Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit gameplay preview

Hands-on: Burnout meets cops and racers in Criterion's exciting new NFS

Forget broken promises, bodged 'reinventions' and forget Kelly Brook (if that were possible); Burnout developer Criterion's take on Need for Speed is the series revamp that could finally deliver - and it's looking great.

Hot Pursuit takes the venerable racing series back to its roots - and in more than just name; high speed police pursuits and exotic race cars prop up the racer tasked with following up the fantastic last Burnout, and it's even delivered some gifts from Paradise in the form of gorgeous visuals, a lush game world and some ambitious, yet under-wraps online options.


Good Cop, bad Racer
The game kicks off with the difficult choice between embarking on a career as a tooled-up Cop, or going all Vin Diesel as a nitrous-burning Racer. Once you've chosen your path you'll either be chasing someone, or darting through traffic like a mad man trying to escape. It's a simple formula that has the potential to be brilliant fun - and knowing Criterion it probably will be.

As a Racer your flash set of wheels lifts off down woodland roads at speeds that look you straight in the face and scream, 'THE BLOKES FROM BURNOUT MADE THIS'.

Dodging traffic and breaking the speed limit is the name of the game as a Racer, the success of which tops up your 'Heat' meter allowing you to power along at even more ridiculous speeds, reducing the flashing lights of your opponent's Cop car to a mere speck in the rear-view mirror.

Hot Pursuit looks like a much more action-focused game than previous Need for Speeds, which means less focus on disturbingly realistic crashes on more on man-handling your exotic sports car around the asphalt.

Successfully escaping player Cops is all about sly handbrake turns, fishtailing opponents and perilous darting towards oncoming traffic. And controversially, that leads us to the weapons; within three or four minutes of a pursuit all of your vehicle's 'power-ups' come online. They're not quite green shells or giant electric fire balls from Blur, but radar jammers and tricky manoeuvres which cause Racers to slam on the breaks and swiftly retrace their skid marks.

Cops' abilities sound even more promising; with Racers' 'Heat' meter unavailable to the law, the boys in blue have to make do with abilities more focused on making the Racer player wrap his supercar around a lamppost. One such weapon is the devastating EMP, which when targeted carefully and rammed up an opponents' tailpipe slyly reverses their controls, no doubt leading to an embarrassing backwards doughnut and swift arrest.


Even better, Cops can radio for AI back up, which swiftly sends fellow patrol cars descending on your fleeing target, instantly turning a speedy one-on-one chase into an epic manhunt.

And if you eventually do lose site of your Racer target, you can call on the Cops' pièce de résistance, and call in a blazing, bat shit-scary police helicopter to storm overhead and sniff him out, with target intel simultaneously blaring out of a police radio on the passenger seat. Awesome.

The 'Autolog' feature gets your friends involved. Connect to another game to share pictures and experiences and Autolog will throw you challenges based on what your mate's achieved so far - because man cannot live on A.I competition alone you know.

And in true Criterion style this all takes place in a diverse open world housing everything from California coastline, deserts, forests, seasides and mountainous regions perfect for powering through.

Hot Pursuit presents a very promising formula then that could turn out to offer some really fantastic cat and mouse online battles. Plus with more than half of the final game's features still under-wraps - and a proven, stellar developer at the helm - this could lay the foundations of one of the most enjoyable racers of the year. Knowing Criterion, we'd bet money on it doing just that.