After nearly a two-and-a-half-year hiatus, Electronic Arts is finally bringing back its most memorable racing franchise, Need for Speed, in the form of Hot Pursuit 2 for the PlayStation 2. The game is the sequel to the original Hot Pursuit, which was released in 1998 for the PC and the PSOne, and in that same vein, it will let you play as a speed demon who's out to leave the cops in the dust. Hot Pursuit 2 will also place the shoe on the other foot, so to speak, and let you chase down and bust those dirty speeders in one of several cop cars. We recently got hold of an 80-percent-complete build of the PlayStation 2 version of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2, and we've been impressed with what we've seen so far.
Even though Hot Pursuit 2 is the follow-up to Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit, Electronic Arts has actually released two other Need for Speed games--High Stakes and Porsche Unleashed--since then. Anyone who's played Porsche Unleashed knows that it eschewed several of the conventions that have popularized the Need for Speed franchise these past years--the most noticeable deviation was its inclusion of only a single car manufacturer, Porsche. While the game was well received among fans of the series, Electronic Arts is going back to its roots with Hot Pursuit 2 by including a wide variety of cars from a number of highly respected and recognizable manufacturers like Ferrari, BMW, McLaren, and Mercedes-Benz. But fans of Stuttgart's number one export will be glad to know that Porsche is also very well represented in Hot Pursuit 2. The game also has cars from some American manufacturers. The Corvette Z06, Dodge Viper, and Ford Mustang Cobra R are all available in the game, as is the ultimate cop car, the Ford Crown Victoria. Interestingly enough, Hot Pursuit 2 doesn't have any Japanese cars, though you won't really notice when you're sitting behind the wheel of the game's 360 Spider or pulling over speeders in your Lamborghini Murcielago cop car.
Hot Pursuit has a little more than 20 unique cars, though they're all quite exotic. In fact, the game's low-end car is the capable Opel Speedster, and cars like the powerful BMW M5 and Mercedes-Benz CL55 are located on the bottom end of Hot Pursuit 2's spectrum. On the high end of the scale, you'll find such rare exotics as the Porsche 911 Turbo, the Ferrari 550 Barchetta, and the world's fastest production car, the McLaren F1 LM. More intriguing than the collection of all of these coveted licenses within a single game is the fact that you can bang up these cars beyond recognition. It has always been assumed that licensing real-world cars was a difficult endeavor because so many of the manufacturers didn't want their cars displayed in anything other than a pristine manner. And while at the start of every race, the cars in the game all look like they rolled out of a showroom floor somewhere, by the end of a particularly long and brutal event, you'll notice gouges in the paint job, dents in the hood, cracked windshields, missing sideview mirrors, wobbly wheels, and even engines that belch thick, black smoke. No matter how damaged one of your cars might look, however, damage in Hot Pursuit 2 doesn't affect performance whatsoever--it's strictly an aesthetic bonus.
In addition to its stock selection of cars, Hot Pursuit 2 also has unique Need for Speed versions of all the vehicles that you can unlock as you progress through the game. These NFS variants look like their original counterparts but have a distinctive paint job and usually hide a few more horses under the hood. The NFS cars effectively double the total number of vehicles that you'll have access to in Hot Pursuit 2, though you'll come to find that they're among the toughest cars to unlock in the game.
Do You Feel the Need?
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 isn't a simulator-style game like Sony's Gran Turismo series or Sega's Sega GT games. Even though Porsche Unleashed and the very first Need for Speed game both had somewhat of a hard-core feel to them, all the other games in the franchise have been distinctively arcadelike. The same is certainly true for Hot Pursuit 2. Many of the tracks in the game feature sudden elevation changes, which will usually result in wild jumps and spectacular landings. In fact, the game makes a point of highlighting these occasional events through the use of slow-motion effects and camera techniques borrowed from The Matrix. When you hit a jump, for instance, the music and all ambient noise will suddenly fade out, and the camera will switch to a third-person perspective of your car in flight. This effect lasts for only a few moments, and the game wisely pauses for a fraction of a second before giving you control of the car, in order for you to get your bearings. This doesn't happen that often in each race, and there is an option to turn off this effect altogether. However, there is a certain audience that will undoubtedly eat this feature up, and for those people, Hot Pursuit 2 has a button that, when pressed, will pause the game for a few seconds and rotate the camera 360 degrees around your car, before resuming the race. This effect can be activated at any time and as many times in the race as you want.
These somewhat extravagant camera perspectives and visual effects are mirrored by the game's exaggerated physics model. Hot Pursuit 2 has two different handling options that you can choose from before every single race: classic and extreme. Classic, obviously, is more conservative than the latter option. Here, cars will behave somewhat predictably: They'll understeer during heavy cornering, they'll slow down significantly when they hit other objects, and so on. The extreme setting, on the other hand, is noticeably more visceral. All the cars, from the Lotus Elise all the way up to the Ferrari F50, will peel out madly under hard acceleration. In this mode, tapping the accelerator during a turn will cause oversteer, and running into oncoming traffic will be more devastating to them than it will be to you. It's much more satisfying to play the game with this setting, though the classic mode will undoubtedly please those who prefer a tamer driving experience.
The game is split into two primary modes: world racing and hot pursuit. Both share a basic gameplay structure--the more you race, the more cars and tracks you will unlock--but the former is composed of racing events without the interference of cops, whereas the latter will have the fuzz chasing you down every inch of the road. Both modes are made up of around 30 individual events that usually require you to successfully complete the early races before you can move on to the later levels. Each of these racing events has a specific theme (V10 hill climb, Ferrari 360 sprint, and so on) in a similar fashion to Gran Turismo's career mode. Within the world racing and hot pursuit modes, you'll also find an option for quick race, where you'll be able to drive any of the cars you've acquired on any of the tracks you've unlocked. You even have the option of playing as the cops, and you'll be able to set up roadblocks and even request assistance from a police helicopter when pulling speeders over. Do well initially, and you'll unlock more-powerful cop cars like the Z06, the BMW M5, and even the Lamborghini Diablo.
Hot Pursuit 2 is shaping up to be a worthy successor to the Need for Speed franchise. It includes everything that racing fans have come to expect from the series--exotic cars, high speeds, and very stylish graphics--and with around 60 unique racing events, it's sure to keep those fans busy for quite some time. Hot Pursuit 2 is scheduled for a fall release for the PlayStation 2 as well as the GameCube, Xbox, and PC. We'll bring you details on those versions as they become available, but in the meantime, get your Need for Speed fix by taking a look at the latest batch of screenshots and movies that we took from Hot Pursuit 2.