Need for Speed Hot Pursuit II (PS2)
The king of arcade racing has returned and it’s brought a few new tricks with it. After nearly a three year hiatus, the widely-popular Need For Speed series is back to reclaim the throne that it vacated so many years back. With new contenders like Acclaim's excellent Burnout series on the market, this is no easy task, but then again, when was EA ever one to back down from a good fight?
It could easily be argued that Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit was the pinnacle of the series. There’s just something about outrunning the long arm of the law that proved to be highly addicting and insanely entertaining. The fans wanted more and thankfully for them EA has listened and thus begat Need For Speed Hot Pursuit II. Building upon the elements that made the original Hot Pursuit so successful, the latest entry into the series is the best to date and perhaps, is the best racing game currently available on the market.
Judging by the title, the obvious emphasis has been placed on the Hot Pursuit action. In case you missed out on the excellent original, Hot Pursuit mode is one where you race through the tracks and try to avoid getting caught by the fuzz. They’ll use conniving tactics and try their damndest to prevent you from speeding through their streets. You’ll be able to hear their plans through the use of a police scanner that is mounted inside your vehicle. Listening to their messages, you’ll have the chance of foiling the cop’s upcoming plans and more importantly, secure your freedom for another day. Words really can’t explain just how exhilarating this is, there’s something devilishly exciting about running away from the cops in a vehicle that costs three times what I can afford. I suppose it’s just one of the guilty pleasures of life that everyone dreams about at one point or another. Thankfully, NFSHP2 does an immaculate job of replicating this dream and making it a reality.
The thrill of the chase is definitely what makes this game so appealing, but believe me, there’s a whole lot more to this game. You’ll be able to pilot over 40 vehicles from many of today’s most premiere manufacturers. That means you’ll get the sweetest Ferraris, the sleekest Lamborghini and a slew of other vehicles from hard to spell manufacturers. Due to EA’s excellent standing with these companies, each of these badboys feature some of the most realistic damage to ever appear in a racing title. This is definitely a rarity, especially with most of today’s automakers horrified at seeing one of the babies crumpled into a heap of scrap metal, but EA has managed to pull it off with excellent results.
In addition to being chased around the tracks, you’ll be given the opportunity to strap yourself behind the wheel of a seriously souped up police cruiser in an effort to uphold the law. You’ll get some truly amazing police vehicles such as the run of the mill V8 Crown Victoria and the not so run of the mill Pursuit M5. Stopping the pursuit involves you running your target off the road and blocking their path of escape, it sounds simple but at times it can become quite a handful. This is why you’re given the option of setting up roadblocks and calling in a chopper. Though they won’t actually stop the pursuit for you, they’re very helpful in bringing them to a close. You’ll also have unlimited usage of a speed burst at your disposal, this allows you to bring you vehicle up to some truly insane speeds complete with the neat motion blur filter. This mode isn’t quite as well developed as the other modes in the game but it’s still a neat little afterthought, especially when you’re chasing your buddy around the landscape.
If police chases aren’t your thing then you’ll be happy to know that the more traditional race modes are available. The Championship mode is a series of races that need to be completed to unlock the next series. Completing each race will usually yield a reward of some sort, whether it be a new vehicle or track, it’s usually worth the trouble. There are 30 events in all, concluding with the unlocking of the McLaren F1 LM, a truly amazing vehicle. If you’re not up to the task you could always just go to Quick Race mode, a mode where the game just random picks a track, your vehicle and settings for the following race, an excellent mode for those who just can’t wait to get into the game. Just in case you’re wondering, the Hot Pursuit aspect has identical modes except the inclusion of police vehicles that will try to stop your progress and the ability to assume the role of the police.
Though NFSHP2 does an incredible number of things correct, they would all be for naught if they had failed to capture an accurate sense of speed. Of course since this is EA we’re talking about, they’ve captured that feeling of being hurled at 150 mph down a city highway with some truly impressive results. It’s the sense of speed that really makes this game worth playing, going 50 really feels like going 50 and going 100 feels like you’re going 100. All of this is reflected in not only visually, but it also hampers your ability to maneuver at high speeds. This game is just awesome, it doesn’t just look like your hauling some major ass down a highway, it feels like it.
Many of the game’s more interesting facets are unlocked via a system of point accumulation. Though this is nothing new to the genre (Project Gotham did this as well) it has never been so well executed. While Gotham’s kudos system basically forced you to go back and replay the tracks to garner a better score, Hot Pursuit II rewards you for just merely playing the game. This means that every time you hop in for a quick race, decide to square off against a buddy or participate in the tournament modes, you’ll be earning points towards the unlocking of newer and speedier vehicles. You’ll gain points for moving up in positions, running road blocks, outrunning the cops, catching some major air and all sorts of wacky things. There are many ways of earning points, most of which are second nature and occur naturally in the game such as the running of the road blocks. This is definitely the right way to reward people and probably one of the best I’ve ever seen.
