... a Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit.
I picked up NFS:HP about a month ago, when it was on sale for around £23 in HMV, after having my interest in the game piqued by playing it a few times on the demo pod at the GAME in Guildford, but it's only really in the last week or so that I've really started devoting a bit of play time to it. Oh man, do I regret that, because it's a terribly sexy and shiny racing game.
This shouldn't be too much of a surprise, given that it comes from the Criterion stable; home to the Burnout series - of which Burnout 3: Takedown has to rate as one of my favourite racing games ever, particularly in the wonderfully brutal multiplayer modes.
Hot Pursuit's twist is that you get to play the game from the perspective of both sides of the law - as a cop and a law-breaking street racer. The physics of the car handling modelling is spot on for an arcade racer, striking a good balance between being realistic enough to allow for proper power-sliding or drifting around corners, yet not so twitchy that the handling model will throw you off the track at the merest mistake. You're also given gadgets, such as EMPs or spike strips to help you evade capture or take down suspects - with the Seacrest Police Department missions also giving you the option of setting up road blocks or calling in helicopter support.
The game is also well balanced and the difficulty in single player mode is nicely pitched to allow a novice to progress yet still challenge a more experienced player in order to earn gold medal in each event. Interestingly, I've enjoyed the law enforcement missions more than the racer missions, perhaps because they are slightly more challenging in the win and penalty conditions. The mission and track design is solid, if perhaps a bit too familiar to Burnout 3 veterans. The gadgets do certainly liven up the missions, but broadly speaking, Hot Pursuit refines rather than innnovates.
Not that this is to say that this is necessarily a bad thing: while the game doesn't really try to introduce new game mechanics to the genre, the whole game is executed brilliantly. The only things I would criticise are the loading times, which are slightly on the tardy side and the ear-bleed soundtrack that seems de rigeur for Need For Speed games. Though given that I grew to actually quite like some of the tracks on the Need For Speed: Underground soundtrack, I live in hope that some of the tunes in Hot Pursuit might grow on me. Maybe in a year or two...
Hot Pursuit does lack the car pimping aspects of Underground (which I really enjoyed fiddling with), but at least there are plenty of cars to unlock that give the missions some good replay value. The game's also terribly good looking, the handling model is responsive and not too twitchy for my old and increasingly flabby reflexes and the bite-sized chunks of gaming (single missions last between three and six minutes) make it incredibly moreish - it's a game that on the perilous side of addictive and it's very hard to put that controller down once you've picked it up.
I've really been enjoying it - it's definitely the best arcade street racer I've played in a couple of years.