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Games

'Hot Pursuit Remastered' Goes Back to the Purest Essence of Need for Speed

See car, chase car.
November 12, 2020, 2:00pm

When Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit debuted back in 2010, the series was trying to figure out exactly what it was. The series had begun with arcade thrills on public roads, driving as fast as possible. They struck gold when they added street-style car customisation with the Underground games. They took it to the next level with Most Wanted in 2005 with fantastic emphasis on cop chases and evading pursuits, and it proved to be an iconic game within the series, and a smash hit. But subsequent versions were either too short (Carbon), or failed to recapture the magic that Most Wanted had (Pro Street, Undercover). 

They tried to take it in a different direction entirely with Shift, a more traditional racer with focus on the mental side of being behind the wheel, such faded colours when crashing, and influence on either being precise or scrappy as a driver. It was well received, but wasn’t really a Need For Speed game at its heart. 

Hot Pursuit was a return to the series' roots. Simplistic in its premise, but excellent in its execution. This week marks its 10th Anniversary, and EA have celebrated with a remastered version of Criterion's cult classic, tweaked by Stellar Entertainment for this remastered version.

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Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is focused on cops-and-racers car chases through  picturesque scenery. Based in the fictional area of Seacrest Country, it offers two paths:  play as a hotshot street racer trying to win races and escape the cops, or you can play as one of the cops trying to break-up street races with force as you climb the ranks of the SCPD. In 2020, this certainly hits a little differently compared to the time of the original, but Need For Speed’s world is so much like a soap opera in its reality-stretching, over-the-top nature that it’s pretty much a moot point in the grand scheme of things.

Both sides of the events ladder have rankings, gaining access to faster cars and weapons as you progress. At the start, you’re looking at relatively tame sports cars like the Mazda RX-8, and the Audi TT. By the time your rank is in the double digits, you’ll be in full-blown hypercars of the time like the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport and the Koenigsegg Agera. You’ll also gain access to weapons within races like EMP’s top fire at cars in front, spike strips to hit cars behind you. 

Both careers have unique weapons too. If you’re a racer, you have access to a “Turbo” that gives your car a massive speed boost beyond its normal capabilities; as well as a radio jammer that disables all weapons in play (Like incoming spike strips), and also stops the police from targeting you with EMP’s themselves. If you’re a cop, you can deploy a roadblock to block the path ahead and hope you can damage a racer’s car, or even immobilize them altogether for an easy bust. They also get access to helicopters that can fly in, follow the pursuit, and lay spike strips in front of you, rather than behind.

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The core of Hot Pursuit is car chases, played from either side. If you’re a racer, you’re trying to win races against your opponents while avoiding the police’s distractions. If you’re a cop, you’re shutting the race down by using your aggression and weapons to bust as many cars as you can before they finish the race. Busting cars (usually by engineering spectacular crashes) was by far the most satisfying part of the game for me, and very fun. The side dishes are either one-on-one races, which just aren't as fun as the chaos of multiple car races. Or there are glorified time trials where you’re heading from Point A to B as fast as possible. There’s added difficulty as a cop here, as hitting traffic or colliding with the walls incurs time penalties. The free roam option without objectives is still there, but it doesn’t do enough to really keep you interested for more than a few minutes of laid back driving. The main modes overall are a little repetitive, but do not get too monotonous. 

The beauty of Hot Pursuit was its simple fun. The drifting was tricky at times, the game carrying a small amount of input lag (A small delay between inputs on the wheel and the steering of the car), but when you got it right, it was incredibly satisfying. The tactical element of which weapon to use, and when, showed a hidden level of depth as well. For better and worse, this all holds true in the remaster as well. 

If you’re a racer with EMP’s, do you target your fellow competitor, thinking a takedown will send them down the field? Or do you target a police helicopter laying spike strips up ahead? Or is that what you use your jammer for, disabling all weapons briefly? The amount of weapons for each event are limited, so timing and situational awareness are keys to success. The chases as cops where you’re shutting down as many as eight cars in a race were so much fun, and once you got into it, it was very hard to put down. Overall, the weapon system was intuitive, slowly drip-fed into the career modes, and thankfully, not too much of a distraction from the pure driving experience.

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There was also the nifty “Autolog'' feature baked into EA games at the time, where you were in constant competition with your friend’s list for times during events, and milestones such as cars busted, or total busts. 

It’s no surprise that this game was a surprise hit back in 2010, but how does the remastered version on its own fare on its own merit? Short answer: It does the job.

Hot Pursuit Remastered still maintains a lot of the same fun that was had a decade ago. The game has held up pretty well, the elements making it fun are still there. But be careful, as if you’re looking for new content, there isn’t a whole lot here.

There are definitely visual and performance enhancements here. The roads and cars have got an extra level of detail and polish. Same with the background scenery, even if you’re gonna be a little distracted driving at 200 miles per hour or more. If you’ve got a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X, you can choose between playing at 1080p resolution with 60 frames per second, or playing 4k at 30. I highly recommend playing at 60fps if you can for the extra smoothness.

A big plus is they’ve improved upon Autolog and added “Cross-Play” functionality, enabling people on all consoles to play and compare times, regardless of gaming platform. Sadly, at the time of review, online wasn’t available, but I’m eager to see if chases online were as good as I remember them being.

They’ve added all the DLC that was in the original 2010 release so there are more events and cars, which is nice as you don’t have to grind online as much to get to Rank 20. There’s a new Photo Mode so you can capture the cars and scenery in all its glory while you play, or in the garage. And if you’re playing as a Racer, instead of the usual handful of official livery colors, there’s now a custom paint maker where you can basically drive in any colour you want with a matte, gloss, pearlescent or metallic finish, which is nice.

There’s also a big drawback that’s noticeable if you played the original as much as I did: the handling model isn’t what it was. They’ve added a more “weighty” feel to the cars, so you can’t change direction as quickly, and it’s hard to straighten cars out on corner exit. This is a shame as when you’re playing a drift racer like Burnout or this, you want that confidence as you drive and don’t want to constantly over-adjust. The sweet spot is still there when you do get it right, it just isn’t as often as the original.

Hot Pursuit Remastered ticks all the major boxes and does what it needs to do as an updated version of a classic. It’s still a very fun arcade racer in a time where they seem to be harder to come by. If you passed on the original, this at a discounted price compared to the usual AAA-games out there might be worth a look. If you’ve got the original on PC for instance, there might not be enough here to keep you interested for too long outside of a graphical spruce-up and brief nostalgia kick. 

Personally, I was in two minds with this remaster. As a guy who put nearly 100 hours into the original, it was fun to play a game I loved again for the first time in a decade. But I can’t help but shake the feeling of disappointment that there just wasn’t much more to come with the package. That EA was content with a literal lick of paint and not too much more. I don’t think I’ll be sticking around too much longer, but I still think this fills a void that's been left by the more recent games in the series like Heat and Payback. Maybe EA can tap into a little of what made Hot Pursuit so great, and apply it to the next generation of gaming and the series alike. But for now, I’m still not back on the wagon yet.