A return to the glory days of NFS, or just another letdown? Read on to hear an opinion from an old-school NFS fan.

User Rating: 9 | Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit PS3
So, here we are in 2010, and we've been presented with Criterion's take on the Need for Speed (NFS) series. After numerous failures and disappointments, many fans have ditched the series. I was not one of them, but I did indeed see a drastic need for NFS to return to its roots. Exotic cars, beautiful tracks, intense police chases, and the ability to play as the cops...this was what had made the classic NFS games such as NFS3 and High Stakes so enjoyable even to this day. The Underground games, however, appealed to tuner fans and ditched the police aspect. Most Wanted and Carbon brought back police, but kept most of the same "feel" that was present in UG and UG2, including the tuning and cheesy narrative. Pro Street took the series to track-based, police-free racing and was a terrible failure. Undercover was an attempt to make a game similar to Most Wanted and also similar to an action movie, and for the most part, failed at being successful. Shift was yet another attempt at track-based, police-free racing, this time banking on a new cockpit camera view and collision system, and the game was moderately successful. But now, we have Hot Pursuit. So how does it fit into the series?

First things first, HP returns the series to exotic cars, epic locales, and hot pursuits. All of this is inside of Seacrest County, which is a connection of four distinct areas (desert, snowy mountains, forest, and coastline). Every bit of every environment is rich with detail and it sucks you in from the moment you first hit the pavement in the supercar of your choice.

Speaking of hitting the pavement, there are many ways to do so. If you want to simply explore Seacrest County and learn its shortcuts and scenery, you can do so in either Freedrive or Patrol mode for racers or cops respectively. No police will be present in this mode, meaning that you cannot be chased by the cops around the open world in free-roam mode, and you also cannot get into races while in this mode. It is purely for cruising around the county, learning shortcuts, practicing driving, and taking photos.

The meat of the game is the extensive career mode. There is no story or plot at all in HP, aside from the fact that you're either a novice speeder new to the county who needs to make a name for himself, or a rookie cop joining the ranks of the SCPD. All solo events are accessed through the career menu, and you can choose between cop or racer events, with the SCPD giving you 48 missions and the racers giving you 60. These events are as follows:

Racer -

1 - Race (simple point-to-point race with no cops or weapons)
2 - Hot Pursuit (race with police involved and access to weapons)
3 - Time Trial (get from point A to point B as fast as possible)
4 - Preview (drive a car from a not-yet-unlocked tier in a Time Trial)

Cop -

1 - Hot Pursuit (bust as many racers as you can before they reach the finish)
2 - Interceptor (bust one suspect in an open-world pursuit with no set track)
3 - Rapid Response (get from point A to point B as fast as possible without damaging your car)
4 - Preview (drive a car from a not-yet-unlocked tier in an event)

You are awarded medals for passing racer events, with either a Gold, Silver or Bronze depending on your performance. The higher the medal, the more bounty you earn. Bounty levels you up and unlocks new cars, weapon upgrades, and events. In a similar way, cops are awarded either a Distinction (Gold), Merit (Silver), or Pass (Bronze) depending on your performance. This earns you cop bounty, separate from your racer bounty, and works towards leveling you up with new police cars, police weapon upgrades, and police events. Speaking of weaponry, both cops and racers have access to special abilities during Hot Pursuits and Interceptor events, and they are as follows:

Racer -

1 - Turbo (huge boost of acceleration for a short period of time)
2 - Jammer (blocks police from using all weapons and closes any present spike strips on the road for a short time)
3 - EMP (burst of energy that damages the car that it hits...can be fired at vehicles in front of you and takes time to lock on)
4 - Spike Strip (drop a spike strip from the back of your car that damages those who hit it)

Cop -

1 - Helicopter (call in a chopper to track the lead racer as well as drop spikes in front of him)
2 - Road Block (call in a wall of police cars just ahead of the racers)
3 - EMP (burst of energy that damages the car that it hits...can be fired at vehicles in front of you and takes time to lock on)
4 - Spike Strip (drop a spike strip from the back of your car that damages those who hit it)

If you want to play HP online, you need an online pass from EA, which is included in all new copies of the game (you can also buy one for $10 separately). Online modes include Race, Hot Pursuit (8 players alternated between cop and racer), and Interceptor. I have experienced hardly any lag what-so-ever, even when playing with a friend of mine from Germany (I'm in Florida). Lobbies and matches themselves are easy and straight-forward to get into as well.

