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Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2

Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: EA Games
Media: GCD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Racing

Graphics & Sound:

Racing and sports game revenues will forever be lining the pockets of game company executives. The pressure to release newer and possibly better versions of a successful franchise must be extreme in the old boardroom, but with some exceptions most of us are happy to see a 'new and improved' take on a good racing formula. The Need for Speed franchise certainly would have good excuse for showing its age, but Hot Pursuit 2 is as spry and sexy as Pierce Brosnan's James Bond. I was going to say Hugh Hefner, but I got the willies...

I'm the kind of racing fan who likes to turn off all the fancy bells and whistles in the visual interface, switch the camera to cockpit view and enjoy the sight of asphalt whistling by at 150mph. But, if you are the kind to monitor mini-maps, laps in progress, race time, even the rear-view mirror, all the goodies you could ever want are available in the Heads-Up Display for Hot Pursuit 2. Cockpit View is immersive and fast, with scenery rushing by willy-nilly. God, the scenery! Levels look measurably better than the last installment of the series, and one race should be enough to convince you. But, in case you're the type that takes a bit more convincing, almost 50 tracks are in here to be raced! The excellent graphics are matched by a solid soundtrack. Sure, I wish there was more than one song each by Uncle Kracker and Bush, but the other tracks are acceptable (if a bit predictable) and hard rockin' as always.


Gameplay:

If graphics are an expected improvement, fans of the series may be a bit surprised to see the level of depth added to Hot Pursuit 2 in the way of gameplay. The title mode, Hot Pursuit, offers a 'tree' that lets you choose your progress from race to race. in this way, you can work within the challenge level you're comfortable with and follow a path that sounds most interesting to you. In the beginning, all but a few choices are locked, and how you place in the first races affects the way the story plays out. But, you can always go back and retry a race to attempt to open a locked challenge once your skills improve. Championship Mode is similar to Hot Pursuit, but without the cops. If you don't like the idea of being pulled over in mid-race, you are going to miss out on half this game. But, even if you take away the 'pursuit' part, Championship Mode could be a full game in itself. Also built on a tree, or series of interlocking challenges, you have to choose the path you'll follow as you progress (or don't progress) through the game. Some challenges are simple time trials to unlock cars or tracks, and others are full-on races. The unlocking you'll do by winning a race is actually separate from the points you're granted as reward for great performance. These points can be cashed in later for cars and tracks. And, there are a ton of awesome cars you can win and customize.

A customizable Single Race mode and a Quick Race mode round out the experience from a birds-eye view, but there's still a huge amount of multiplayer fun to be had. Also, you get a chance to sit behind the wheel of a cop's car and chase speeders. Normally, as a driver, when cops are on your tail you'll see an alert flash on screen and once you successfully avoid them you'll be given bonus points for performance. As the cop, you have lots of opportunity to thwart speedsters, to the extent you can call for backup and roadblocks. It's safe to say that the cop AI isn't anywhere near what a human player can do in the cop car, and thank goodness. With Free Run options, 'build your own' Tournament Mode and the various single challenges included, Hot Pursuit 2 is a dizzying collection of gameplay options. But, it all holds together and combines to make one of the stronger arcade-style racers you're likely to see this year.


Difficulty:

Not having had the experience of racing a Lotus at 150mph down a twisty mountain road, I'm probably ill equipped to comment on the realism or accurate physics represented in Hot Pursuit 2. But, I can say this much: If you drive too fast and make quick course corrections, you gonna crash and crash hard. Things like handbrake slides around hairpins can quickly become 360-degree spins not unlike what you might experience in a well-tuned F1 game. Now, that isn't the most fun and can be a little frustrating for folks who just want a buffered, arcade racer. But, if you're serious about racing and can handle a bit of a learning curve, you're going to like the realism in handling here. With a steering wheel, it only gets better.

Game Mechanics:

The engine for Hot Pursuit 2 continues to maintain a comfortable middle ground between nerve shattering realism and 'cares to the wind' arcade action. Also, the graphics only keep getting better. One great example of continuous graphics upgrade is the sky-cam effect you find after a big jump or insane crash. The action switches to a birds-eye view and you watch your car in slow-mo going through the action sequence. The crash-cam will draw comparisons to Burnout, with good reason. But, in a growing franchise, there's always room for improvement and borrowing, as long as it doesn't become too derivative. For argument's sake, look at the Pursuit Mode now present in the new Burnout... Give a little, take a little, eh? In a game with as many nooks and crannies as Hot Pursuit 2, I'm impressed with how easy everything is to navigate. If we had online capability next and even a track editor, I think I'd cry with joy and offer the heavyweight title to the development team over at EA. As it is, Hot Pursuit 2 inches closer to racing perfection, and offers a great combination of options. The support for Logitech's Force Feedback wheel should spur those who haven't taken the leap to go out and invest in this piece of hardware. It definitely adds an extra dimension to the game, but the Gamecube controller still offers good play control.

Gamecube owners aren't lacking for racing action, it seems. Not only does the upcoming calendar of games offer many promising titles, but the past 6 months have seen several solid games come to market. Trying to decide which way to jump? Well, if you are the person who likes realism, but also likes the thrill of the chase, give Hot Pursuit 2 a chance. There's probably enough here to keep any racer happy for a long, long time.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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