Need for Speed Hot Pursuit Preview (PS3)

If there's one franchise that needs a rejuvenation, Need for Speed is it. After successful annual releases, the series has lost the buzz that made the original Underground title so enthralling. Ironically, Hot Pursuit provides a reimaging by taking the series back to its roots. With the Criterion team behind the wheel, there's a hell of a lot to be excited about.

At this early stage, the comparisons to Burnout are obvious. Criterion mastered the art of destruction years ago, but the same approach wouldn't work in Need for Speed, as the revered studio wouldn't want to render their original baby useless. What Criterion have done, quite ruthlessly, is brought back the pre-Underground cops and robbers approach. With the thrill of the chase, and the developer's ability to make their games the fastest, most thrilling around, Hot Pursuit's potential is clear.

The Bugatti Cop Car: Just give up, son

The first thing that's mightily apparent is that Criterion have improved Hot Pursuit massively in a short space of time. Since the title was shown at E3, a number of vital factors have been tweaked to ensure the game is taken seriously. Handling has been vigorously tightened in the last few months; a key factor when the racing is so fast. Visuals have also undergone repairs, and everything here is squeaky clean. While Need for Speed has always looked good, there's been a lack of intensity for a few years now. Criterion have brought this back. Whether you're escaping from the cops, or dealing out justice like an everyday superhero, the sense that you're travelling at an inhumane pace is here. Certainly not as in your face as Burnout, Hot Pursuit shows a side to the Need for Speed series that is often suppressed.

As ever, the tactical side of the series has been kept in tact. A nitro boost is commonplace these days, but using it at the correct time often dramatically changes the result. The tracks we experienced played host to huge, sweeping bends, many of which eat up speed if you're hitting the throttle too hard. There's also plenty of straights to use to your advantage too, as slipstreaming remains the perfect method of catching those up in front. It's simple design, and certainly doesn't try to be revolutionary, but there's no doubt it's entertaining. Without needless obstacles, or an emphasis on some newly-contrived gimmick, Hot Pursuit feels like it's telling you to sit back, relax, and enjoy some hellish speed.

Keeping your car in good condition is vital for your success. Taking out others, well, that is too

At this point, we've only been able to experience the game when running away from the cops. There's a huge feeling of cat and mouse; one wrong move and you can end up in cuffs. Your vehicle is by no means invincible, and taking too much damage can end your race early. The police may decide a roadblock is the best way to halt your progress, as the weight of crashing into any of the cars slows you down dramatically. It's possible to spot gaps in their defence with an eagle eye, and making a quick decision on where to break through is the best way of evading any threat. The road may be littered with puncturing devices, but these are often bypassed with the easiest of manoeuvres.

It's fair to say the Need for Speed series has been living off its brand name this generation, so it's exciting to sit down with a product that genuinely thrills. The franchise has been solid in recent years, but something special has been missing. In this early showing of Hot Pursuit, the signs that Criterion have this back on track ring true. Moving away from the neon-lights of the city, the emphasis has been put on the chase. We can't wait to experience more, as taking control of the cops and hunting our friends down will finally give us a chance to put weird Uncle Tom behind bars (at least, in a virtual sense). Right now, let's hope Criterion continue moulding this into a title that not only improves the series, but aims towards the somewhat untouchable pedestal of Burnout.

Most Anticipated Feature: A long-awaited return to form for Need for Speed. We hope.