The car list in the game is extremely impressive, with several different tiers for both racers and cops (Sport, Performance, Super, Exotic, Hyper). You'll start off the game in cars such as the Porsche Boxter for the racers and the lowly Crown Vic for the SCPD, but you quickly find yourself moving into more exotic territory such as the GT500 and Nissan 370Z, and from there you'll progress to Aston Martins, the Jaguar XKR, the Lamborghini Gallardo, and beyond all the way up to the Pagani Zonda, Mclaren F1 and Bugatti Veyron. The journey to these cars is never boring nor too difficult, and after about every other event completed in either solo play or multiplayer, you find yourself earning a new car so long as you perform reasonably well. This keeps things exciting and the prospect of "just one more race so I can get that next car!" is always hanging around.

Now that I've covered most of the facets of the game, I need to get to what's most important: gameplay. If the game isn't fun, you won't want to play it. Thankfully, Criterion has done an excellent job of making this arcade racer feel the way an arcade racer should feel. There is tight handling (which some may find a tad unresponsive but I quite enjoy) which is counteracted by a drift system that is easy to master after just a short period of practice and a light touch on the handbrake button. Nitrous boost is present for both cops and racers. For cops, it recharges by slipstreaming other cars, driving fast, and drifting. For racers, you need to drive dangerously...drive into oncoming traffic, slipstream, drift, and wreck police cars.

Playing as a racer, you have access to nitrous with a slightly longer duration, which is helpful for trying to overtake other racers. Cops have access to nitrous with a shorter duration which is more helpful for quick acceleration than it is for a long speed boost. But the fact that police vehicles are specially tuned for speed and acceleration evens this out, and the cops rarely have difficulty keeping up with those who try to flee justice, unless they are thwarted by racer weaponry or outsmarted and outmaneuvered by superior drivers. Drivers who find themselves near the back of the pack in a online race will gain a longer duration of nitrous, as well as the bonus of having it recharge a bit faster.

A few issues that I noticed with the game are, for the most part, minor but irritating. In rare instances (about two or three times total since I've played the game), I've been the victim of wrecking my car into an invisible traffic vehicle that only pops into view after said crash. This isn't always a big deal as your car respawns shortly after crashing with only a shunted health bar, but it's very annoying when the pressure is on to bust that last racer and he gets away because of a glitch. Speaking of busting racers, I know that many people were not fans of the system of how it's done...namely, smash up the racer's car until their damage bar is depleted and they're auto-busted. It IS possible to bust racers by bringing them to a halt for several seconds, but it generally isn't practical.

Another major feature in the game is Autolog, described as the "heart of NFS Hot Pursuit". Autolog automatically keeps track of friends' records on events, allows you to view recommended events based on what your friends have been doing, can recommend new people for your friends list, allows you to post messages on the "wall", allows you to share photos taken in-game to the wall...you get it. Overall, Autolog is a very nice and helpful feature in many cases, but I feel that it was pushed a bit too far. It's constantly shoving so much data in front of you that you may start to feel a bit overwhelmed and find yourself saying "I don't care about this, just let me race by myself".

And for a bit of miscellaneous info, here goes:

There is no split-screen support and no offline multiplayer
Custom soundtracks are supported
Controls are entirely customizable
Headlights (and sirens for cops) can be turned on/off as well as ignition
There is no horn button
There is no car-customization aside from picking paint color
There is no option for manual transmission
There is no cockpit camera view
Almost all cars are available for both cops and racers
Every car can be "showcased" and has an audio description in-game
Police can alternate between 3 different siren noises (by choice)
Some events take place at night or in the rain

In closing, Hot Pursuit from Criterion is a marvelous game that mostly returns the series to its glory days. Much of the spirit of the classic NFS games is present (especially Hot Pursuit 2 on the PS2), but this game is distinctly Criterion in its feel and many elements of Burnout are clearly noticable. This is not a bad thing though, and it makes for addictive, immersive, and highly entertaining gameplay. If you've been waiting for the old-school NFS games to return, now is the time to pick up Hot Pursuit. I'll see you in Seacrest County.

Sincerely, RedHawk4