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Old 11-13-2010, 12:34 PM   #1
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[CoG Preview] Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit


Click on any of the shots to see the entire set of photos from the event

I’m writing this while sitting in a hotel room in Guildford, Surrey in England. My day has been spent just a few blocks down at EA Studios here…otherwise known as the home of Criterion Games.


What you don't see is the casino right next door. Seriously.

I realize that most casual passer-bys of this article will likely think nothing of what I just said, however, those of you who’ve known me for even the shortest amount of time or spent just as much time listening to In-Game Chat felt the impact of just what that means to me.

There are times when people talk about dreams coming true and this was one of those times. It was for one day, but I got to meet the dev team of not only their new title Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, but also people who’ve worked on past Burnout games. A real thrill, if I must say, to meet these people I consider celebrities.


I actually took my copy with me to have it signed. Score!!!

But now you’re probably thinking the rest of this write-up will be nothing but praise for their new title and well…you’d be right. But 24 hours before I began to write this, that wasn’t the case. There is proof, be it in our forums or in an episode of In-Game Chat right after E3, of my dislike for this game. This….thing that didn’t have “Burnout” in the title, but was being made by the same celebrities I just spoke of. These people I’d put on a pedestal had made an arcade racer for a franchise that wasn’t what made them who they are today and at E3 I walked away from their demo disappointed and sad. I was so very excited from what I had seen just a day earlier at EA’s E3 Press Conference, and then I got to play it and I couldn’t. The controls felt loose and less like Burnout and more like…well, Need For Speed. That is to say I couldn’t just hold down the gas and go, I had to let off and break around turns and be careful not to turn too sharp for a fear of spinning out and losing a great amount of speed and momentum. It wasn’t there for me. Not in what I played at E3.


The main menu of Need For Speed Hot Pursuit

Fast forward now 5 months and here I am, having flown all the way to England to visit my Mecca and play this game that I had no hope for. I knew this going in. I knew what I had played at E3 and I could only hope that it would have been changed since then. After all, I’d only played one small section of the game, but it was the main point of the game, either being chased by a cop or as a cop chasing after a speedster. That’s it, right? Cat and mouse? Red vs. Blue? I mean if I can’t have fun with that how’s the rest of the game going to work for me?


Eight of the sixteen set ups. All eight are playing multiplayer with each other.

I sat down in Criterion’s boardroom, converted today to a gaming paradise of 16 LCD screens (8 Xbox 360s and 8 PS3’s), and took my spot in front of one of the 360 units. We were all playing final builds of the game, in fact, the 360 versions had the discs inside while the PS3’s were running off a HDD build. This meant, by the way and for whatever reason, that if you were on a PS3 unit, everything was unlocked for you while those on the 360 started from the ground floor. My choice was deliberate. I wanted the beginning of the game to see how it led me into what I would be doing in the hopes that maybe my E3 experience was just due to a lack of understanding (what? I don’t know) or picking the wrong car.

When you start the single player portion of the game you’re shown a map of Seacrest County, much in the same way as Burnout Paradise, although 4 times as big and you have 3 events to choose from. You can pick one as a racer, trying to outrun the cops. You can start out as one of Seacrest’s finest set to bring down an evading speedster. Or…you can choose to free roam the entire map as either of the previous two choices, but without any objective other than to explore.

Now, let me go ahead and get a few things out of the way, as they may have suddenly crossed your mind while reading a comparison to Criterion’s previous, Burnout Paradise. This IS NOT that game. No longer do you drive around the map and pick out an event. As you complete a racer event, more events in that category open up and vice versa for events as a cop. No longer are the races up to you as to how you get to the finish line. Routes are set and aside from a shortcut or two, you cannot deviate from the path. When specifically asked about this Criterion’s Craig Sullivan said outright, “We were wrong.” They learned from those mistakes and realized that when someone is told to go somewhere they get directions or follow a GPS; no one wants to just go out blind and hope they arrive at their destination.


Criterion's Craig Sullivan having a Q&A with the group.

However, as it were in the beginning I felt pretty blind just starting out and decided to pick a racer event. Three minutes later…maybe less…and I put down the controller as the race recap displayed on screen, rubbed my eyes, and said, “Whoa.” I had to get up and go get some water as my head was spinning a bit and my mouth had gone suddenly dry. What I realized in standing up and heading to get that drink was that I had played something in the Need For Speed franchise but had hit me over the head as straight up Burnout. I took one sip of water and raced back to my seat and tried another event as a racer. Yep…there it was hitting me right in the face – this was Burnout. I mean it says Need For Speed, but this is Burnout all the way through. Fine then, let me try the game as a cop and see if that’s the difference. Less than two minutes pass on the event and when it’s over, it’s still Burnout. It used to be called Road Rage in those days, but now it’s Hot Pursuit. I’m chasing someone else trying to take them down. It’s Burnout. It’s fully liscensed cars now, but it’s still wrecking them spectacularly. It’s Burnout.


