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Review: Hot Pursuit will get your heart racing

Some people like to be in front of the pack, running ahead, evading; while others like to pursue, chase, run down. They'll all have fun with Electronic Arts' latest racing title, Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, which puts gamers in the roles of Racers or Cops.

It's set in the fictional Seacrest County, an idyllic racing place with a varied geography, from seaside to mountain, from forest to farmland. The landscape is webbed with roads, too, and includes detours, tunnels and turnpikes.

That's what the game's all about, of course, and developer Criterion Games delivers an exhilarating behind the wheel experience that provides a convincing sense of racing at top speed. And by allowing players to be the rabbit or the fox, Hot Pursuit is a welcomed return to the spiritual roots of the franchise.

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Players can build careers as both Racers and Cops, driving officially licensed vehicles from manufacturers such as Maserati, Porshe, Jaguar and more. Progression through the twenty ranks – starting as a Speeder or Cadet and going to Most Wanted or Ultimate Enforcer – occurs by earning points during racing events. Racers rack up points for finishing an event at the top of the standings, for driving dangerously and for causing a "cost to the state." Cops collect points for busting racers quickly, for "use of force" and for "pursuit skills".

Acquiring points also grants access to new cars and increases the number of weapons that can be used against adversaries. Both Racers and Cops get access to spike strips and EMP pulses. Racers also get frequency jammers and turbo boosts, while Cops are supplemented by road blocks and helicopter support.

All vehicles are equipped with nitrous. Charging it requires different behaviours from Racers and Cops, though. Racers need to drive in oncoming traffic, causing near misses and wrecking a patrol car. Cops recharge by driving fast and busting Racers.

  • The Goods Platform: PC, PS3, Xbox 360 The good: Excellent sensation of speed; great renderings of environments, cars and weather. The bad: Lacklustre crashes; extraneous features that will go unused. The verdict: While this might seem like just another racing title, Criterion has nailed the excitement of playing cat and mouse in vehicles travelling at top speed.

Racing in Hot Pursuit takes a few different forms. Time Trials (Racer) and Rapid Response (Cop) events pit players against the clock. Interceptor events are one-on-one with a Racer trying to evade a Cop. Hot Pursuit events involve a number of Racers and Cops, where racers try to avoid being caught and Cops try to bust the racers before the race is over.

As a Racer, your job is to get across the finish line first, so rubbing out your opponents isn't the best strategy because it reduces speed and vehicle performance. For Cops, however, the objective is to bust the Racer and is accomplished when sufficient damage is done to his or her car.

Collisions and the resulting damage aren't nearly as convincing – or as thrilling – as I expected, especially given how smooth the visuals flow and how exquisitely everything else is rendered. The point is not to crash, but to go fast. Hot Pursuit has no difficulty delivering that sensation.

The driving is forgiving. The only thing you need to worry about is acceleration and nitrous, and braking occasionally. In fact, the cars seem to handle better when going at top speed than they do when moving slowly or accelerating. This feature allows beginners to play, enjoy and even excel.

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Autolog is the name given to the Hot Pursuit interface, and it's where you access your Career mode, as well as a number of online, social and multiplayer features which include leaderboards unique to your friends, a Facebook-like wall for photos and a store where impatient or unskilled gamers can purchase cars without having to unlock them through events.

Autolog Recommends takes information from what your friends have been doing in the game, and prompts you to match your performance against their results. It's the kind of thing that will really (pardon the pun) fuel competition, and it's what makes Hot Pursuit so different from other racing games.

The taunting that can occur – the one-upmanship -is only part of the fun. The real thrill is going head-to-head in an online Interceptor event, with one of you as a Cop, the other a Racer.

If the developers at Criterion made any mistakes, it was in trying to include features in Hot Pursuit that are unnecessary.

Trying to encourage car fetishism is the most ludicrous.

Each vehicle has a catch phrase – "Unleased" is the one for the Porsche Boxter Spyder – and a flattering description presented by a honey-voiced narrator. The game also includes a photo mode which automatically posts to your wall. But there are no car customization features in the game. I don't particularly want to become a tuner to play Hot Pursuit, but without some degree of personalization, the photo mode is wasted. No-one is going to take a picture of the same car that everyone has access to.

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A Freedrive mode, in which you can just drive the winding roads of Seacrest County without worrying about adversaries, cops or damage to your car, also seems extraneous.

Hot Pursuit is about competition among your friends and either trying to pursue or evade. Stay focused on how well the game is able to deliver an intense and electrifying racing experience, and just ignore the rest.

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