I've never been a fan of Need for Speed. Until now! I've played, I think, every one of the games in the series, right from the first one on 3DO. That first release was hyped for its technical excellence, and I have no reason to doubt that it deserved the hype - technically. But the fact was, it was dull as hell to play and the cars handled poorly.
Since then things have improved, a little. But two things have ruined NfS
games for me: firstly, the series shifted and changed, never having an enduring style of gameplay, and secondly, car handling was always behind the current top of the crop, be it Gran Turismo
, or Burnout
So, when I heard Criterion Games were to produce the latest Need for Speed
game, I assumed that EA had forced them to do so... despite NfS
games being second class in terms of quality, they have often been first division in sales. So, pairing the creators of the greatest open world driving game in history with a money-printing franchise seems to make sense. I was pretty sure the end result would be Burnout in Blue and White
However, when I met with Criterion at their Surrey headquarters
, they very credibly claimed that they had always loved NfS
, and always wanted to do an NfS
game - it was just that now the time was right.
The result is NOT Burnout in a Blue and White
, it's something unique and compelling. A mix of Need for Speed
's undeniably cool cops vs racers shtick, combines with Burnout Paradise's
beauty, speed and handling. The result is the first NfS
game that has made me want to keep coming back, and back and back.
Scales from Eyes
This is not an strictly "open world" driving game (you can free-roam to get the hang of the place) in the same way as Burnout Paradise
. Criterion were at pains to express the shear scale of the world that is there to enjoy, but since most of the action takes place on specific tracks, and there is only the one route to go, it is very different to Burnout
. While the extents of the scale landscape may be bigger than Paradise City
, there are far far fewer roads within those extents. So, while individual races are longer, the place as a whole feels smaller.
There is less variety too. The races take place in Seacrest County, in landscapes that I found familiar, yet on entirely new tracks. You'll find yourself racing across sun-scorched deserts reminiscent of the Mojave, tree-lined country roads reminiscent of Northern California, coastal routes that are redolent of the Pacific Cost Highway, and mountain routes that reminded me of driving up to the Mammoth ski resort in eastern California.
So, it's fair to say that Seacrest County is a microcosmic California - it even has its own Mount Palomar Observatory. There are no cities though, this is all high speed country racing.
The premise is simple, you select a race on the map screen. Each starting point, and there are not that many in total, and even fewer when you first start the Career mode, has several races, only one or two of which will be unlocked at first. Win the available races to build your Bounty, as Bounty increases, new races, cars and power-ups become available to you. Win these races to unlock even more of the same.
Unlike certain other games, NfS:HP
does not require you to putter about in an MX-5 to qualify, instead putting you directly into the kind of high speed exotica most of us can only dream about. Building Bounty puts you into the kind of super-exotica that the kind of people who drive the everyday exotica can only dream about.