The need for speed. It’s kind of hard to believe this series dates back almost 30 years ago. Even before the series came into existance for the 3DO in late 1994, EA had bought the company responsible for it, Distinctive Software, in 1991. Still, despite the criticism we tend to give EA for their greedy practices, there’s a gem from them that I hold dear to my heart: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.
Maybe you’re fed up with the cops. You understand that their job is to ensure the peace of the county that they’re in, but perhaps you don’t trust them, or you find them cold, rude. Or you’re left scratching your head as to why you got pulled over for having a “dim license plate light” when in reality there’s nothing wrong with either you or your car, and now you’re late for work.
Now let’s flip it the other way around: perhaps you’re a cop yourself (or you used to be one). You feel like no one appreciates the hard, risky work that you put forth in maintaining order. You’re tired of the nasty people you have to put up with when you pull them over.
Whatever role that you fit in, do you want to take vengeance, albeit in video game form? Do you want to crush the cops and ruin their day? Do you want to bust racers out of aggravation? That’s the beauty that Need for Speed offers – you, the player, can assume either the role of a law enforcer or a law breaker.
Hot Pursuit was released in 2010 and is a reboot of Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit from 1998. The premise behind it is simple: chase or be chased. Drive some of the fanciest, exotic cars around, ranging from Bugatis, Maseratis, Aston Martins, Mercedes, McLarens, Koenigseggs, BMWs, Paganis, Bentleys, Lamborghinis, Jaguars, and more in the fictional place of Seacrest County (no, unfortunately Teslas aren’t included), which tries to resemble California, Oregon, and Washington, United States. Easily reach speeds of over 200 MPH as you race against other racers, beat the clock, escape from the cops, or bust racers before they reach the finish line.
The game received a remastered edition as part of its tenth anniversary in 2020. Textures have been upscaled, making cars and tracks look even better at 4K resolution. Even some of the less noticeable improvements, such as police lights reflecting off the walls when inside a tunnel, all make the game look nice and pretty in 2022. All previously released DLC has been included, and in addition there’s a Photo Mode, more paint colors to choose from for racers, a garage for seeing all the cars you’ve unlocked, and online multiplayer. The big caveat here though, is the physics engine hasn’t been updated to go beyond 60 FPS, so even if you have a monitor with a faster refresh rate, you won’t be able to enjoy smoother gameplay.
In my humble opinion, Hot Pursuit is the pinnacle of the Need for Speed franchise. It strips out the ghetto story and characters from the games released in 2015 onward, and instead primarily focuses on the combat and the racing. While Most Wanted (2012) boasted an open-world formula, it took one step back because weapons couldn’t be used. Rivals (2013) brought the weapons back, but it just doesn’t feel as good as Hot Pursuit. It was therefore an appropriate choice for Criterion Games to remaster this version over the rest, and I’m glad they did.
Cars are categorized into five different groups:
What makes a car fit into a certain category depends on its rarity and how fast they drive, with sports cars being the slowest (think 130 MPH max), most common, to Hyper having the rarest, fastest cars (200+ MPH). In the Career mode, both cops and racers will start off with the sports cars, and as time goes on, the faster vehicles will get unlocked.
Speaking of Career mode, racers participate in one of six events:
- Race – as it implies, this is a race against other racers, without any sort of police presence involved
- Duel – one on one versus another racer
- Time Trial
- Preview – similar to Time Trial, albeit you get to try a new vehicle out
- Hot Pursuit – fight against the cops while trying to make it to the finish line in one piece (and in first place)
- Gauntlet – similar to Hot Pursuit, except you’re on your own here; there’s no other racers to help you fight the police
Cops have the following events:
- Interceptor – bust a racer in the fastest time possible
- Preview – take a brand new car out and compete for the fastest time on the clock, but be careful; hitting any obstacle induces a time penalty
- Rapid Response – pretty much like a Time Trial, but time penalties are incurred for traffic collisions, and usually the patrol officer is pitted against heavy traffic conditions
- Hot Pursuit – bust as many racers as possible before they reach the finish line
There’s 78 events for racers, and 63 events for cops. The game is linear-based. Most events generally aren’t going to last longer than five minutes, but towards the end, races extend much longer and can last as long as ten minutes. Unlike a typical three-lap race in other racing games, races in this game only have a single lap and can range from seven miles to 43 miles. In-game tracks feature licensed music from the likes of Thirty Seconds to Mars, Benny Banassi, and Deadmau5. Hit or miss here, but I guess you can add your own music.
There’s no difficulty selection when choosing an event. I can say that they’re challenging, but they’re not overbearing. AI for the most part work great; they go where they should. Some Interceptor missions for cops can be a bit annoying, because the racer is constantly turning back and forth on the freeway.
