It was a lengthy, arduous duel but, when that last squeeze of nitrous cannoned my Porsche 911 GT3 RS police cruiser into the back of the fugitive Nissan 370Z Coupe, I got my reward. The hapless Nissan flipped skyward, smashing into a nearside guardrail in a cinematic slow-motion spasm of broken glass and crumpled metal.
Need For Speed Hot Pursuit delivers moments of vehicular conflict and channeled road-rage for engrossing cops-vs-speeders combative driving (for the first time since 2005's NFS: Most Wanted), but hits some potholes along the way.
The single-player features full career modes for both cops and scofflaw street racers, and allows you to alternate between them at will as you compete to generate bounty points to increase your Wanted Level (or Police Rank) and unlock new cars, events and weapons.
But between the spike strips, EMPs, and roadblocks it's a challenge to keep your high-speed ride moving forward. These momentum-killers can be a pain at times—especially unanticipated spike strip deployments—but they do reinforce the chaotic nature of illegal street racing. It's all part of a structured and surprisingly addictive adversarial system where you push your chosen ride to its limits in a flat-out effort to win races or stop speeders from endangering public safety (ironically by smashing into them at high speed).
Not so hot
With full licensing from such manufacturers as Audi, Aston Martin and Koenigsegg, developers Criterion (of Burnout fame) have assembled an impressive real-world stable—it's the prime draw of the game. Sadly, none of these machines feature a proper cockpit view (an unconscionable downgrade from last year's NFS: Shift) and the simplistic, tail-happy physics modeling only delivers a token challenge. Hot Pursuit is a poor partner for that pricey force-feedback steering wheel—your on-screen Alfa or Mercedes will respond just as well to a basic Xbox 360 Windows gamepad.
Despite the lack in hardcore driving depth, Hot Pursuit's fictional Seacrest County scenery offers a postcard-pretty if exclusively rural backdrop, and the dynamic lighting and wet-weather effects inject welcome atmosphere. You may not believe you're driving a real McLaren F1 or Maserati GranCabrio, but you'll have a nice time faking it.
Hot Pursuit's revamped interface puts a lot of its energy into helping you brag to your friends. The Autolog GUI immerses you in a Facebook-style suite of connected features where you can navigate to your single-player career map; post photos and comments on your “Wall” or connect directly through to your friends' games to compare stats, exchange pictures and perform other social networking activities. You can also connect with up to eight players (friends and/or strangers) for a hiccup-free online multiplayer contest—including Race, Hot Pursuit or 1v1 Interceptor modes. EA might be using these features as a way of keeping second-hand sales down, but they're smart additions that keep the multiplayer interesting.
As a long-time NfS player I'm not wild about some of Criterion's shortcuts—specifically reduced handling fidelity and MIA features like cockpit artwork and replays—but there is still considerable substance beneath Hot Pursuit's pearlescent paint job. Once you chase down your first errant speeder with a 200-mph Lamborghini Gallardo police interceptor (or lose that cop with a well-timed shortcut), you'll likely feel the love too.