Review: Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit

There’s so much new in Hot Pursuit that the game feels the need to hold your hand as you open up each menu option, forcing you to listen to the voiceover long after you’ve pressed every button to skip it.  Racing games used to be immediate, but this Criterion developed (and EA published) title requires that you be patient and listen, at least at first: there’s a lot to take in and there’s a great deal that regular buyers of the now annual Need For Speed franchise will need a little time to feel comfortable with.  If this is you, then allow us a couple of paragraphs to ease you in and settle your nerves.  It’s worth it.

The car selection, the pre-race revving and snarling, the nitrous: it’s pure Underground, exhausts dripping fuel and the camera shaking like a hyperactive two year old. But once behind the wheel it’s back to Burnout of old – a bumpless ride, simple drift mechanics and huge understeer to make the most of those wide, sweeping corners and straights as far as the eye can see: on the plus side it’s like the best of the two classic series fused together as one, finally, but the reverse is that hardcore fans of both recent Need for Speeds and Burnout titles will need to readjust their outlook a little: Hot Pursuit isn’t really like either.


Criterion know how to make a racing game.

You can’t fault Criterion here, though, they know how to make a racing game and this Need For Speed is probably the finest since the long-running series began, bringing in the best aspects of Wanted with the very essence of what made the 1998 version of Hot Pursuit so enthralling, but it’s a Need for Speed that is so distinct from it’s recent forebearers that you can’t help but wonder what happened to the ridiculous spoilers or hammy acting – they’re not missed, of course, rather than their absence belies the name on the packaging.  Likewise, emphasis is (mostly) removed from gratuitous metallic carnage, something that the Burnout lineage is famous for.

This ‘somewhere in-between’ sensation is purely the result of the developer’s name on the box, and whilst Hot Pursuit is the reason we’re not being graced with a new Burnout title this year, fans of the latter shouldn’t skip this simply because it’s branded under a different moniker.  By virtue of a studio fully aware of their market (and that of the classic NFS games) and a publisher willing to let them flourish, Hot Pursuit has turned out to be rather enjoyable – not without quirks and a few missteps (and a slight loss of character under all that pristine sheen and insanely high production values) but on the whole it’s a convincingly solid title.

The good?  There’s a huge amount to do, and you’re free to dip in and out of the races, challenges, time trials and events as you please, unlocking them in a refreshingly open, non-linear manner.  The racing mechanics are finely tuned, too, preferring intuition and instinct over rote map learning and repetition, the last minute handbrake drift essential when you’re rocketing along a dusty road at over 200kph.  The choice of cars, too, opens up nicely (with rides available for ‘free’ once you achieve the required level) whilst ensuring that each class of car remains attached to a particular event removing the need to keep trading up.

Likewise, the Autolog is an inspired (but slightly underdeveloped) addition, a Facebook-esque interface that tracks everything you do and pits you against your online friends in its own submenu and your in-race HUD, offering up an endless array of challenges assuming you’ve got mates of a similar skill level (and if you haven’t, the game can suggest new friends that are more suitable).  You can also comment on your friends’ photographs in the ‘wall’, another social networking aspect slickly carried over.  It would have been nice to have constant in-race updates as to your location against others though (rather than just the end time) but it’s a solid start and one sure to be replicated in the future.

The various races and chases might be right up your street.

There’s potentially a hugely addictive online portion, too, featuring full races with fellow petrolheads and the single player’s neat split between street racers and the police (you can follow both career paths simulateously) carries over intuitively into the multiplayer.  There’s no split-screen, but if you’re someone that likes to spend hours battling with friends over the ‘net, Hot Pursuit’s various races and chases might be right up your street – it’s tricky for us to test this aspect pre-release, mind, and EA hadn’t sent over an online access code that the full game will contain, so our time online was strictly limited.

The bad?  There’s some heavy rubber-banding in the single player which keeps the races nice and tight (as is useful when you’re behind) but also means that races can be lost at the last corner through no fault of your own, save for your ability to see oncoming headlights, naturally.  There’s also the fact that the courses aren’t particularly thrilling, playing out across vast open spaces rather than the tightly packed (and hence far more charismatic) previous entrants in the series.  Think Drift and Pro:Street rather for reference, rather than Underground (and Burnout Paradise) and you’ll be somewhere close.