Because the cops have cars that are specifically tuned for top speed and acceleration, they will reach a racer no matter how fast they drive (except for when using turbo boosts). Therefore, you can be rest assured that you will always be fighting a cop well throughout the race, even if you wreck them (they’ll just keep coming). Interestingly enough, as a racer, you can hear the police as they communicate to each other.
Depending on your performance, you’ll get a gold, silver, or bronze medal after the event, and you’ll earn bounty (basically the equivalent of experience). Earn enough bounty, and your rank rises, unlocking new vehicles and weapons. If you’re a racer, you can choose what color you want for your vehicle prior to starting the event. My personal favorite is a combination of (mostly) black, with a subtle hint of red (so like this pictured in the screenshot, but in reverse).
Some events can be a bit redundant (I would say there’s an average of six events per area), but the environments are gorgeous. You can drive off-road to a beach or the flying pad for airplanes. Some areas will be re-explored during different parts of the day. For instance, there’s a race that takes place at 3 in the morning. On the other hand you could have that same area be driven at 8 o’clock at night, watching the beautiful sunset. Other parts of the map include a more winterized road, or a forest-like area where there’s only thin strips of pavement. It’s a good variety that doesn’t seem to get dull.
Hot Pursuit is about arcade-y as it gets. Which I don’t personally have a problem with: I actually prefer this over the less interesting simulator-type games. Honestly, every car handles about the same when it comes to drifting: hit the brake for a little bit (might even need the handbrake if you don’t react fast enough), go easy on the gas, and it’s no different driving a Mazda RX-8 over a Corvette ZR1. Handling isn’t even different when driving on wet pavement. The difference between cars really comes down to their acceleration and their top speed. Higher-slung cars will drive better off-road than their low-slung counterparts. Oh, and every car is built like a tank: they (and the driver) can survive multiple head-on crashes at 200+ MPH, drive through a spike strip without getting a deflated tire, and flinch for just a brief second when hit with an EMP. Far from being realistic, but that’s what makes the game so entertaining.
If either a cop or a racer crashes, they’ll survive and get back in the race in just a few seconds. They can sustain about four crashes before they’re disqualified for the race. If they’re disqualified, the event is over, and no awards are won.
Both racers and police cruisers are equipped with nitrous. Driving recklessly as a racer – including driving on the oncoming lane, barely missing other cars, and slipstreaming behind racers – is encouraged, as it will fill up the nitrous gauge faster. Cops fill their gauge more quickly than racers, but the disadvantage they have is they can’t use it as long. Both cops and racers can also earn nitrous faster by driving through shortcuts.
Weapons? What fun is a racing game without them? Hot Pursuit has got ’em. Both racers and cops have EMPs and spike strips. EMPs take a while to target, but when they hit, not only does it deal a decent chunk of damage, but if timed right it can make the opponent crash head-on to a railing, since they temporarily lose control of their car. Spike strips are deployed behind the car, and when someone hits it, it slows them down temporarily.
The two weapons that differ from the chasers to the chased is that the former have roadblocks and helicopters, while the latter have Turbo boosts and jammers. Cops can make use of roadblocks to call in a bunch of cruisers to block a racer’s path, but the caveat is if the racer is smart enough, they can squeeze through the gap provided and escape unharmed. Helicopters will fly ahead of racers and deploy spike strips, but they can’t follow a racer if they enter a tunnel.
A racer can deploy a jammer to briefly interrupt police communications. During this time, the officer’s mini-map will be lost, and they can’t use any weapons. Also, if a cop is in the middle of lining up an EMP, jammers will interrupt this. Any spike strips they have deployed will also contract in size and will be useless.
The police chases are the most entertaining about this game. The music gets intense, and your heart starts racing. Busting a racer (or the other way around) is pretty fun, while trying to survive and make it in first place. You can use your nitrous and slam into your opponent for extra damage.
Online multiplayer actually offers crossplay between PC, Switch, PlayStation, and Xbox. As such, it greatly increases the chance of finding someone else to play with. One mode that is unique here is Most Wanted. A racer will be the most wanted. Other racers will try to escort this racer’s escape while the cops’ job is to bust him. You can still earn bounty here as well, so if you don’t want to progress in the Career mode, you can still unlock new cars. Online multiplayer that I’ve tried so far has been pretty fun. My only complaint here is there should be a “All Classes” filter option when finding a particular game: instead there’s the five speed categories I mentioned earlier, so it can be difficult to find one where there are people.
Works out-of-the-box with vanilla Wine 7.0-rc5 via Origin through Lutris. Video playback and everything else works. Mostly flawless 60 FPS well throughout the time I played it on Ultra settings at 1440p with my GTX 1660 Super. There will be a few moments where the shaders get cached and briefly cause the game to hang, but it’s uncommon and doesn’t last any longer than a second or two. Multiplayer works great here as well. Rated Gold over on ProtonDB.
If you crave a game with decent arcade racing mechanics, with thrilling chase scenes and weapons to boot, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is a great game to try.