More multiplayer action taking place

Or maybe I should say….it’s Criterion.

And it is. But also in other ways than just the main single player portion of the game. One of the other lessons learned from Burnout Paradise was the connection aspect of gaming. How certain portions of the track would have a best time by someone on your friends list just nagging at you to try and beat their best. That aspect has carried over into Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit with the Autolog system. It keeps track of everything your doing from the times you’ve set, the attempts you’ve made, your drifting record, oncoming, near miss, escapes, dodges…you name it and it’s keeping track of it. You can then send that info to the SpeedWall where your friends will be notified of your accomplishments and have the opportunity to beat you. When you select the option to make such an attempt, the game mirrors the exact same conditions, the exact same factors for your attempt. Same track, same car, same weather…it’s all there so you can have your shot at breaking their record. One of the time killers for me was when one of the devs known as the professor, Matt Follett, sat down in front of all of us on a big screen being projected in the room and set a track time that wouldn’t be beaten for hours and when it was, he took two more attempts and set the bar even higher.


While we were getting to know the single player portion of the game and learning about Autolog and everything involved with that (including a photo mode), we were then asked to finish our events and wait as we were about to discover the multiplayer side of Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit.

The multiplayer aspect of this game is where Need For Speed gets its subtitle. Hot Pursuit mode is cops versus robbers, cat and mouse, red versus blue. And it dominated the rest of our day. It can be played with up to 8 players and divided however you want. Feel like a challenge, try one cop going after 7 racers, or maybe you like it the other way around. Even, odd, you can have it either way. For the most part we stuck with 4 on 4 and had plenty of insane moments and close finishes. Both cops and racers have 4 “power-ups” at their disposal with only 2 of them being different. Each side has spike strips they can lay down behind them or an EMP they can fire in front of them. Cops also have the advantage of calling out road blocks up ahead of a racer and calling in a helicopter that will fly to the front of the pack and lay out a spike strip. And while that may sound like the dreaded blue shell, the spike strips can be avoided (pro tip: Road blocks and helicopters only follow the main road – shortcuts are your safe zone from them). The racers have a turbo they can use to outrun an oncoming ramming police officer or an EMP attack, and they also have a radar jammer, which if activated within a certain distance of a cop will take not only their power-ups offline but also their map.


There is a 3rd multiplayer aspect of Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit and as I found out, it’s the one I played at E3. It’s called Interceptor. And it’s a one on one version of Hot Pursuit, except there’s no finish line. There’s no route. There’s you and the other guy. As a racer you can win by slowly damaging your opponents cop car or remaining a certain distance out of sight of them for a certain amount of time. As a cop, you have but only one way to win – take out the speedster. And you can do that by either your limited amount of power-ups (yes, they do run out) or slowly damaging their car. Interceptor’s a big deal, as you have the entire county of Seacrest open to you without any guideline of where to go or any clock to beat. It’s a mode that can last for quite some time. I think the longest we had today between two developers went a good 20 minutes.


A station set up for the one on one Interceptor mode

Once it was all said and done, I walked away with more excitement for this game than I have had for it since before E3, and there wasn’t much for it between now and then either. But that’s over. Playing the final version of the game has cemented for me that Criterion knows what it’s doing, and that I don’t have to worry when they announce something that isn’t Burnout because it’s still a Criterion game.
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Old 11-13-2010, 01:30 PM   #2
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It's not everyday we get to meet celebrities like that. Glad you got the chance to do so. I can only imagine Naughty Dog is next on your agenda...or have you already been there?
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Old 11-13-2010, 01:52 PM   #3
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Wow, excellent write-up and much like yourself I had misgivings, but if a core evangelist for Criterion is giving it the thumbs up, consider this a must-buy.

Thanks for crossing the pond to bring this back to us!
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Old 11-13-2010, 02:20 PM   #4
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It's not everyday we get to meet celebrities like that. Glad you got the chance to do so. I can only imagine Naughty Dog is next on your agenda...or have you already been there?
Went there during E3. But it was just a personal invite, nothing official. Didn't play anything.
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Old 11-13-2010, 02:47 PM   #5
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Of course they know what they're doing... they're bloody CRITERION... they've been awesome since Redline Racer! Shame on you to doubt!
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Old 11-13-2010, 06:01 PM   #6
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Sounds awesome! Really great read.
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Old 11-13-2010, 06:54 PM   #7
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I really, really want to get excited for this game.