Racing in the game is simple and fun thanks to an excellent set of controls. Everything you need is right at your fingertips, left thumbstick for steering, right thumbstick for throttle and brake, R1 for handbrake and viola, you’re set. Each of the vehicles handle very well and do an admirable job of recreating the feel of their real life counterparts, just with some majorly dumbed down physics. You’ll need some excellent controls if you’ll want to maneuver in these high-speed chases and of course, the game delivers with astounding results. This is a fun and easy game that even the most casual of fans can get in to, even my non-gaming friends became hooked to this game. They keep coming over to “borrow things” and end up staying for hours, hooked on this game. It’s that damn fun.
What really ups the fun factor is the set of excellently designed tracks that come packaged with the game. Learning from prior mistakes in the past years, EA has opted to go with tracks that allow for the most speed and the least amount of braking. Sure there are plenty of curves but they’re nothing that a well-time downshift and E-brake motion couldn’t handle. Most of them are long, some of them 10+ miles so you can expect to spend lots of quality time on each one. There are plenty of them too, 30+ variations I believe, an awesome number of unique paths to travel on. This year’s tracks also feature multiple paths, most which will lead to you shaving off a few precious seconds you’re your final time. They’re not true branching paths though as they’ll always lead back to the main course but they’re pretty awesome nonetheless. My favorite has me driving on a dirt road and launching my vehicle off a ramp and through a huge billboard. It’s like something out a cheesy over the top 80’s flick but hey, who said this game was about realism?
Though there are quite a few absurdities in the game (helicopters will fire missiles at you) they always find a way of fitting into the context of the game. If there was ever a game that you should not take seriously, it’s NFSHP2 and you’ll probably come to this realization right from the start. What you’ll get when you purchase NFSHP2 is a game that is a pure arcade racer. This means cars that retain their grip on the road even while going 200 mph, vehicles that don’t suffer from stupid oddities such as understeer and gameplay that really wouldn’t be out of place at your local arcade. Don’t come here expecting to read telemetry charts that calculate your front to rear transfer ratios because it just ain’t gonna happen. The name of the game is Speed and if you’re like me, it’ll feel like heaven.
This game should really come with a warning label that reads “Caution: Bib not included” because believe me, you’ll need it. The game assaults your senses right from the start, featuring some of the flashiest menus you’ll ever see in a video game. Then the visual quality heightens during gameplay, culminating in perhaps the most pleasant visual treat in the history of video gaming. You had better keep some napkins handy because you’ll be doing a whole lot of drooling.
Flashy graphics have always been one of EA’s keys to success and thankfully, the tradition lives on through this title. Every object in the game really seems to have received an ungodly amount of attention. Nearly everything, the trees, the foliage, the roads, the structures, the sky, looks absolutely picture perfect. As you play the game more and more you’ll come to notice these small touches. In about the 15th hour of gameplay I found myself saying, “Holy damn, even the cop car’s sirens are translucent! I can see the actually siren inside!” Call me a freak but I live for these sorts of things. The visual package is definitely a remarkable one and it ranks among my picks for the best looking game of the year.
The vehicles each retain the super glossy sheen that was made famous by (you guessed it) Need for Speed III. If you ask my girlfriend she’ll tell you that the shinier the vehicle, the better the vehicle, this is one of the rare instances where I’ll have to agree with her. Each of these vehicles are modeled perfectly to match their manufacturer specific standards. In fact, they’re so beautiful that on the pre-race shot of the vehicle, I could had sworn that I was observing a CG vehicle instead of an engine rendered vehicle. Only after the race started that I realized it was in fact being rendered on the fly, my socks were completely knocked off.
Again the bar has been raised when it comes to the vehicle models. Each of them feature all of the little details that really go a long way towards blurring the lines of video games and reality. The detail on these vehicles are so impressive that you’ll even see the windshield wipers operate whenever you drive though a puddle of water. You’ll be able to peak inside and see a fully rendered interior complete with a fully 3D driver that animates accordingly to the action.
