Preview: Need for Speed Hot Pursuit

I'm a Criterion fanboy. I've explored nearly every nook and cranny of Paradise Island and clocked a lot of mileage with the myriad DLC available for Burnout Paradise. Yet, the team's reboot of the Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit series simply didn't click with me. Of course, what I played was an early build and one limited to a 1-on-1 versus mode -- hardly indication of what chaos to expect in a larger multiplayer match -- but that's not necessarily a recipe for a bad first impression.

Criterion's approach to Hot Pursuit, I was told, is to focus on the basis of the franchise: the thrill of the chase. However, the 1-on-1 chase that I played wasn't thrilling at all; despite being based on a solid concept: you play as either cop or racer (escaping the police) and utilize a number of weapons to slow down your opponent. The racer, for example, can jam the cop car's radar, while the cop can summon a barricade.
%Gallery-95184% In practice, the weapons were unbalanced. Creating a roadblock didn't do much to stop the racer, who usually just plowed through it. Sure, doing so cost the racer some "health" -- and the cop's goal is to inflict enough damage on the race car to grind it to a halt -- but the racer's radar jammer is a much more effective weapon that can quickly spell the end of the match. After all, the racer has the rather straightforward task of driving out of the cop's range of detection and staying away long enough for it to score as a getaway (GTA style). So, jamming the cop's radar can be rather debilitating for the pursuer and ultimately game ending.

With only two players in the mode I played, it was hard not to get bored by how empty the world was. While the match was confined to a closed-off area within the game's much larger open world, the map was still too spacious to keep me engaged in the supposed thrill of the chase. Presumably, the chase concept could be fun with a full lobby of cars ramming into each other. However, I still have my doubts based on a few observations. For one, the cars just don't feel very fast and have poor handling. Being accustomed to the tight controls of games like Split/Second and Criterion's own Burnout, I was baffled by the loose handling of the Hot Pursuit cars. Additionally, the game could easily succumb to the biggest problem that plagued Paradise's online mode: the expansive map made certain events feel barren and uncompetitive.

So far, Hot Pursuit doesn't look to deliver the high-octane thrills that I expect from a Criterion game. Even the team's iconic crashes aren't very satisfying in this game. While the licensed cars showcase a good deal of damage, the over-the-top Hollywood physics of a Burnout game don't seem present. Maybe cars aren't always supposed to flip over, transform into flying fireballs and explode into buses, but at least that would give Need for Speed the boost of adrenaline it's sorely missing right now.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.