Need for Speed Hot Pursuit Preview (Xbox360)

When it comes to high-speed motor chases in racing games today, Need for Speed is the name to beat. Yet in the past few iterations, even EA's developer couldn't stand up to the original titles. Can the latest update to the series bring new life to it, and bring racing fans back into the mix of fast car chases in large, open world environments?

Where did they get the money for such fancy cars?

Criterion believes so, and with Hot Pursuit, they may be onto something. The first thing to understand about Hot Pursuit is that it isn't like the most recent Need for Speed titles, instead taking after the original and Need for Speed 2. The second is that, at much fan request, the option to play as a cop has not only been implemented, but has become a staple in the game.

My demo consisted of seeing the competitive play in action, with a one-to-one match between a cop and a racer as they are formally being called. Both vehicles were relatively equal in power and speed, though each faction has several key advantages. The racer's objective is simple: get a certain distance away from the police vehicle to win. The cop must destroy the racer's car, a much more daunting task.

Police also have much more instruments of tracking to use, such as a helicopter, spike strips, and perhaps most importantly acting as the predator in this race. Racers who try to combat cops, developer's told us, face the risk of totaling their own car in the process. With the cop's only goal to be to eliminate the racer, they instinctively act predatorily, and thus the cat-and-mouse dynamic begins.

Can't touch this

Racers have almost nothing to use against the police, at least which we've seen. There is the ability to jam their radios, making it impossible for the police to track you or call in for a chopper for support, but other than that it's up to the racer's good driving and smart tactics to win.

This may seem unfair, but it really isn't. In a world as expansive as Hot Pursuit is, where cars fly at 100MPH+ speeds regularly on two-lane roads – often against traffic – keeping up is hard enough. Racer's can simply lose the cop's line of sight, hide behind a bush or large rock, and let the cop fly by. Because these are all person-vs-person interactions, with no all-knowing AI to foil such simple plans, any small blunder can be a great success for the racer.

Huge tracks are normal for the game, though from the level I witnessed played, driving is fairly restricted. Metal rails prohibit from much off-road driving, and few available routes for course changes seem to make it easy for cops to track racers. However, there are tens of maps available ranging from expansive farmlands to vast cityscapes.

Another major addition to the Need for Speed series is a more focused social networking aspect. Instead of simply being able to look up stats online, players can now view recent in-game achievements and high scores and immediately try to beat them. Game challenges can go out against friends for specific maps without any special setup, and of course Twitter and Facebook integration is also making its way to the game.

Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit will release on the Xbox 360, PC and Playstation 3 on November 16th in North America and November 18th in Europe.