Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 redefines the series for the PC with four play modes, five types of races, and online multiplayer action. In Single Challenge, players earn points based on performance to unlock new cars and tracks, while Hot Pursuit and Championship modes offer a series of races leading to "Ultimate Road Racer" and "World Champion" titles respectively. Hot Pursuit mode gives players 33 high-speed challenges ranging from fast getaways to chasing down speeders as a cop, while Championship mode consists of 33 events focusing more on skill than police evasion. Quick Race mode offers randomly generated single-player races with unlocked cars on available tracks.
Race types available in Single Challenge, Hot Pursuit and Championship modes include standard race-to-the-finish-line events, "Be the Cop" races (chase down and run into targeted speeders), Lap Knockout (elimination racing against up to seven computer-controlled drivers), Tournament (design your own multi-race event), and Free Run (no time limits or opponents). In Single Challenge races, options include a choice of police presence or not, number of opponents, type of opponent vehicles, three difficulty settings, traffic, time limits (three, five, or seven minutes), and the number of races in a tournament (two to eight).
Tracks in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 feature shortcuts, escape routes, tunnels, reversible directions, mirror images, and much more, while Hot Pursuit and Championship modes include "trees" that allow gamers to select a specific path through an interconnected series of challenges and rewards. Players can choose from and unlock more than 20 world-class licensed cars from manufacturers including Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, Jaguar, Mercedes, BMW, Viper, Corvettes, Mustang Cobras, Lotus, Vauxhall, and many more.
Automatic or manual shifting, slow-motion replays and other camera tricks, vehicle color selections, selectable HUD features, and customized audio with more than a dozen tracks from EA Games (including songs by Uncle Kracker and Rush), are but some of the options included. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 supports up to eight players via the Internet or a LAN.
It's hard to ignore the beauty of Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2. The car models are gorgeous (complete with fully articulated drivers), the tracks are stunning and jam-packed with details, and even the interface is sharp. The Need For Speed series has always been a leader in the graphics department, and this latest version firmly cements this position. Framerates remain consistently high, even on moderately powered systems (these days, around the 1 GHz mark) at the highest resolution with all the features cranked and a full retinue of cars onscreen. Small touches abound, such as leaves drifting in the wind and signposts spinning when hit just right. The audio is excellent, with meaty engine sounds, cool chatter from the cops, and a super soundtrack. Like many of this year's EA titles, you can even play your own MP3 music files or pop in your favorite CD.
Unfortunately, there are some problems. First, the gimmicky slow-mo jump cam just doesn't work -- when you catch air, the camera does a Matrix-like pan, totally disorienting you for when the view and speed shift back to normal. There are also a sad number of camera views (four), and using the 360-degree cam from the third-person view is guaranteed to have you hurling in no time. Thankfully, these features can be turned off. Replays are also given the shaft, with only one angle available for viewing. This would be less egregious if it were a TV-cam that showed interesting angles, but all you get is a sterile third-person view. Cars can display damage, but it's limited to a crumpled hood, and even then you have to beat the hell out of the car for that to happen.
Gameplay is something of a mixed bag, although there's far more good than bad. The physics are extremely arcade-based, which isn't a bad. The problem is, however, that the controls feel sluggish and the cars feel like they're pivoting around a pole running through their center. You're constantly reminded that like you're controlling an object on the screen rather than steering a real vehicle. This becomes less problematic as you get used to the quirkiness of the game, but a more robust and realistic physics model would have helped put Hot Pursuit 2 over the top.
Difficulty levels are well-balanced and ramp up nicely as you improve your driving skills. The AI of the CPU cars is tuned to give you a good race, and they're not afraid to push you out of the way if you're impeding their progress. Many of my races ended in close finishes, and there was plenty of jostling along the way -- good stuff.
The amount of things to do is absolutely staggering. The modes include a quick race, single race challenges, "hot pursuit" mode, and championship mode. The latter two mods consist of 33 events, each setup in a branching format that assign you tasks and give you points depending on how successful you are. These points can be used to unlock cars and tracks in the single race challenge mode (which also lets you decide the police presence, if there's traffic, etc.).
The races themselves are fantastic. The 12 tracks are enormous; in fact, it would have been nice to be able to chop them into smaller pieces for shorter races. With the ability to race them reversed and mirrored, there are 48 track variations in all. Combine this with the huge number of cool shortcuts and alternate routes, and you'll be doing plenty of exploring trying to find optimal paths. Then there's the "pursuit" part of Hot Pursuit. Here you can choose to play as the police, running down scofflaws and doling out your own justice in the form of tire spikes, roadblocks, and even bomb-dropping helicopters. As long as you're playing on your own, there's really no shortage of things to do.
Face it: if you're the kind of gamer who demands realism in your driving games, then this isn't the game for you. Pick up a copy of NASCAR Racing 2002 or Grand Prix 4 instead. But, if you're an arcade racing fan who doesn't own a PS2 and can get past the PC version's flaky controls, you should find a fun ride in Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2.
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