Written by: Rik

Date posted: May 1, 2004


Unlike some racers, the dashboard view in NFS 3 is more than playable.

The behemoth known as Electronic Arts is increasingly reviled for producing more homogenised, mass market fluff than decent entertainment these days, but there was a time when the EA name was synonymous with high quality, original titles. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line they decided they’d made enough of those, and that a steady stream of sequels would suffice. Like it or not, they’ve certainly made big piles of cash out of it, with enough left over to acquire any other franchise-worthy titles that may prove profitable.

The Need for Speed (reviewed elsewhere on this site) was one of the more obvious candidates for a sequel; it was both commercially and critically successful, with plenty of scope for improvement given the technological limitations of the system for which it was developed, the ill-fated 3DO. Unfortunately NFS 2 was an immense disappointment, failing to build upon the promise of the original and taking the series down the wrong road completely. Gone were the exciting police chases of the first game, replaced by mundane and frustrating lap-racing that had been seen many times before.

To their credit, EA realised their mistake and came up with Hot Pursuit, rightly lauded as a return to form, although somewhat typically it responded to the outcry over the lack of police in NFS 2 by making it the most prominent feature of the third game. While the option to simply race against other sports cars remains, it’s clear that the “Hot Pursuit” mode is the main focus. Not only do the police feature heavily, their involvement is extended far beyond what we saw in the original.

Whoops. I think it’s safe to say there’s no getting out of this one.

The head-to-head feature from NFS returns and remains pretty much intact: you and an opponent race on public roads while trying to avoid the attention of the police (although it’s nigh impossible to do so – but more on that later). In addition, you can turn rat-catcher and be on the side of the law if you so wish, tailing those no-good perps in your police cruiser a la Chase HQ. This is actually more fun than it sounds, if a little blighted by the woolly criteria for getting the cars to stop and certainly well implemented, but most racing aficionados will surely ignore it completely and start choosing which hideously-expensive motor to start wreaking havoc with.

Speaking of which, there’s a fair selection of cars to choose from, with your usual selection of Lamborghinis and Ferraris on offer, although rather annoyingly you have to unlock some of the best ones by being good at the game. One cool feature is the ability to download new cars from the net, and although the official site is probably long gone, the cars themselves should be available from a number of dedicated NFS sites, which also boast a whole load of extra vehicles and other goodies. As before, the cars are divided into speed classes, so you can make sure you win by giving your computer opponent a hairdresser’s Mercedes while you race into the distance in your Lamborghini Diablo. [sigh] Or, if you want a fair race, you can make sure you get one by selecting cars with similar performance levels.

Once on the road, it’s all good clean fun. There’s not a huge variety in the number of tracks available, with EA cynically re-using the same three themes (coastal, country and alpine) to up the number of courses it can plaster all over the game packaging. As with other NFS games, the handling is a little ropey at times, which hinders progress on the more tricky courses, but this is barely noticeable when you first get going on the high-speed opener. It’s not long before the police get involved either, a nice touch being that you can hear the police radio communications as you play. Speed past a cop car going the other way and you hear him telling dispatch about joining the pursuit of some maniac in a [insert make and colour of car you’re driving] who happens to be going over [insert approximate speed in mph].

Racing with Ferraris. Unfortunately, they can’t be used in pursuit mode, owing to the manufacturer’s objections.

As the chase hots up, the police use more increasingly desperate tactics to catch you. At first this just means increased numbers, but later they use roadblocks and tyre-slashing spike-strips to try and end the chase. You can hear what the police are planning next over the radio so you have some chance of trying to avoid their traps, although it has to be said that neither the roadblocks or the spike strips span the width of the road and could easily be avoided by accident in any case.

While this is obviously a deliberate piece of the gameplay mechanics, it adds to the feeling that the admittedly enjoyable police chases are somewhat contrived. For a start, the courses are not sections of road, but in fact tracks wearing [duh-duh] road trousers. The presence of road-signs and civilian traffic attempt to convince you that you are in fact on public roads, but make no mistake, these are circular tracks. The police, meanwhile, seem to be lying in wait for you, with virtually no sympathy for any minor driving misdemeanours; in fact, it’s very difficult indeed to avoid their attentions for very long. Once they’re after you, it seems a bit ridiculous when the whole force chases you round and round in circles before calling in a roadblock or a spike strip that only covers half the road. Moreover, when they do eventually catch you, if it’s a first or second offence you’ll be let off with a warning anyway. Obviously, this is game-land, and erratic police behaviour in games remains to this day (witness the cops in GTA 3), but it just seems that EA could have made the whole thing a lot less gimmicky. A bit more like the original Need for Speed in fact.

The game features some classy cars, such as the Aston Martin, but they tend to be a bit crap in the performance stakes.

Still, Hot Pursuit remains an entertaining game. Graphically stunning when released, it’s less than impressive by today’s standards, although the support for 3D-acceleration ensures that a glossy sheen remains throughout. The sense of speed from the original returns, although unfortunately the mechanics of the car handling aren’t really up to some of the later courses. Special mention must also go to the split-screen mode, which allows two players to race against each other, or even take each other on cops-and-robbers style.

It’s not bad for a six-year old racer, and definitely still worth a quick twenty-minute blast when the mind isn’t available to encounter anything more challenging. As a footnote, EA squeezed two more games out of the NFS 3 engine [Edit – both of which have now been reviewed in full…], which goes to show that this must have had plenty in the tank to start with.