Considering that Need For Speed has undergone something of an identity crisis over the last few years, whilst Burnout's star has been rather in the ascendancy, it's unsurprising perhaps that EA have passed the reins to Criterion to try and sort out the mess that is their flagship racing series.
In order to do that, it would seem they're going back to basics, the tenets that made the franchise a success in the first place before developmental ADHD saw NFS veering off course and occasionally crashing and burning: namely high speed police chases. The result is a bit of a mixture really: the visceral speed and thrill that one associates with Burnout combined with the OTT dangers of, say, a Split/Second.
We got hands-on with the game's demo: a race by any other name but with one key difference - there are a bunch of cops out a bust you and they're not afraid to throw things like a road block, spike strips or, you know, a helicopter and Zonda double team in the way to stop you. It all plays out quite a lot like Burnout 3's Road Rage mode, with cops and felons all vying to shunt one another into the hard shoulder, or boulders, or oncoming traffic amongst other things.
As you'd expect from Criterion, there's plenty of face-melting speed, the cars feel nice and tight, and of course there's a slow motion camera every time a takedown happens. There's a boost meter, natch, but whilst it refills fairly briskly you can only turn things up to 11 when it's completely stocked. Your siren-toting nemeses, however, can boost constantly. There's no rest for the wicked.
The obstacles they throw in your way are a bit like Split/Second's environmental disasters in a way, and they make things even more fast and furious. Telegraphed ever so slightly in advance, though nearly always when you're boosting I found, you get a slow-mo warning before some serious evasive manoeuvres are required. It's best to heed these warnings, and ponder one's options before taking on a police car, because your car has a damage meter. Rack up too much and you're busted, something I found out the hard way on my first playthrough because I was too focused on playing the thing like Burnout.
Thankfully, taking my cue from the game's name, I found out that concentrating on maintaining the searing speed reaped rewards on my second go, finishing first, and Hot Pursuit has a way of maintaining a severely competitive edge amongst its community thanks to a little thing called Autolog. Autolog tracks your stats, your times and your victories and losses, and also those of your friends. If a mate beats your score it'll tell you about it. It'll challenge to to respond, directly and immediately giving you the option of trying to best their time and return the favour. Autolog's also on hand to tell you about events you haven't tested yet, strive for goals that match your most recent achievements and spur you on to greater things. It's a cracking feature that will bring out the competitor in a whole host of racing fans. We reckon this one's going to be big.
Most exciting, perhaps, is the prospect of full-on 8 player Interceptor Mode. Pitting some of players as cops and the others as felons, you'll be dumped on a sprawling map with one clear objective: the felons must escape, the cops must take them down. It quickly becomes a game of tactics, particularly if you're a felon. Do you race for the exit or warily take your chances, picking out hiding spots and prolonging the cat and mouse game by utilising your secret weapon, scrambling the police's communications, when it serves best? Seacrest County, which at times looked a bit too much like the countryside in Paradise City, is peppered with nooks and crannies to aid the stealthier criminal. But let's not forget the speed, after checking this out it's quite clear that Criterion have got it down...and we need it.