A car sits on the side of a dusty desert road. A few minutes ago, it was a pristine example of automotive excellence; a finely tuned machine designed for speed and handling. Now, it’s a crumpled mess of engine, chassis and bodywork; courtesy of one of Hot Pursuit’s many vehicular clashes.
Sharing the DNA of Criterion’s earlier Burnout series as well as its developer, Hot Pursuit’s 2010 incarnation was a festival of breakneck speed and brutal crashes, but also hailed the addition of long-range gadgets that when used successfully, could turn the tide of an event. The premise is sort of grounded; the fictional Seacrest County is home to a series of illegal street races run by uber-rich petrolheads in high-performance vehicles, that is bringing the whole county to its knees. The only way the police force can apprehend these criminals is to spend an unfathomable amount of tax dollars on similarly high-spec vehicles in order to take down these races by any means necessary.
That same 2010 version has been given a fresh lick of paint for 2020, providing a variety of visual and performance improvements for current and last generation systems (and PC, of course) and I relished the chance to play this game all over again, as I had done over a decade ago – Especially as it comes as part of the EA Play segment of the Game Pass subscription. How could I resist?
High Performance Hijinks
Seacrest County is, at its core, an open world environment; although you wouldn’t know this unless you happen to load up the game’s Freeroam mode, something that you’re never required to do – In fact, you can play through the entire game without even realising it’s an available mode. You’ll be more familiar with Hot Pursuit’s map screen, highlighting various regions of Seacrest and the events available therein; with the chance to sit behind the wheel of both the perspectives of illegal street racer or do-gooding copper. Progression for both paths is more or less identical; earn points by doing well in races, driving aggressively or cleanly, and you’ll rise up in the ranks of Racer or Cop. Higher rankings unlock more magnificent machines to drive in five different performance categories – Sports, Performance, Super, Exotic and Hyper. A plethora of expensive real-world vehicles are available from the world’s most prolific manufacturers; Lamborghini, Porsche, Audi, BMW and Nissan are just a handful of companies sacrificing digital vehicle licences to the scrapheap of Hot Pursuit, so there’s something for everybody. The police versions of these cars are all adapted with a suitable uniform livery, while racers can pick their look from a selection of colours and skins, even making their own wrap designs.
Events differ depending on the role you’re playing – Racers will need to contend with races, one on one Duel events and Time Trials, while also tussling with Cops in Hot Pursuit events. Meanwhile, Cop events are more focused on taking down racers in Hot Pursuit races or single racer Interceptor events, while occasionally speeding to a destination while minimising collisions in Rapid Response events. The variety of play between the two sides, as well as their respective events, keeps things nice and fresh; while being able to choose events at will (once unlocked) really does allow you to play your way. Progression between Cops and Racers is separated, so you really could concentrate on one path over the other if you wanted, or just tackle both as you wish.
No matter what side of the law you choose to side with, the driving is sublime. This is Criterion’s first attempt at a Need for Speed game, a series known to be a more “realistic” type of arcade racer. Normally known for the intense 60fps Burnout-style racing; back in 2010, Criterion adhered to the NFS series’ more traditional 30fps gameplay but without losing any of that intensity. However, this Remastered edition allows players to choose between various performance/quality modes, depending on your system, giving the opportunity to play at 30fps or 60fps with varying image quality limited by the console. I started this game on an Xbox One X, later moving onto an Xbox Series X, and playing in 4k60 is a wonderful upgrade from the original game. It looks great and feels fast, just what you want from a racer. It’s obviously not going to challenge the likes of Forza Horizon 5 in the looks department, but as a remaster of a decade-plus old game, it does the job nicely. Environments look great, with Seacrest County being home to plenty of different environments with all manner of weather conditions. Meanwhile, the cars look beautiful and the crashes look terrifying.
Weaving through traffic, speeding through corners of all types and smashing into racers or cop cars is great fun, and shortcuts are also available that can either give you a leg up or hinder you if you’re not paying attention. As events all take place at various locations in Seacrest County, many of them overlapping, as you progress, you start to learn the layout of these locations and which of these shortcut routes will be the most effective.
Chief Inspector Gadget
But clean racing and dirty close-range tactics are but a small part of Hot Pursuit’s gameplay, as gadgets are available to aid drivers, with events giving players access to a limited number of certain equipment. Both Cops and Racers can use Spike Traps, which are dropped behind the car, slashing the tyres of any vehicle unlucky enough to hit them, and also share the use of EMPs, a long-range attack that locks into rival vehicles, knocking their car electrics out. Cops can also call in backup in the form of a Helicopter that flies ahead of racers and drops spike traps, and can also call in a roadblock that drops a police checkpoint up ahead with only a small gap to avoid slamming into a heavy police vehicle. Meanwhile, Racers can activate a Turbo boost, a temporary surge in acceleration, and finally a Jammer, which can be used to stop the police from activating equipment and can stop rival EMPs in their tracks. All of these tools can be upgraded the more they are used and are an essential part of the game; when Hot Pursuit strips you of these gadgets in a few events, they’re really missed as they’re so useful – And fun to use. Knowing that a successful event can be scuppered at any time by being hit by an EMP or a Spike Strip ensures that races aren’t too easy. There is an element of light rubber-banding (where AI-controlled racers can quickly make up the distance if you’re playing too well), so there’s always a bit of tension.
Not least because of the soundtrack, which for the most part is provided by EA’s standard array of licensed tracks, unchanged from the original 2010 version. However, there’s a real exhilaration when racing past a stationary Cop car, as the music turns from whatever rock/hip-hop/dance song is playing, to a cinematic soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place in a Michael Bay movie as the Cop car gives chase It really elevates the on-screen action, adding tension and stakes to Hot Pursuit’s already intense racing.
As for content, there’s plenty here. With the ranking system, you’re never too far away from unlocking a new car, new events, new equipment or upgrades to existing gear. Going for those gold medals on each event by finishing first or within a set time will keep you busy, but provide much larger point rewards in which to unlock those ranks and get more toys to play with. Plus, if you like squeezing every Achievement/Trophy out of games as I do, there’s a range of non-grindy tasks that’ll ensure you’ll be challenged and also see and do everything Hot Pursuit has to offer.
The question is, does Remastered differ enough from the original game to entice a double-dip for those who played the game back in 2010? The graphical upgrade is nice, but certainly not essential, and if you’ve already played the game, you won’t see anything new here. However, Hot Pursuit easily ranks up with some of the best games in the Need for Speed series, and if you love an arcade racer, you can’t go wrong with this rerelease – Especially if you’re a PC or Xbox player with Game Pass or an EA Play subscription. The graphics are shinier, but the driving mechanics are still as enjoyable as they ever were.