Windows Phone Xbox Live Review - Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit
Do you like grinding? You know, replaying the same section of a game over and over in order to meet some kind of goal before moving on to new parts of the game? Then Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is for you. The latest Need for Speed release on Windows Phone isn’t a direct sequel to Need for Speed: Undercover – each entry in the long-running series basically involves a whole new premise and structure while retaining the core element of racing fast cars while avoiding the cops. On consoles, Hot Pursuit is considered a return to form following the lackluster Undercover. On Windows Phone, it’s a chance to repeat the same handful of races until you’re just sick of ‘em.
Two sides of a coin
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit actually has a fairly interesting take on the everlasting battle between cops and speedsters. The game is split into two distinct campaigns: Cops and Racers. Each one features its own events (races) and mechanics. Not only is progress in one campaign independent from the other, but even the Achievements are totally separate (each campaign has 10 Achievements for a total of 20). It’s not often you get to play a racing game from two distinct perspectives (even if the actual racers aren’t that different).
Each of the campaigns is divided into four tiers with six events each. The cop campaign features four basic event types:
- Interceptor: Take down a single racer within a time limit. You can exhaust the racer’s life meter and force him to stop by ramming (very fun) and using powerups.
- Power Struggle: Race against four other cops to the finish line - plain vanilla racing.
- Rapid Response: Checkpoint racing – basically you’re hurrying to reach checkpoints and finally a crime scene (sure!) within a very strict time limit. These are by far the hardest cop events, with so little margin or error as to make them completely unenjoyable.
- Tough Justice: Take down multiple racers within a time limit, receiving better ratings for stopping more racers. These events are my favorite.
The racer’s campaign includes these event types:
- Eliminator: A four lap race against three other cars. The last person to complete each lap gets eliminated until only one person remains. You get more stars for being in the lead spot each lap, but in general, if you can’t catch the lead right away, you won’t grab it later on either.
- Hot Pursuit: Race to the end of a track while under a time limit and being chased by a cop. You can knock the cop out, but it’s often a bad idea because banging around slows you down, and the crashed cop will just be replaced by another one anyway. These events are just stupidly hard due to the aforementioned issues and the fact that you have a limited life meter that the cops will often wear down.
- Road Race: A traditional race against three other cars, just like the cops’ Power Struggle.
- Speed Trap: This unusual event involves trying to pass checkpoints at high speeds. The faster you’re going when you hit the checkpoint, the more speed points you get, with the goal being to reach a certain number.
Powerups and Nitrous
Cops have access to a few special tools and resources that will aid them in stopping other cars in their tracks. These include setting up roadblocks, firing an EMP to disrupt a car’s steering, and laying down spike strips. Their use isn’t unlimited – they charge up over time. You usually won’t have access to all three weapons; depending on the event, one or none may be available. Their inconsistent availability seems arbitrary and makes some races less fun than they should be. Why should I be able to drop spikes in some races but not others?
While the cop powerups can be pretty effective at stopping another car, the racer’s arsenal doesn’t have the same impact. Racers have oil slicks, overdrive, and jammers. Oil slicks can cause the car behind you to swerve while turning, but the AI avoids them the great majority of the time. Overdrive is basically just an extra nitro, making you drive faster for a bit. The Radar jammer prevents cops from using EMPs and nitros. Not only are these powerups mostly boring, but like the Cop career, many events won’t give players access to them anyway.
Nitrous oxide is the one tool that both sides get to use. As you drive, the meter at the top right corner fills up. The more you let it fill, the longer the nitro blast will last. Swiping up anywhere on-screen activates the nitrous, giving your car a nice acceleration boost. While the swiping works well most of the time, I wonder why the developers didn’t just give nitrous a dedicated on-screen button.
How to turn a racing game into a grind
Progression in each career is tied to two systems: experience level and completing events. As you earn money from completing events, you’ll fill up an experience bar and level up. Each level brings a new sports car with its own Acceleration, Handling, and Speed stats. If you’re having trouble with a certain event, you can redo completed events to earn more money and work towards leveling up for a new ride.
Now, winning each event will award you with a rating of 1-3 stars, depending on your performance. The more stars you earn, the higher the cash (EXP) payout. Getting three stars in each event is the true goal since you don’t get Achievements for anything less.
Here’s the problem: the difficulty for many events is absurdly high. It’s not unusual to come across an event that is impossible to even complete with your current car. The only way to beat it is to grind for EXP until you level up and get a faster ride. 3 starring it will require an even higher EXP level (sometimes multiple levels).
It can take ten or more victories in previous events to gain a level, putting a huge roadbump on the path to actual progression. Replayed events pay out less than the first time you beat them, and the number is never high as it should be. Fail at an event and the EXP gain is completely negligible. Load times slow down the grind even more. It takes 30-60 seconds to start a new event. If you fail, you’re given the option to retry with virtually no loading. But complete the event and you’re kicked to the map screen and forced to endure the loading process…. Again and again and again. It’s the boredom of replaying events compounded with waiting to even get to those events, ugh.
As mentioned before, each career has its own distinct set of Achievements. Both sides have four Achievements for 3-starring events and six for various actions. There are no simple progress related Achievements, so only 3 starring events matters. That’s bothersome because I said before, some events are just cruel, requiring not only a high level car but also perfect driving. Hot Pursuit’s tilt steering works well, but it’s not capable of complete precision, nor is it fair to expect that from a game that’s meant to be played on the go. If you’re not in a quiet environment, free of all distractions, you might as well not even play the game. Speaking of inadequate controls, they even bugged out on me a couple of times, limiting my ability to steer and forcing a relaunch of the game.
It boggles my mind why EA Mobile would bother to craft such a technically robust racer and then flush away all of its potential with absurd difficulty and a poorly-developed experience system. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is quite pretty for a mobile game and the licensed music (albeit from unknown bands) impresses. It can be fun to ram cars off the road or drop spike strips in front of them. But all of the good qualities are negated by the unendurable boredom of excessive grinding and lengthy loading times. Unless you’re an extremely patient and skilled racer, I guarantee you have better things to do with your time than play Hot Pursuit on Windows Phone.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit costs $4.99 and there is a free trial. Get it here on the Marketplace.