racing | Publisher: EA | Developer: Criterion Games | ETA: 19/11/2010

Andreas Varotsis chases down NEED FOR SPEED: HOT PURSUIT.

WHEN CRITERION announced to the world they’d be the geniuses behind the next Need for Speed, we all hoped they’d inject some much needed Burnout, speed induced fever into EA’s inconsistent, gangster-wannabe step-child. After much feverish anticipation and general fanboy glee, I finally managed to get my grubby hands on the Hot Pursuit demo at the Eurogamer expo – and the results are not at all what I expected.

I’d best start this with a rather important disclaimer – I love Burnout Paradise. Far too much for my own good, in fact: I’ve clocked more hours on Criterion’s latest foray into nitrous induced suicide in metal boxes with wheels than on any other game since Counterstrike kidnapped my soul and held it to ransom in the 10th grade. I’m hopelessly addicted to the utterly manic handling, closer to some sort of futuristic bike than any car you’ll ever drive – it made driving through the stunning vistas of Paradise a pleasure I couldn’t hope to put down without having explored every nook and cranny of the delightful isle.

Sadly, lo and behold, the first thing any Burnout fan will notice is that, while the team behind Hot Pursuit may be pure Criterion, the handling and presentation are Need for Speed through and through. The vehicles are a far cry away from Burnout’s ultra-nimble rocket-cars, instead sitting astride the fence in the eternal battle between arcade and simulation. While you’ll still find yourself relying on the handbrake as if it were a gift from the gods, it’s not the perfectly manageable ally you’ve come to know and love from Paradise, and even the most nimble of super-cars will feel like a lumbering hulk to a Burnout veteran.

Putting the car before the horse

No matter how you find they handle, however, you’d be hard put to not be amazed by the motorized wonders the EA name has secured for this latest outing. While we were only allowed to attempt the supercar category – a quick look through the menu revealed it was but one of many, with other promising brackets like “exotics” still to come in the final product – it remained a shockingly extensive selection. If you’ve ever watched Top Gear, you should feel right at home: Zondas and Bugattis, Porsches and BMWs, they’re all there. Ferrari is the notable exception, but as long as I’m allowed to crash a Veyron into some poor sod at high speed, I’m not particularly fussed.

Yes, there will be a lot of crashing. Shocking, entirely inappropriate, and undeniable awesome amounts of crashing. Unlike Paradise, taking down opponents is a far more predictable art : 5 diminutive and easily squandered chunks of health are proudly displayed above your car, and are slowly chipped away as you’re barged by your rivals – and once the meter’s been completely depleted, you’ll be treated to Criterion’s trademark spectacular collisions, the camera sweeping into grandiose slow motion to enhance your inevitable humiliation. Every crash depletes a life, and when you’re out of lives, it’s curtains down and game over as you’re relegated to observer mode for the remainder of the round.

As we were restricted to the multiplayer mode, details on overall game structure are still sketchy, but a quick chat with the rather helpfuldesigner confirmed that Paradise’s open world structure has been relegated to the history books for this opus. Instead, you’ll select events directly from a map, although some race types will see you left to hunt your prey down in an open city. Sadly, we were restricted to a rather desolate mountainside racetrack, but even that short stint into Hot Pursuit’s testosterone fuelled world showed that Criterion’s emphasis on polish is still alive and well. Although the track was not particularly innovative in its construction – largely consisting of just a long, wide road towards the finish line – it was peppered with shortcuts, destructible scenery, and stunning vistas.

How the entire product will come together then, is still undecided, but it already looks to be a tight, beautiful, and solid sequel – although it may disappoint a few fans. It’s neither what I was expecting it to be, nor what I was hoping it would be. The bastard stepchild of two franchises, Hot Pursuit looks to be a promising hybrid, a satisfying racer that’ll hopefully amount to more than the sum of it’s parts. For good or ill, Criterion have chosen to create something entirely new – here’s hoping it all comes together.

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