Burnout developer Criterion Games has taken the Need For Speed torch from EA and crafted a modern driving game experience sprinkled with a little bit of nostalgia.
The cops are back, NFS:HP returns to the cops versus the racers roots of the franchises early days. But the cops of Seacrest County are a special group, with access to some of the most expensive pieces of technology on the road today.
You realise just how fanciful this all is early on, high speed chases with scant regard for civilian motorists or property damage, in cars such as the Bugatti Veyron cops will take down racers as violently as possible. It is obviously a setting that differentiates NFS from simulation games such as Gran Turismo 5 and even the upcoming Shift 2 (formally a Need For Speed branded piece of code).
Structure wise, budding speedsters – once they are past all the EA login process – have the choice of playing as cops or racers, with 20 levels in each career to be explored, events are selected from locations on the Seacrest County map, with some variety in the environments. Wide open highways, snow-swept mountain curves, rainy night time blasts through the forest and sunny coastal cruises.
As a racer, for some reason you are compelled to, well, race, beating the opposition playboy rich kids to some arbitrary set of flares a number of miles down the road. There are five different racer ‘missions’, all involve driving as fast as possible and staying out of the laws way.
Cops events are a little more pedestrian (!) in what is on offer. The best is Hot Pursuit, where you must take down as many racers as possible before the finish line. Takedowns require doing damage to other cars, this can be achieved by using nitrous boost (stupidly accumulated by dangerous driving, such as being in the oncoming lanes, drifting, near misses and so on) to ram other cars, or employing one of four weapons; spike strips dropped from the car’s rear or dropped from a helicopter called in, an EMP blast that damages and immobilises or – my favourite – calling for a road block ahead of the racers.
Racers get spike strips, jamming equipment, turbo boost and EMP to aid in their escape. Likewise, there are alternative routes around Seacrest to help avoid roadblocks.
Each event garners up to three levels of bounty, which simply moves Racer or Cop up the level tree. The levels don’t mean too much however, each level has three or four unlock partitions per level, giving access to new cars, better equipment and these come at a steady pace throughout the single player game.
The driving itself is something Criterion has nailed for some time now, getting just the right mix of grip and drift, with discernable differences between cars of different power, wheelbase length and so forth, but not getting bogged down with too much simulation detail here. Where is my cockpit view though?
So you won’t find any tuning screens, any tire changes for different weather or road conditions, in fact there is no customisation at all, only Racers get to change the colour of their car. There are some nice commentaries on the different cars as they are introduced with superlatives such as “resolute & strong willed” to describe the vehicles; it makes you feel like you are a car-buff without all the getting greasy part. It is easy to get excited and feel privileged when the Aston Martin One-77 hits your car stable.
Taking NFS:HP online is where a large proportion of the fun is to be had. If my Xbox 360 had not red ringed three races into the game, forcing a switch to the PS3, I could have told you firsthand about how friend’s scores, recommendations and rival challenges are all integrated into the game. Nobody on my PS3 friends list were playing the game, insert sad-face icon here.
There are only three modes of online play (over a four car classes), and here, only Hot Pursuit is worth playing really. In Hot Pursuit, up to four cops attempt to take down four racers. It is an interesting game-play mode. As Racers, your individual goal is to win the race, but underlying this is a kind of thieves’ team-work concept to help each other avoid the chasing Cops. Similarly, as Cops there is the overriding goal of taking down the racers, with an individual goal of being the Cop with the most busts.
Like Activision’s Blur, the online races are nail biters, with some races finishing with only one cop and one racer left in the match, each with fenders hanging and body work beaten up. Whereas Blur is simply Mario Kart in real car clothes, NFS:HP is more real car racing with only a smattering of Mario Kart elements thrown in. The balance is pretty good.
Spectacular smashes are given the cinematic slo-mo touch by Criterion, but the penalty is not great in terms of time lost, and in the single-player game, Criterion has managed to hide the effects of rubber banding (where AI cars will slowdown or speed up depending on what the player does) well, though it is definitely there.
For sheer exhilarating fun, it is hard to fault NFS:HP. It is definitely more fun playing through the game as a Racer, but it is nice to see the Cops return to the series in such a spectacular form.