It’s not just the vehicles that received the attention, you’ll notice tons of little nuances that really go a long way in making this game special. Running into trackside foliage will cause it to sway as opposed to just remaining still and unfazed. Even the unfortunate signs that happen to become vehicle fodder are launched at a fairly logical trajectory. NFSHP2 also gives new meaning to the phrase ‘eat my dust’, as you linger behind your opponents you’ll be forced to drive through the thick fumes of dust that they leave behind. It will generally impair your vision and more importantly, the part of the track that you’re approaching. It’s quite obvious that a lot of time was spent perfecting the visual elements of the game and it really goes a long way in proving that this is the only racing game in town.
The sun really seems to play a key role in this year’s game, not just because it greatly enhances the beauty of the on-screen image, but it also serves to detract from your vision. While in other games you might forget about it because it’s merely a graphical device, the same won’t happen to you while you’re playing NFSHP2.You won’t get a cheesy lens flare effect like in other racing games, instead you have a beautiful bright light source that adds a blinding hue to your field of vision. In fact you’ll find that a lot of devices used for aesthethics in other games really play a vital role in regards to your success in this one. For instance, a desert level has you driving through a turn that has been hit by a tornado. Since the tornado is spinning rapidly it tosses up dust into the air and heavily blocks your field of vision. This causes you to have to navigate the turn blindly, hoping that you can survive the ordeal in one piece. Another has you driving through a forest area that just happens to be on fire. The tufts of smoke heavily impair your vision as you try to race your way through the area. It’s nifty little innovations like this that really place this one far above the rest.
The designers seemed to employ a new method of rendering the tracks and the vehicles. It’s almost as if everything but the player’s vehicle is a just a bit out of focus. This lends to a highly visceral feeling rivaling that of the world’s best movie cinematography. Speaking of cinematography, it seems that the designers had a love affair with the major motion picture, The Matrix as it utilizes one of its best known features. Every so often, certain incidents in the game will cause the action to pause while the camera sweeps around your vehicle in a full 360 motion. The effect, made popular by the movie, is just simply awesome, especially when it occurs in the midst of a nail-biting chase. You’ll get an awesome perspective on the sparks that result from the collision, the smoke that puffs up from your tires as you try to stop and the overall chaos that you’ve managed to get yourself in to. I wish this effect were used more often, however, it only occurs when you run into a roadblock or crash into the barrels dropped by the helicopters. Thankfully, you can activate this feature at will just by simply tapping the L2 button. Pressing R2 will allow you to see ahead of the action, another excellent feature that will probably become a standard in the series.
Nothing was spared when it comes to the audio department. Everything, from the roar of a V12 engine to every single one of those wimpy sound horns, has been recreated with fine detail. EA should be commended for having such a great audio department, audio samples come through clean and clearly and most importantly, realistically. There are some games where it seems as if audio elements are recycled over and over, it’s not the case here. Each engine sounds unique and if you’ve got a nice system, you’re in for one hell of a treat. Just make sure to contact the neighbors first or you’ll find yourself with more enemies than you’d like. You’ll also get an excellent soundtrack full of licensed music from some of today’s hottest metal and industrial artists. The music fits quite well with the racing as the pace of it usually invites you to press the pedal to the metal. Oh yea, did I mention this game has full Dolby Pro Logic II support?
If I had to fault NFSHP2 for something, I’d say that it lies in the need to unlock nearly every facet of the game. I appreciate that the game comes with so much to offer, but I just don’t like to unlock all of it. The consumer is paying full price for the title, they have a right to be able to use it to the fullest effect. I also have a few problems with the intelligence of the pursuing officers, though they’re much smarter than the ones in NFSIII they’re still a little braindead. On most occasions they’ll run into oncoming traffic and just TC themselves, not too much a challenge after a little bit of practice. With that being said, there isn’t much more that I can fault the game for. Nearly every aspect is refined and polished to the point where it just doesn’t get any better.
This game is fun, whether you’re speeding away from the cops, busting your buddies on the other side of the law, or just busting some donuts in the middle of the highway, this is one game that never gets old. What makes this game so great is that it adds tons of features and innovations to help advance the genre. It doesn’t merely nudge it ahead with a solitary finger but instead, hurls it forward with the velocity of a McLaren F1. After years of perfecting their trade, EA really seems to have hit the jackpot with this latest entry in the series. With all the time I’ve spent with this game, I can say wholeheartedly that it’s the only arcade racer I’ll be playing for the rest of the year. A pretty high compliment if I say so myself, especially when I’ve got a copy of Burnout 2 lying around the office.
NFSHP2 takes the best aspects of Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit and makes them even better. The end result is a game that manages to deliver on nearly ever front, definitely the best arcade racing title to come out in the past 3 years. A huge step forward for the Arcade racer genre, this game is in a class of its own.
Rating: 9.7 Exquisite
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.
It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.
It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.
When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."
As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.
When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.
Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile