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Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit brought me a little closer to embracing the race game genre. With its hectic take on Cops 'n' Robbers, I found myself truly drawn to the law.
These are my streets and this is my community. I know every inch of these roads: every intersection, every tunnel and every bend. Each transgressor that comes here to wreck the peace and quiet of our beautiful coastal town will feel the full resources of the law brought against them. A cloud of dust and stench of burning tyres tells me that an illegal racer is mere metres ahead of me. Before the dispatch notice has come over the radio, I'm flashing blue and red and blaring out the siren that tells the world that justice is on the way. My opponent is fast and cunning, but is ultimately an outsider. They don't know the roads the way I do. I know that there is a narrow pass ahead, just after a blind corner. I get on the radio and call for a roadblock. They won't make it through. Even if they do, I'll be there to run what is left off the road...
When I play any kind of game, I'm always looking for a context to motivate my in-game actions. Perhaps it comes out of being a writer and loving the process of telling and crafting stories, but I find it difficult to get excited about pursuing a game's goals if I can't align myself with some kind of adventure progression. Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit is a game which finally gave me that context once I knew where to look.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit impressed me straight out of the box with the simple inclusion of a street map of the coastal town in which the game takes place. In the same way that real maps and maps in the back of fantasy novels have always inspired me to imagine the potential adventure that these lands contain, I couldn't help but wonder at how these freeways and mountain passes would be formed into gaming tales.
What then confused me was that my first experiences with the game seemed to be a linear set of races to play through, each chosen by selecting their location on the game map. I felt let down, and with the denial of the possibilities that the map had promised and the lack of enthusiasm I felt for the street racer career, I could feel Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit starting to pall early on.
I felt let down, cheated by the denial of possibilities the map had promised.
As if by providence I found the Police career and this game was suddenly turned around. It retains the ultra-fast driving and handling challenge of a good racer, but combines it with the impetus to catch-up and disable other racers on the road. Each encounter sees me as a lone Police enforcer, rushing to intercept and shut down an illegal race. Finally I had the context I needed to get excited about the breakneck driving and I began to really enjoy my time with the game.
I did also discover the free driving mode, which allows you to drive around the whole connected map as either a racer or a cop and see how the different courses join up. There is no pressure of the opposing side and no win or loss conditions. It's a great chance to get to know the whole town's layout and practice skills.
What is a real pity is that the main racing levels don't feel more connected to this open world structure. It seems like a huge missed opportunity. As a racer, I felt the world should be an open exploration, with illegal races being arranged by text and having to find my own way to the start line. As a Police presence, what I really wanted was to be able to patrol the streets and wait for news of illegal activity, before racing along a shortcut to intercept. By casting the actual challenge levels in their own space Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit denies the promise of that map and the possibilities of an interconnected space for adventure.
Sadly, for that reason alone I found Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit to be less satisfying for me than Need For Speed: The Run. While The Run doesn't have an interconnected open world either, I felt that the world space that had been created was tied intrinsically to the fiction and therefore I was able to immerse myself in the pretence of dashing from one coast of the USA to the other on pain of death. As a writer and fan of great stories, it is that kind of adventure I seek.
If you are a pure driving fan then Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit is better.
That said, if you are a serious and competitive racing fan I can see that Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit may have the edge over The Run. It doesn't sacrifice as much in the name of fiction to the pure pursuit of varied racing modes and the thrilling chase of the pursuit modes. In many respects, with Hot Pursuit's restrained additional weaponry it almost plays like a mature take on Mario Kart.
What I would say is that the pair of Need For Speed titles I have now played are both excellent racing games. I think it's a good thing that this series uses slightly different flavours of gameplay to appeal to different gamers. So many racing games re-hash the same approach and style over and over and never make any converts.
If you like your gaming with a dash of adventure and movie-style thrills I'd suggest that you give Need For Speed: The Run a closer inspection. However if you are more of a pure driving fan and are looking for impressive racing with some nicely presented car-battling, then Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit is the better game for you, whether you see yourself as a law-keeper or an outsider.
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