The Need for Speed franchise has seen its ups and downs over the years, and with 17 games and more than 100 million copies sold, who could expect otherwise?
During the past couple of years, however, the quality of the series has slid further and further. Shift, Nitro and World weren't horrible games, but they didn't stand out and didn't motivate me to play them beyond the first few races or events.
However, the recently released Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is different.
At its core, Hot Pursuit is an amalgamation of two past arcade-racing legends: the Burnout series and Need for Speed: Most Wanted. For me and many gamers, Most Wanted is near the top in the Need for Speed franchise. This melding of past games makes sense if you look at the developer, Criterion. It took what it knew best — its own Burnout series — and injected some Most Wanted into it. The result feels a bit lacking in creativity but comes off as an addictive and playable arcade racer.
In Hot Pursuit, a player takes on the role of racer or cop. Both have the same goal: Reach level 20. In racer mode, you become the most wanted racer of all, outrunning other racers and the cops, and causing the most damage possible. As a cop, reaching level 20 means you have stopped, captured or disabled even the most hard-core and dangerous racers.
The goals of reaching various levels are what really make the game feel like Most Wanted, but start a race and you'll see why the rest feels like Burnout. Driving in oncoming traffic, passing cars while extremely close, even the handling, feels straight out of that series.
Criterion has done a superb job implementing social features, which is not easy. The "Autolog," the integration of scores into your Xbox Live friends list, is excellent, and even single-player mode will have you on the edge of your seat as you try to beat your friends' scores.
If you're an arcade-racing fan, this is a game for you. Forget the past four Need for Speed iterations; this trumps them all. If you've played any of the Burnout games or Need for Speed: Most Wanted and enjoyed them, you will love this game. And if you're an arcade-racing fan who hasn't played a Burnout game or Most Wanted — have you been frozen for a decade and recently thawed? — then you will love this game even more.