Criterion Games is known for making some seriously high-octane racing games; you might’ve heard of them, they have “Burnout” in the title. Therefore, the combination of Criterion and iconic industry name “Need for Speed” has just got to result in a winner. Based on the playable demo currently on the PlayStation Store, we get just about what we’d expect: a super slick presentation, solid albeit not necessarily impressive graphics, and a lot of fluid, entertaining gameplay. The demo allows you to play as both the pursued and the pursuers; one event has you tracking down four speeders as a member of the law enforcers, and the other is a simple dash to the finish across a breathtaking expanse of the fictional coastal town of Seacrest. For the most part, this is a game racing fans will definitely want to play…as if that comes as a surprise.
I had wondered how they would approach the pursuit aspect (the other side is pretty straightforward) and as it turns out, Criterion implemented a damage system that is simple to understand: each of your targets has a health bar of sorts, and once that bar is entirely depleted, it goes down as an arrest. This means that you don’t need a flashy takedown to nail a racer, and you also don’t need to execute a drastic maneuver to finish off an ailing target. If there’s only a smidgen of energy left, even bumping that racer in the rear will finish him. You can use your own car and a multitude of what they’re calling “weapons;” in the demo, you have access to spike strips and roadblocks. You get three of each but be wary; you can nail the roadblocks too if you’re not careful. Also, it takes time for each "weapon" to refill before you can use it again, so strategy and timing are essential.
Thing is, you’re timed in the pursuit events (or at least, you are in the demo event). The faster you can take down the goal number of targets, the better your score will be. You can also increase your score by displaying expert driving skills, nearly avoiding crashes, hitting the top speed of your vehicle, and damage dealt. The damage modeling is pretty good; it’s well designed and detailed, even if a lot of the cars break up in the same way. Also, bear in mind that while a lot of the cars may feel and sound like their real-life counterparts, this can’t be considered a simulator. Criterion just doesn’t tackle such a style, and that’s fine. We’ll leave that to Need for Speed: SHIFT 2 and Gran Turismo 5. Even so, the physics here do feel a little more realistic than what we had in any Burnout title; they feel heavier and more accurate in Hot Pursuit. It won’t take long to figure out, though.
The presentation is, as mentioned before, high-tech and all kinds of slick. You’ll be introduced to the Autolog, which acts as the central hub of all your NFS endeavors. This is where you can kick off your career, compete against others online, and compare top performances to those of your friends. The soundtrack really works as well, and those graphics are more than adequate. The visuals can be a little muddled, though, especially at night, and it can be tough to spot shortcuts (yeah, well, what else is new?). When it comes to a game like this, the question is simple: “will I have a good time?” Well, if you enjoy hot cars, a great sense of speed, and a robust gameplay structure that should satisfy both the single-player and multiplayer demands, than the answer is obvious.
Oh, I should add that having the “weapons” in pursuit mode really reminded me of Split/Second. Anybody else…?