Out of all the games coming out in 2010, we've probably played more of Criterion's Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit than any other game. It wowed us at E3, winning our sister site's 'Racer of the Show' award; it delighted us in sunny Cologne at Gamescom; and we spent many an hour on it at PAX. It had nothing to do with the swarms of booth babes employed to roam the stand... honest.
Last week though, we headed into EA's Guildford office and home of Criterion, to get our first proper extensive hands on with the November title and it somehow impressed us even more... if that was possible.
The purpose of this latest hands-on was to show off its hugely addictive multiplayer modes which have the don't-wanna-pass-the-pad aura surrounding them; the true keystone of all successful multiplayer games.
Before delving into the finer intricacies of the online multiplayer, it was time to warm up with a couple of single player races involving a time trial or two, a race and a takedown event: playing as a cop. Everything you do in-game goes towards the two progression systems, depending on which of the two factions you line up behind: racer & chaser – i.e. the cop. If you want to flick between the two though, by all means, you can, and rather than having to grind for hours to unlock the best car, Senior Producer, Matt Webster informs us that it’ll only take you three races to unlock the box art car. That being said, there are plenty of unlocks dispersed throughout as you progress through the career, with additional unlocks coming as you earn more experience points and rank up each career.
Now that we were suitably warmed up, there was nothing else to do but to show our chompers to the opposition and face-off in some 4 vs 4 ‘Hot Pursuit’ online matches; with 4 coppers trying to take down 4 racers, before they reach the finish line.
It’s somewhat similar to the mode we went hands-on with in LA at this year’s E3, but with 8 players instead of 2, and it’s a hell of a lot more interactive, intense and definitely more high-octane. While the objective of the cop at E3 was to take down the racer, it was the job of the racer to escape the grasp of the cops by getting out of their reach. Here? Nothing as civil, as the 4 cops must batter the hell out of the 4 racers, wrecking their cars, before they reach the finish line. The end result? Absolute carnage, a ton of mayhem and bundles of fun.
This isn’t just a straight up race with a bit of argy-bargy, oh no. It’s all-out war, and thanks to a handful of useful weapons, the race is tactical as well as explosive. To survive as a racer, jamming police communications can be a godsend, as can the turbo – which is a lot quicker than the nitrous – and the incapacitating spike strips, which I’d say was the racer’s greatest weapon if timed right.
The EMP for the cops can be one of most powerful weapons out, especially if your timing is impeccable. The EMP basically works like a charge of power in front of you and scrambles the electrics of its eventual target – friend or foe! However, lining up the shot and hitting the racer is a different kettle of fish. Using it on the corner is risky, but can reap the biggest reward if you’re successful, causing the racer to roll or leaving you with the perfect op to nosedive into your opponent’s lovely rendered chassis laughing at the disabled heap of junk you left behind – an expensive and gorgeous heap of junk, mind. On the straight is the most effective place to use it, but with a lack of manual targeting, make sure you don’t waste it on a fellow cop.
If that fails, the police have helicopters to call in, who drop spike strips in front of the racers and more importantly, road blocks to slow your foes down. Whether you’re a cop or a racer though, beware, you only have a limited amount of each to use per race, so use them wisely.
It’s a game mode that be either played as a lone-wolf or as a team. If anything, although you get more experience points if you win, sometimes as a racer, it may be necessary to sacrifice a teammate to save your own ass – something which I unashamedly admit that I did on more than one occasion. Working together though as the cops is more viable, and with 4 opponents to whittle down, it seems stupid for all 4 of you to concentrate on the one car.
As you’re probably well aware as well, part of the Need For Speed franchise’s lure is the whole high risk, big reward shortcuts that have been present in all of the successful iterations of the franchise. Hot Pursuit is no different and while there may be over 100 miles of road – making it 4 times bigger than Burnout Paradise – you can expect 30% more in terms of shortcuts according to Webster.
Our experience with shortcuts in the hands-on ranged from: “Holy crap, I’ve been on this shortcut for about 30-odd seconds now” to “Wow, I really didn’t see the turning for that one.” The former was a result of a dirt road that swooped underneath the track amidst the pillars holding the highway up above our heads, bringing us back out on the tarmac after what seemed like an eternity, while the latter was the result of racing in the dark. The 3 hour hands-on was enough to satisfy our shortcut needs though.
Ever since the announcement of their title at this year’s E3, Criterion has been keen to push the idea that they’re instilling 3 core tenets back into the Need For Speed franchise: epic drives, exotic cars and cops; three things that the original series built its success upon. While it’s obvious that these are all present and correct in Hot Pursuit, I’d argue that Need For Speed was a lot more than that. It’s about these intense battles, the risks of taking a shortcut and the thrill of the chase... something that Criterion has managed to instil in the title as well, which bodes very well indeed for this festive period.
Need For Speed is scheduled for a release on November 16th and November 19th in North America and Europe respectively.