Constant one-upmanship is the basis of Criterion’s first stab at the Need for Speed licence. Its Autolog feature tracks your friends’ progress, showing you their high scores and in which events they’re beating you, allowing you to challenge them in a constant battle for superiority. In a system similar to the news stream of Facebook, you can see what your friends are up to, pictures of cars they’ve uploaded, and videos of their best racing moments. The system even intelligently recommends which races to play based on this activity, creating a custom career experience for each player.
Though the social gameplay integration is intriguing, what matters most is how the cars handle on the track. We went hands-on with a multiplayer race against five opponents, without any police interference. To begin, we picked a car, going for a rather splendid bright-yellow Porsche Boxster. The race kicked off with the cars already at speed, with our opponents scrapping for first place. The car handling was arcade-style, with an extremely satisfying drift mechanic that made it easy to slide around corners. Our car was equipped with a boost, which was charged by driving dangerously. By swerving around cars, drifting, and ramming our opponents, the boost charged quickly, allowing us to make our way up to second place. Using the boost resulted in requisite motion blur, which gave us a great feeling of speed as we sped along the track.
Though there were no cops around to hamper our racing efforts, we still had to deal with our rivals constantly ramming our car and attempting to wreck it. We noticed bits of our car fly off when we were hit, with panels and paint work becoming more damaged. Fans of the Burnout series will recognise the “wrecked” animation, which shows your crash in horrifying detail in slow motion. While we weren’t able to race against cops, we were shown a demo that featured many an epic chase along a highway. This showed off more Criterion-style touches, in particular the slow motion and camera zooms which highlighted when the cops set up road blocks or dropped stingers across the road. Other police tools we saw included helicopter units and the police interceptor, which was a supercar decked out in cop colours.
The final race Criterion showed us highlighted many of the graphical effects in the game. It started off on a rainy track, with realistic-looking spray flying from the back of the tyres. This soon gave way to sunshine, and we could see reflections along the bodywork of the car. The race then transitioned to nighttime, with street lamps and moonlight creating a neon glow across the road. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is due for release on November 16 in North America and November 19 in Europe. Head over to gamescom.gamespot.com for more of our coverage from Cologne.