It has taken a few key ingredients for EA to finally put its Need For Speed gaming franchise back on track. First, it switched its development cycle, meaning that alternate developers could take it in turns to create a title. That meant that the same team didn’t have to face churning out a new Need For Speed game every year, to the detriment of the franchise. Second, it has revisited one of the best of the earlier releases in the series, Hot Pursuit, for inspiration. And lastly, it has cut out lots of the peripheral nonsense that has haunted the series for the past few years.
Better than all of those things, though, is the fact that it has enlisted the help of Criterion to develop the latest game. That’s the same Criterion that brought the world the Burnout series of games. And it has injected the same speed, frantic action and sense of fun right back into the heart of Need For Speed.
What’s more, we should say that Criterion has made the game look absolutely stunning. It’s fast, looks genuinely gorgeous, and rewards any investment you might have made in a sizeable high-definition telly. Need For Speed – and arcade racers in general – have never looked better.
They’ve rarely played better, either, for it’s in the game itself that Criterion has delivered in spades. It has managed this by streamlining and simplifying things a little, and thus keeping the focus of the title on a game of cops and robbers. In single-player mode, you can play as either side. Lots of tactics are at your disposal, too. Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit isn’t a game that wastes its time worrying about lawsuits – so if you need to ram someone off the road to their doom, you’re more than welcome to do so. This is clearly immense fun, and there’s an element of Chase HQ about it all, too.
To add to the fun, there are plenty of unlockables – in true Burnout style – as you progress through the game, although in this case, that includes weapons as well as better cars. You can also, depending on who you are playing as, call for help with road blocks, radar jammers, and such like. There’s variety in the races and events, too, and Criterion pretty much throws every bit of its know-how into delivering a game worthy of the Need For Speed name.
And it succeeds. It’s immensely good fun in single-player mode, arguably eclipsing at least Blur, and possibly Split/Second. And the mayhem trebles when you get to multiplayer. By knitting in compelling game modes, and a social networking autolog feature, Criterion has injected reasons to return to the game time after time.
Granted, if you’re looking for a radical new approach, you won’t find it here. Criterion has gone the other way, reaching back to what made Need For Speed such an entertaining franchise in the first place. It’s a wise choice, as it turns out, and while anyone who likes their racing games nice and serious will find little to lock into here, those hunting for one of the best arcade racers on the market have very much arrived at their destination.