This raises racing to a new echelon of excitement.
NFS: Hot Pursuit is easily, bar none, the most exciting and fun sportscar racing game I've ever played. I've played a lot of them, all the way back to Outrun
and Test Drive
of the mid-1980s, and this just takes the cake.
Traditional gameplay elements exist, such as single one-off races, and a nice elimination circuit where the loser is taken off of the roster until only two are left. But, by far, the single-most element of what makes this game fun is the Hot Pursuit mode -- you get to race against another player, but there's a third element in your way: The cops! You can slow down to 55 mph and drive in the correct lane whenever you hear your radar detector going off, and that will avoid them... but most of the time you gun it and try to slam past the cop in your high-performance vehicle. Once you've got a cop on your tail, or two, or three, it's no longer about winning, it's about not getting caught. Spike strips, roadblocks, hearing them radio for backup... Never before have I gotten this excited playing a racing game for the PC. And if you think you've got what it takes, you can play the cop!
All the tracks are very large, nicely detailed, and contain lots of shortcuts for evading the cops. (These shortcuts appear disabled for traditional races, wisely, since it makes finish times more fair and consistent.) There's even an ode to Test Drive; one of the tracks takes place in the rocky mountains of Canada, and there's a very long stretch of -- you guessed it -- a wall of rock on your right and a sheer dropoff on your left.
A nice assortment of cars comes with the game, and you can finally compare them right in the selection screen. This way you can see which car performs better than others. The Lamborghini pair just about sweeps the board, except I found their handling a bit sluggish. (In case you're wondering, my favorite car is the Corvette. Black.)
Speaking of the color of my preferred car, the graphics are just fantastic. The software rendering is good, if a bit slow, but a 2nd-generation 3D card makes the game shine. I played with a regular TNT-based card (Diamond Viper V550), and even on my 200MHz machine it was very enjoyable.
The sound and music are the best they've ever been in this series; the music ranges from rock, to techno, to somewhere in between. It's never obnoxious, nor dull. Most of the music tracks are completely listenable on their own. EAX/D3D is supported; I would've liked support for A3D, but with Aureal facing a bleak future, I guess it's for the best.
Unlike most Windows games that supported 3D hardware in 1998, NFS: HP is actually stable
. Imagine that -- a well-programmed game for Windows... The auto-update function was also nice, as it automatically found a patch for my outdated version and installed it prior to me playing the game.
There is a large user fanbase; going to www.nfscheats.com and viewing the affiliates will get you started. There are user-created cars, tracks, cheats, etc. There's even a growing movement to create a single-user unofficial version of Motor City, the newest installment in the series that many users are unhappy about because it's going to be online only.
Finally, the replay playback is one of the most professional I've seen. You can't "edit" the playback to suit your needs, but the default choice of camera angles is great, with additional logic used occaisionally to pick a good
camera angle based on the action. A fixed camera, cleverly placed, is used in one track's replay routine to show how cars slip and slide around a hairpin turn; another trick is to switch to a "facing-rear" view when a cop is close on your tail. And if that weren't enough, you can save your replay as a "ghost" replay, which lets you start a race against yourself, trying to beat your own best time.
No internet play! Yes, TCP/IP network play exists, but that's not the same as "internet" play. There's no central meeting place hosted by Electronic Arts to meet up with people who want to race, ala WON or Battle.net or Unreal, etc. I hear that the next games in the series support this, but it would have kicked ass in Hot Pursuit and I feel the game suffers from it.
Even though realism is touted highly in the advertising, I felt that the cars handled a little too
well, even with all the assists off. The game is meant to be arcade-ish, I know, but the original Need For Speed did
have a very realistic feel; in fact, it's what set it apart at the time.
No car damage or player injury! What's up with that?
Enemy AI (ie. the cops) could be better. You can hear them talking to HQ on the radio and being informed of your presence, but they always seem surprised when you fly by them -- they're always standing still, instead of ramping up speed in anticipation of you coming their way. Bad AI usually hurts a game, but I didn't mind too much.
The Bottom Line
It was a great value at $49.95 and it's a brilliant
value today (year 2000) at $9.95. If you could choose only one racing game to play for the rest of your life, this would definitely be a contender.