Sunday, November 28, 2010

I have the need - the need to crash into walls repeatedly

"WOOP WOOP Thats the sound of the Police".  Or rather, during an average session of me playing Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, "WOOP WOOP CRASH Arrrrgggghh!! Bloody oncoming traffic!"

I've never been a fan of the Need for Speed games, especially recent iterations which glorified the Fast and the Furious world of the American equivalent of Chavs and their souped-up Vauxhall Corsas with blue neon under-lighting and loads of stick-on-plastic crap.  And oversized exhausts on tiny engines which end up making their cars sound like hover mowers.  They're almost as bad as the various versions of Gran Turismo with their unhealthy obsession with what borders on Car porn.  This doesn't mean I hate driving games - Far from it; I'm just not that interested in the simulator aspect of them.. which is why I've always preferred the Burnout series - good old fashioned stupidly fast arcade fun.

Which is why I was delighted that Criterion, developers of the consistently excellent Burnout series, had been picked as the new developers of the Need for Speed series.  And Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is their first release for it.  And it's fucking brilliant.

It's the age-old concept of Cops versus robbers.  A series of race where you play as the police attempting to take down illegal races through spike traps (Cue the yelling of 'Stinger!' every time you deploy one if you've ever caught any of the myriad of late night Cop shows), Road blocks and electromagnetic pulses - or alternatively as said illegal racers with jammers (that block the police abilities), spike traps, EMPs again and nitrous oxide boosts.  

As per the Burnout series, every single success is met with a drip feed of rewards.  A promotion here, new equipment there - and here is another new car to add to your already stupidly large garage, which must have to be the size of an American state to house them all.  The cars range from standard road models to almost science-fiction-esque concept models which would look more at home flying around the sky in the ridiculously overrated Blade Runner.

Playing as either side is simply brilliant - and each side plays sufficiently different to keep the whole thing interesting.  As per the Burnout series it chugs along at such a rate that you effectively have to switch your brain off and run on instinct. 

The genius aspect of the game is the introduction of Criterions new 'autolog' system.  It's essentially an in game RSS feed following all your friends successes and failures.  The High score chart (or 'Speedwall') is a list of the times of your friends.  Shave half a second from your mates best time on a particular track?  Gloat about in on their autolog feed and then kick your cat/dog/child through frustration ten minutes later when they do the same to you.  A great concept for competitive play, and one which will be ripped off in every driving game released in the future.

And Criterion missed a trick in not calling the autolog RSS 'Need for Feed' which would have been my recommendation if I was one of the developers.  Which I'm not.  Which, in hindsight, is actually remarkably smart of them - otherwise Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit would have been a text adventure in which you repeatedly typed 'Accelerate', 'Turn Left', 'Brake', etc.  And that would have been, I'm sure you'll agree, shit.

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