Stretches the definition of "remaster" a bit, but I think in this case that's for the best. I referenced Need for Speed's identity problem in my review for Unbound, seeing how two years after 2010's Hot Pursuit came out, Forza started pulling NFS' identity as "the fun one" out from under them with each new entry in the Horizon series.
("The fun one" isn't meant to suggest that other games like FlatOut or Burnout didn't exist, but if you were in it for the racing or the licensed cars - not the destruction physics - Need for Speed was the safe bet, the game popular enough that you could talk about it with acquaintances. It's also worth pointing out that Burnout hasn't had an original, mainline entry in the series since 2008, and FlatOut has received 2 sequels since then that have both disappointed series fans.)
Hailing from a pre-Forza Horizon era, Hot Pursuit still feels confident. The game is a playable car commercial. Not the ones about how your car will stop you from turning pedestrians into tomato paste, but the ones about how buying a new minivan can help you re-discover the joy of driving on an impossibly well-paved road winding along a cliff by the sea.
If the playable car commercial was indeed the inspiration for this entry in the series, then it executes on it admirably well. I'm not going to claim that the race designs are groundbreaking, but each one has a concept that keeps the whole affair from becoming a checklist despite the total lack of a story to guide the campaign. The roads are just wide enough and the traffic just sparse enough that you'll have to remain vigilant, but worry not - you'll be frequently rewarded with opportunities to fully open the throttle and just let loose on the open road. The voiced introductions for each car (played alongside the roar of its engine) are dramatic, sure, but they fit so well with the game's aesthetic and the narrator speaks so authoritatively that you'd be forgiven for thinking that something as mundane as the Nissan 370Z could play a pivotal role in automotive history, "redefining what an affordable sports car could be".
There are conventional races, there are time trials (mostly used as an opportunity to let you drive a Bugatti way earlier than normal), but the game is at its best when the cops show up to a race and you're clawing for first place while everyone involved - including you! - is flinging spike strips and EMPs all over the track. Where this game's slightly larger, straighter roads might make another racing game boring, you'll need the space to be strategic when the intensity is cranked this high. Otherwise, you'll find yourself cornered by a spike strip that has drifted into your path, still trying to come to a stop after being deployed at 240 mph. The large roads and the limited usage of player gadgets means that the emphasis is on driving skillfully first and foremost, and the simplicity of those gadgets keeps the mental load light while doing so. It still skews closer to straightforward NFS titles than a kart racer, but it does so without feeling rote or unfocused.
Except, uh, if you know this game you know I've been mostly talking about one half of it. I'm not nearly as enamored with the cop missions, which are typically going to task you with taking down racers before they finish a race or a certain amount of time elapses. There's just not enough present here to make the cop missions feel like anything more than a distraction, comparatively. The big distinction between cops and racers is the focus on a deadline, but the abilities that are unique to cops can't sell the fantasy of being the cat in a game of Cat & Mouse when the racer abilities do a better job of conveying impact. Helicopters and roadblocks are more fun for racers due to the added tension, but racer abilities don't return the favor: Turbo feels like you're piloting a missile for a few seconds, but from a cop's perspective, your target just gets faster? You're not getting the same sensation. This isn't to say that cop gameplay totally lacks excitement, because on a fundamental level you're still racing, you're still using gadgets (and spike strips still pack a punch), but you lose ~20% of the Racer campaign's thrill when you're not chasing a podium while staring down the barrels of two different factions trying to turn your car into tinfoil.
I suppose now is the point where I admit that I'm more than a little biased. I didn't realize I'd be so sentimental about this whole thing until I fired it up and realized this (or rather, the original version of this game) is the last game I remember being excited about before I started racking up adult responsibilities, and this is the first time I've picked it back up in 13 years. So uh - take all this with a grain of salt?
Reviewed on Mar 17, 2023
2 months ago