The best racing game of 2010 doesn’t have a “5” in its title. It also wasn’t developed over a period of six years by a perfectionist Japanese developer with more money than god. No, 2010’s best racer comes from Criterion, creators of the Burnout series, and is the latest installment in the Need for Speed franchise. Criterion created what is basically a love letter to the original Need for Speed and in the process created a masterpiece.
Recently, Need for Speed has arrived in a couple of flavors. You have the Most Wanted/Carbon/Undercover games that used some of the Hot Pursuit gameplay elements while combining it with the tuner culture while Pro Street/Shift moved the series closer to a Gran Turismo style sim. Yet those two gameplay styles have strayed from the original Need for Speed, which actually had the Road & Track license, where it was all about taking a stock sports car out and having fun with it. Kind of like a UK Top Gear style celebration of cars, as opposed to turning your Civic into a horrendous rice rocket with Anime decals.
Criterion’s Hot Pursuit could almost be considered a remake of the original, but they’ve gone much farther than that. They took inspiration from the original game, and the extremely popular Pursuit mode from Need for Speed II, and crafted what is by far one of the most fun games you’ll play on any console in 2010. You don’t have to be a racing fan to love what they did here; it’s that good.
The Racer and Cop modes are similar in how they work, while completing races you earn bounty points that level your driver up and in the process unlocks new cars. You can earn points many ways such as drifting, slipstreaming, finding shortcuts, and reaching milestones in your career. Each side has a variety of race modes to play including regular races, free runs, and pursuits. They included some Mario Kart style items such as oil slicks, EMPs, tacks, and roadblocks that can be used in the pursuits. As the Cop in that mode, the game really plays a lot like Burnout where you’re goal is to basically wipe out the Racer.
But the most awesome innovation Criterion has included in the game is the Autolog, which seems to be standard for the Need for Speed games as next year’s Shift 2 will use it. Think of this as Facebook in the game. You have a Wall where you’re able to brag about your best times, and your friends can then challenge your times directly from the Autolog screen. Every race also places you on a Top Gear style Speedwall so you can see exactly how you match up against your friends. This feature turns Hot Pursuit into one of the most addicting competitive games you can play right now. I can’t stress how awesome Autolog is and how it is really a must for all future racing games.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is an amazing return to form for the classic racing series. If you want a calculus simulation where the cars look like they’re driving 15MPH along a lifeless track, Gran Turismo 5 is now out. But if you want a balls to the wall fun racing game with enough content to keep you and your friends competing fiercely well into next year, you want Hot Pursuit.
Final Score: 5 out of 5