Another downer is the liquid smooth framerate wasn’t carried over from Criterion’s last, instead we’re locked at thirty frames per second which, whilst affording some lovely visual trickery can’t hope to replace the sense of speed you get with the full sixty.  My heart always sinks a little when a current-gen racing game rolls off the production line without having that, to me at least, single most important aspect, but it’s clear the developers chose graphical fidelity, draw distance and texture detail over sixty frames per second – sure, the game looks incredible in the photomode, but the difference in-game is apparent.

When all said and done, though, Hot Pursuit represents a remarkable return to form for the series, and a considerably brave one for the publisher.  The game’s deep but flexible structure offers up a smooth difficulty curve and the constant rewards (be they new courses, cars and bonuses) keep the interest high.  The addition of ‘weapons’ seems a little forced, but the ability to call in road blocks or drop spike strips behind will be much more appreciated online when you’re sure the AI isn’t cheating their way around your obstacles.


  • Deep single player and extensive online options
  • Autolog is a cool feature
  • The cars look and sound fabulous


  • The races aren’t always as exciting as they should be
  • The framerate, although solid, is a disappointment

Hot Pursuit is a refreshing reboot for a series that’s become tired and disjointed, with Criterion’s grip tightly controlling the direction of the game as much as the publisher.  As a result, this latest Need for Speed is the best it’s been for years, and although it’s naturally not going to be a game for everyone (and up against the juggernaut of Sony’s exclusive Gran Turismo 5 next week) anyone looking for a solid racing game this Christmas with a signficant emphasis on online competition should find this is well worth investigating, especially if you liked the demo.

Score: 8/10



  1. Before I even read this, yay for a TSA review on this!

    • Ok I read it now :)
      Great review. A few little niggles then? Shame to read those as they are areas that do matter to me. Still, overall it sounds great and I did enjoy the demo so a definite Chrimbo list item but perhaps not a launch day purchase, especially with GT5 so close behind it

      • LOL at EA’s timing! Releasing a racing game the same month as GT5 is madness… I remember NFS Hot Pursuit on the original PS being reviewed the same month as GT1. If anything in this game can match driving the Diablo around Redrock Ridge (heavy car cheat on!), I’ll take them both. They can compete for my affection again just like they did a decade ago!

      • yer but gt5 wasn’t suppose to be releacing this month it was ment to be ages ago

      • Huh? The only previous GT5 release date was Nov 5th.

  2. I thought it would be a 10 after seeing the video from all the reviews but we all have different opinions ;).
    Great review Alex, Criterion certianly knows hoe to make a great racing games, still looking forward to play this Thursday and Sunday for the meets. Man I still love Paradise and the feel of it racing was brilliant. Heck I’ll play it on Wednesday night for one more time =)

  3. Need For Speed is one of those franchises that has never interested me. Ive just never really commited to playing one for long enough to enjoy it. Ive dabbled here and there when round a mates house or something. I cant see this being any different for the time being unfortunately, mainly due to christmas and the fact that GT5 is above it on my list. Will hopefully get around to it though because I loved Criterion’s Burnout Paradise

    • Don’t look at the fact it’s a need for speed. Look at the fact it’s made by criterion. It has more in common with burnout that any other need for speed.

    • Same, i like Burnout more :)

      • Same comment to you. This may be a need for speed by brand, but it’s probably more similar to burnout than it is previous need for speeds. So preferring burnout may mean this is the game for you.

  4. Great review, enjoyed the demo, had a bit of an autolog competition with a housemate (and lost, damn you FunkyMunkyy!) but at the same time I just felt it was lacking somewhere. The 30fps as a bit of a letdown and when not sliding the cars handled sluggishly, even if they were the first cars in the game. Still, if it wasn’t for you know what just around the corner I would have been buying and maybe will sometime far in the future.

    Like a lot of people I guess I would have preferred a new Burnout but I guess we will have to wait on that one!

  5. I thank you for a great review Alex – However, my wallet does not! In fact, i think it shed a little tear whilst i read, as it knew that i was bound to be picking it up. :)
    Saying that, i can’t really blame you as it was pretty inevitable really, as i love criterion & burnout & so it was pretty much purchased as soon as i heard that they were working on this!

  6. Good review and honest score, from what I’ve seen so far it probably is an 8. I may be looking at the game with those good old rose tinted glasses, but I can’t wait, I loved the Hot Pursuit game on PS2 and have that as my bench mark as the best NFS so far and this reminds me so much of that game!

