The last racing game I had gotten involved with was Grid in 2008 for the PlayStation 3. I had read some positive impressions and just picked up a copy during my vacation in San Diego. I’m not particularly genre-saavy when it comes to the racing games. I don’t care much for Gran Turismo, or NASCAR, or just racing in general, but occasionally something will put me in the mood to cruise. This time, it’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit from EA Games, developed by Criterion Software, makers of the Burnout games.
The game does a really good job helping newcomers to adjust to its design, teaching the basics and allowing you to become comfortable with its controls, the tracks, and its vehicles. One thing I admired was the selection from the beginning. Most racing games require you to claw your way to the top in your Volkswagen before you hop into the driver’s seat of that Ferrari you bought the game to drive in the first place. Here you already have a selection of nice sports cars and unlocking the faster, superior vehicles is rewarded through the game’s bounty system: race well, earn bounty points, level up, get new vehicles and equipment. The downside is that certain missions have circumstances where the vehicle you want may not always be available for that specific event. Nevertheless, the game’s track designs and the environments in general make the racing worth it. The blazing speeds you will go might send you back in time, just be careful you don’t collide with an oncoming family sedan.
In addition to racing, you can pursue a career as a police officer, driving equally slick vehicles equipped with some fun gadgets like the spike strip, which will stop a racer dead in his tracks temporarily. It’s best used when the car’s “health” meter is in the red zone, and would make for a nice bust. As an officer, with more experience, you can call in support in the form of roadblocks and helicopters. Helicopters will try to stop racers with the spike strips, although unfortunately there can and probably will be instances where you’ll end up with tires blown out in a form of friendly fire. I tend to notice as you further in your career as an officer, the gadgets will be upgraded, but racers will seem more attuned of your next move and are almost ready to execute their own counterattack with almost perfect execution, as racers are also able to have gadgets equipped, like frequency jammers that prevent the police from using any equipment on hand. Nothing is more annoying than meeting a spike strip as you near the rear bumper of that Porsche 911 by slipstream.
I don’t dip into the more social aspects of games as often as I would like, but the Autolog feature, which crosses racing with a Facebook-like atmosphere, is pretty interesting. Your best times, cars used, and even attempts at specific events are recorded for your friends to see. I enjoy the challenge of trying to take the number one spot of my Speedwall, or at least trying to top the time of the friend the game recommends I challenge. I felt good about myself after a friend sent me a text message saying “I don’t know how you got some of those times. You’re a beast.” You can also share photos of events that go down during your races or pursuits: a crash, a great drift turn, finishing by a nose. I think a lot of games could benefit from a feature like this.
When I insert that game disc into the Xbox 360 tray, I am lost for hours racing (there is even a free-roam mode to test cars out and practice), trying to beat my own times as well as those of my friends, but I can’t help but call this game out for some lackluster choices. EVERY hit you deal to an opponent will be met with a short animation of the car taking damage that will kind of put your race to a halt and take you out of the control of your vehicle. This might occur during a dangerously sharp corner or even on a straight path with an oncoming vehicle you weren’t prepared to dodge. It’s equally annoying during the pursuit races, when your vehicle’s scanner picks up an upcoming police car, cut to the animation, back to the race and an obstacle you might not be completely ready to take on, or you’re still holding on to the gas pedal when you probably should be braking for that next drift. The game is guilty of something notorious in a lot of racing games: Rubberbanding AI. Get too far ahead of the competition in your 201 MPH Maserati, and that 180 MPH Audi is breaking the sound barrier and it’s right behind you. It never devolves into flat out cheating, but certain cases make it a very annoying thing to deal with. The game also likes to mess with you and put civilian vehicles smack dab in the middle of very sharp turns so you have to be extra careful not to sideswipe it and let the other racers (even the one in last place) catch up, because they – absolutely – will.