But the demo cemented for me that I would probably not enjoy it. I will say that it seemed like a high quality title. The graphics and environment were cool, as were the wrecks. But it seemed like a game for people who don't mind doing the same level over and over, trying to find all the shortcuts.

That definitely isn't me. The agility of the opponent cars combined with the fact that PITting them just does a little damage, not a spin, made me very frustrated very quickly.

Nonetheless, I can recognize that it seems pretty awesome, and I hope it does well.
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Old 11-13-2010, 07:12 PM   #8
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They Picked a great spot for there game studio. Probably One of the Best Racing Game Studios in the same town that host the World's Greatest Car show, Top Gear.
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Old 11-14-2010, 12:23 AM   #9
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For as much fun as Hot Pursuit is, I still hope they can one day get around to putting out something with a real Crash mode in it again. Even do it as a $10-15 XBLA/PSN release with five or six locations, and then augment that with some more as DLC down the line a couple months.

There was something just so simple and fun about it, I can't understand taking it out entirely.
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Old 11-14-2010, 09:28 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Orca View Post
For as much fun as Hot Pursuit is, I still hope they can one day get around to putting out something with a real Crash mode in it again. Even do it as a $10-15 XBLA/PSN release with five or six locations, and then augment that with some more as DLC down the line a couple months.

There was something just so simple and fun about it, I can't understand taking it out entirely.
Agreed x 10000.
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Old 11-14-2010, 09:53 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by the Jack View Post
Wow, excellent write-up and much like yourself I had misgivings, but if a core evangelist for Criterion is giving it the thumbs up, consider this a must-buy.

Thanks for crossing the pond to bring this back to us!
Thanks for reading it and taking the time to comment. I'm a huge fan of Criterion's work with the Burnout series and I was really trying not to let that get in the way of being objective when it came to playing their version of Need For Speed. I mean, you can really get carried away being surrounded by the devs and NOTHING but their game to play. Still, the game itself and on its own merits won me over and it only took one race to do it with.

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Of course they know what they're doing... they're bloody CRITERION... they've been awesome since Redline Racer! Shame on you to doubt!
I agree and I felt that way going into E3...not so much coming out of it though. It's always good to have faith, but that can sometimes get in the way of being critical. It's blinded me before, I can tell you that. But not with this. And from the scores I am seeing it get, people seem to be agreeing with me.

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Originally Posted by Abunai View Post
Sounds awesome! Really great read.
Thanks! Glad you read it and liked it!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Inspector Fowler View Post
I really, really want to get excited for this game.

But the demo cemented for me that I would probably not enjoy it. I will say that it seemed like a high quality title. The graphics and environment were cool, as were the wrecks. But it seemed like a game for people who don't mind doing the same level over and over, trying to find all the shortcuts.

That definitely isn't me. The agility of the opponent cars combined with the fact that PITting them just does a little damage, not a spin, made me very frustrated very quickly.

Nonetheless, I can recognize that it seems pretty awesome, and I hope it does well.
Thanks for reading. You know...I never even played the demo that was released. Likely I should have, but after my play at E3 I just wasn't interested, or maybe I was scared that it would be EXACTLY what I played back in June, but nonetheless after putting in time with the final version of the game it won me over.

We mostly played multiplayer all day once we were introduced to it, so I'll need more time with the single player portion of the game to see how good or bad it is with taking down speedsters. But the multi was tons of fun.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hauser1981 View Post
They Picked a great spot for there game studio. Probably One of the Best Racing Game Studios in the same town that host the World's Greatest Car show, Top Gear.
Ugh. I'm all over London my first few days there and didn't even know that Guildford was the home of Top Gear. Well...now I need to go back!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Orca View Post
For as much fun as Hot Pursuit is, I still hope they can one day get around to putting out something with a real Crash mode in it again. Even do it as a $10-15 XBLA/PSN release with five or six locations, and then augment that with some more as DLC down the line a couple months.

There was something just so simple and fun about it, I can't understand taking it out entirely.
I'll mention your idea when I talk to them again. I did bring it up as they were signing my copy of paradise and a few times while playing I mentioned missing having a crashbreaker - even though it had NOTHING to do with Need For Speed.

Thing is, they aren't done with Burnout. They'll go back to it and given what they learned from Paradise, I expect you'll see the old trusty crash mode back in the game. It's been gone too long and people have been asking for it since Paradise released. So I think you'll see something. Still, I like your idea even better.
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Old 11-15-2010, 08:27 AM   #12
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I'm actually REALLY happy to see another Criterion racing game. As much as I loved playing Burnout: Paradise... it did get boring for me in the end. This sounds like an awesome chance freshen up that Criterion racing experience. It's best put this way: I finally feel like there's a Need for Speed title worth owning.
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Awesome. You really captured the wangy-ness of it
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