    • Me too, that was the first and still the best NFS game I bought. Although Most Wanted came quite close!

  7. Hopefully I will have this for xmas, but right now as far as racing games are concerned I am all about GT5

  8. Nice review. (i dont like the word nice, it sounds hammy lol)the game looks the business and i loved the demo but with GT5 so close, i cant afford both so this is being demoted to ‘pick up when cheap’. Intresting about the framerate, i didnt notice it in the demo.

    • oooh and another thing, i like the way you highlight tidbits of the review and make them stand out like some magazines do. A nice break from masses of text.

      • I also noticed this. Nice touch.

      • He’s done that out of the blue and then just emailed me and gone “I’ve added some cool little text highlights” as if it was the most normal thing in the world! I didn’t even know that was an option!
        Lovely aren’t they?
        Great review too, sounds like something my dad would probably really enjoy. Might get him of Fallout 3 for a little while…

      • Veh snazzy. I like.

      • Yes, those bits are awesome. Makes up for the rest of the review being so rubbish, in fact. I mean, come on, an 8/10! ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME! AN 8!


    • It will be interesting to see how the recently announced ‘final’ release date of GT5 affects sales of NFS – I have seen many a comment saying that people will be picking NFS up on the cheap later on down the line due to the imminent release of GT5 & i can’t help but feel a bit sorry for NFS really with the behemoth lurking around the corner teasing their sales away from them!

      • What will be interesting, will be seeing the PS3/360 split in sales.

        I think they’re usually broadly even, give or take ~5%, but if we see the 360 claiming considerably more than 55% of NfSHP sales, then we know Sony will have harmed PS3 sales, with their hype-building silence over GT5.

  9. From sinking some hours into the demo, the impossibly distant vanishing point & rock solid framerate is more important than a double-speed top end, but variable framerate.

    The draw distance & the clarity of that draw distance is all important in this style of action, you need to be able to see the oncoming traffic, or the spike strips and if fixing the framerate to 30fps is the only way to do it, then so be it, unfortunately.

    Still, who cares, it will be a blast and will keep me going until Black Box do something else for Disney Studios or Criterion become a 2 game studio and get something else on the go – because if they’re nailed to the wall on this franchise like it sounds like they are at the moment, I won’t be too happy with EA for choking yet another Dev

    • cc, the burnout paradise framerate was DOUBLE, and it was still solid. I think 60fps is a hugely significant selling point, just look at CoD, GT5 etc…

      • Ignore the rest of my comment about the draw distance and clarity being more important then…

        Normally stuff degrades in the distance into a bit of a mess or blur, perhaps by trading off the framerate they have been able to have this level of visual fidelity, lighting etc it looks simply gorgeous along with the impossibly distant draw distances Burnout Paradise’s graphics have nothing on this

        CoD’s fantastic, but incomparable and so is GT5, which has far from a solid frame rate (in its previous incarnations) it also has shitty AI where cars follow a pre-determined route on a track, like some rudimentary LittleBigPlanet baddie following a path, kinda like synchronised-driving as they go round a circuit in procession.

        The only comparable game is Burnout Paradise, which sacrificed visual quality for high framerate

      • The AI isn’t like that in GT5 now, drivers have personalities and they race each other and you. Actually they raced each other in GT4 as well.

      • jambo, i was pants a GT5p, you’ll have to teach me lol

      • maybe its my t.v. but i thought paradise was more detailed than hot pursuit. I appreciate the shadows + lighting though – never seen anything more realistic (perhaps real life :P).

      • Hey Spikey, we will have to get going on the track days then! I will get you some nice stable setups so you can push the car without spinning!

  10. I think there’s enough room on people’s shelves for both this and Gt5, wallet affording. Both very different games from what i can gather. 1s a simulation, the other’s arcadey. If you’ve got the money why do you have to choose 1 or the other?

    • and that’s why at some point I shall be getting both as they are 2 very different games to me

    • I’ve been saying this all along. I had Burnout and GT4 on my PS2, never felt like one negated the desire for the other.
      I suppose the argument is that GT5 and this are both coming out close together and close to Christmas so if you are in a position to only get one game, GT5 might edge this out and mean you don’t get it at all. That must surely only be a small subset of the game buying public

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