Cops and racers are the gaming world's cats and dogs--they're violently antagonistic towards each other, and it's never good to have them both in the same room. This long-held animosity will be the focus of UK studio Criterion's first stab at the Need for Speed franchise--Hot Pursuit--and follows up from its much-lauded work on Burnout Paradise two years ago. Criterion and publisher EA recently showed off the main competitive multiplayer mode for Hot Pursuit at a pre-TGS 2010 event, and we managed to get behind the wheel as both a speedy racer and a dogged cop to play out this classic struggle yet again on the open roads.
The game's titular Hot Pursuit mode sees you either as a racer or a cop. Your goal as a racer is to make it to the end point first by taking whatever roads (or shortcuts) are quickest, while cops need to hunt down and destroy all racer vehicles. Eight players will be able to compete online, with both types of drivers having access to a suite of four power-ups that will assist in your quest to escape or to detain.
We chose the law for the first few runs of our demo session, with our team of four cop cars having to run down a similarly sized squad of racers. Bringing down racers requires you to damage their vehicles enough to the point of breakdown, which you can either do by ramming into them, by forcing them into barricades, or by making them crash into other cars. Assisting you in this task are four power-ups--an EMP blast, road spikes, support helicopter, or road blocks. Calling in a road block will see a group of police vehicles and barricades set up in front of a racer, with only a minor gap in the wall to drive through. Spikes will similarly give racers plenty of steering hassles, as deploying them will see spikes stretch out across most of the width of a road, with only the edges free from the tire-damaging power-ups. Helicopters act like spikes on steroids--calling in one of these supports will see a chopper hover ahead of a racer, dropping road spikes for a set amount of time. The EMP will scramble a targeted racer's driving controls and is the only power-up that will require you to be in sight of your quarry to use. When you first deploy an EMP, a target reticle will appear onscreen, and you'll need to keep your chosen racer in your sights for a few seconds before the EMP hits. Choosing one of these power-ups to deploy is as simple as pressing a direction on the D pad, but some powers can't be stacked (such as the helicopter)--that is, two or more police choppers can't be in the air at once, which means you'll need to liaise with your fellow police officers to make sure you're using that chopper at the best time.
We found being a cop to be quite fun, although within the noisy confines of the demo room EA and Criterion had set up for Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, it was tough to coordinate strategy with our fellow lawmakers, so a couple of felons managed to finish the course and get away. Playing as a racer requires much less in the way of coordination, but requires plenty of quick reflexes and on-the-fly decision making. As a racer, your four power-ups are road spikes, a radar jammer, EMPs, or a turbo boost. EMPs here work similarly to the cop version, while road spikes for racers drop behind (as opposed to in front) in order to stop close-range pursuers. The radio jammer is a multifunction tool that can be used to either lose a cop's EMP lock or (better still) shrink the width of upcoming road spikes in order to make them much easier to avoid. The turbo acts like a souped-up nitro--triggering it will see the whole world seemingly go in slow motion, before your car surges ahead at huge speeds, leaving anything chasing you way back in your rear-view mirror.
As well as cops vs. racer action, Criterion revealed more details about autolog, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit's persistent online system that aims to build player rivalries without having to consistently engage in live head-to-head racing. The autolog system will automatically track all of your friends' activity in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit and will recommend challenges and tasks for you to undertake based on your friends' performances. All of these challenges will be time-based and will appear in your single-player game ready for you to undertake at any time. As well as challenges, Autolog will include a Facebook-like wall for you and your friends to post messages, pictures taken within the game, and any notable achievements you'd like to show off.
Hot Pursuit mode looks like a welcome return to the high-adrenaline chase feel of Need for Speed games of old, and we're keen on having more hands-on time with this fast-paced title. What's clear right now is that the game looks great, with Hot Pursuit having that same awesome sense of speed and controlled chaos that fans of Burnout Paradise will be used to. Look out for more information on Hot Pursuit as it gets closer to the game's release date in November 2010.