While this racing series is one of the most enduring in gaming, last year's Hot Pursuit gave it a shot in the arm with the addition of having to run from law enforcement. As you'd expect, the game offers plenty of hot vehicles to drive including the infamous Dodge Viper, Ferrari Spider and F50 models, Aston Martin's GT, plus Lambroghini's Mucrielago and Diablo sports cars. Other models include the Porsche 911 Turbo, Ford's Mustang Cobra, Chevy's Corvette, the Ferrari 360 Spider, Jaguar's XKR dream machine, plus more exotic vehicles including the Lotus Elise, Opel's Speedster model, McLaren's F1 LM and the HSV Coupe GTS. These exotic models have been modeled to the manufacturers' specifications and look exactly like their real-world counterparts, though they don't show damage when you crash them. The game uses an advanced physics model that's used to make each vehicle's driving performance accurate which makes for some incredibly realistic driving. In an interesting twist, players can also earn converted sportscars for the cops later on, which allow you to keep pace with your supercharged rivals. Even though you start with a limited garage, you can unlock most of them by winning races and completing the championship modes. Hot Pursuit's arcade approach means you'll be able to jump right into the action. You start driving the super cars right away and don't have to suffer through endless license tests and playing with a lame production model before you get to the fun stuff.
NFS: HP 2 offers several modes including Hot Pursuit, Championship, Quick Race and Custom Challenge which can be played either solo or with another player using a split-screen mode. In the Pursuit mode, you race and try and escape the long arm of the law, while in Championship, you can race without the cops. Quick Race allows you to drive, but you can't earn extra vehicles. Finally, the Custom Challenge allows you to set the parameters for the race. Both Hot Pursuit and Championship modes offer a unique branching system where winning one race opens two on the branches below it, which allows you to set your own path. In all the game offers more than 60 different challenge modes that take place an a wide variety of tracks including open-courses and off-road tracks. There are two main paths in this mode, and the race conditions become more difficult as you go down the ladder. There are several types of races including Single Race, Lap Knockout, Tournament, Be-The-Cop and Free Run modes. The Single Race, Free Run and Tournament modes are self-explanatory, though the Lap Knockout is interesting because the player who finishes below a set ranking is eliminated. Players can also choose to see things from the other side of the law and play as the police. The object when you're the cop is to capture and arrest a set number of speeding outlaws. You can also set up roadblocks and call out choppers in this mode to stop outlaw drivers from getting away.
In addition to worrying about the other drivers on the track, you also have to worry about the police. When you pass a speed trap, they'll fly after you and try and knock you off the road, and if you stop completely, they'll arrest you and you'll be out of the race. When you're being chased, an indicator bar appears below your rear-view mirror and this gradually goes down as you elude capture. When the bar reaches zero, the police will usually call off the chase, unless they're still hot on your trail. You'll also see a star indicator, which shows the intensity of the chase. A lower star rating means you're only being chased by a single cop car, while at higher levels, the police may throw up road-blocks, call in helicopters or use high-tech weapons to stop you. Trying to elude capture really adds to the intensity of the experience, giving Hot Pursuit a tension rare in most driving titles. However, they won't just go after you and will also chase other drivers, and their battles should be avoided because your car can become trapped in these pile-ups, which can really hurt your time.
Players will be able to race through some impressive courses including Mediterranean Beaches, forests, city landscapes and other exotic locales. The courses have branches and short cuts, which adds significantly to Hot Pursuit's replay values. The tracks are interesting in design and many feature huge jumps that can be incredible if you hit them at top speed. The game progression is excellent and the courses gradually become more challenging as you work your way up the ranks. Your biggest obstacle, however aren't the courses, but the cops who become much more aggressive later on in the game and Hot Pursuit throws more elaborate obstacles in your path that are more difficult to evade. Additionally, there are other vehicles such as trucks on the courses. These take up a lot space on the road and avoiding them adds to the challenge. This all makes for quite an intense driving experience and one of the more original approaches seen to date with the twist of avoiding arrest separating Hot Pursuit from the legions of sports-car racing titles.
Hot Pursuit's controls and interface are excellent and are highlighted by tight and responsive handling of the vehicles making Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit and addictive and entertaining experience. Players can customize the controls in several configurations, but unfortunately, cannot use the Gamecube's digital pad for racing and are instead stuck using the analog controller. You use the d-pad to call in reinforcements when you play as a cop. This is a simple and intuitive system and its implementation is good. Players can also change the viewpoint and switch from behind the car to a first person perspective. Unlike in other games, the rearview mirror is actually useful when you are trying to evade the cops and makes it an essential part of the gameplay, not a distraction as in other games. The game's clean menu system is easy to navigate and all the on-screen indicators are easy to read and don't clutter up the screen, allowing you to focus on driving.
While the vehicles' performance reflects their actual counterparts, the in-game models look quite impressive as well, with an almost photo-realistic appearance. You can even see the drivers in their cars and the various camera angles look great, especially when you switch to a cinematic angle after you hit a big jump or perform a cool stunt. The graphics engine is impressive and takes good advantage of the GCN's processing power, implementing special effects such as water reflections, wind and sun glare. The tracks themselves look incredible with light-sourcing, shading and intense weather effects including rain and snow storms, blizzards and hurricanes that add to the game's overall appearance. With all this attention to detail, it should also be noted that Hot Pursuit 2's frame rate doesn't suffer. The in-game music tracks are decent with electronic, rap and alternative tracks from a variety of groups that compliments the action perfectly. Excellent voice-acting brings the cops to life perfectly and increases the overall tension when you're on the run. This highly polished racing title takes good advantage of the GCN's power and looks impressive from beginning to end, though most gamers probably wouldn't accept anything less from EA at this point.
While most of Hot Pursuit 2's elements are excellent, there are a few problems that somewhat detract from the overall experience. The biggest flaw is that despite the realism of the cars and their perfect handling, players won't be able to customize their vehicles as they can in other games. Aside from changing the paint color, you can't go under the hood and adjust your engine or wheels. This is disappointing but since Hot Pursuit 2 is an arcade game, these limited options are understandable. However, this shouldn't deter you from purchasing this excellent game. Players looking for high-speed action will definitely enjoy the game. These numerous gameplay modes give it a lot of depth, but the intense chase sequences and escalating stakes make it so addictive that's it's hard to put down. While it would be easy to dismiss this game as gimmick-driven, the solid underpinnings add to the excitement, since you feel like you're actually on the run in an expensive car. Other games such as Test Drive have tried to throw in cop chases to standard driving, but few have approached this title's overall polish and solid gameplay. It's true that there are loads of other racing games on the market, but Hot Pursuit 2's quality and challenge are what sets it apart from the pack. Gamecube owners should especially appreciate the game, since the console hasn't enjoyed as many fine racers as the other systems have, so this is doubly recommended for that reason.