It was always going to be hard for Criterion's Need for Speed to break free from the Burnout mould. While Hot Pursuit isn't simply Burnout Paradise with licensed vehicles, it feels far closer to that series than it does the likes of Undercover, Most Wanted and Underground. Gone are the series' trademark car customisations and attempts at storytelling, now replaced by a fairly straightforward career that focuses on one thing: speed. Driving in cop cars or high performance luxury vehicles might be what draws people in, but it's the speed they'll remember.
Story is nowhere to be seen, meaning you're thrown straight into the action via the game's map. The entirety of Seacrest County is before you; a place of huge interconnecting freeways, off-road shortcuts and the landscape variation of an entire continent. While you're able to freely drive around, Hot Pursuit isn't really an open-world game - its events take place in closed-off portions of Seacrest's roadways.
At any point you can choose to play as a Cop or a Racer, with the two careers running side by side on the game's overview screen - Cops earn Bounty which counts towards Rank, while Racers' Bounty pumps up their Wanted level.
As a Racer you'll be taking part in Hot Pursuit, Race and Time Trial events. While Race events pit you against other drivers, often with restrictions on vehicles, you're never going to have to worry about cops - it's just a straight up charge to the finish line. Hot Pursuit is essentially a race, but with cops trying to shut it down by taking out you and your rivals. Time Trial is what you'd expect - you against the clock - but with the added hindrance of traffic and pesky cops on your tail.
On the reverse side, the Seacrest County Police Department get to hunt down racers in Hot Pursuit mode, disabling vehicles with brute force and well-timed use of weapons; Interceptor events have no fixed route, but task you with stopping the suspect; and Rapid Response is the SCPD version of time trial, but with penalties for causing damage to public property.
If you're worried the talk of weapons means your cars are going to have machine guns mounted on the bonnet, think again. Racers and Cops each have four tools at their disposal - although the game varies your load-out in each event - that give you a helping hand when trying to accomplish your goals. Racers can use a Jammer to block SCPD communications; Spike Strips deploy behind you and can temporarily slow down pursuers; EMP blasts can be targeted at rivals and cops, causing damage and throwing them off during corners; while Turbo provides a rocket fuelled injection of speed.
The SCPD share the Spike Strip and EMP, but also get the ability to call in Road Blocks or a Helicopter to lay down spikes ahead of racers. All these weapons can be levelled up as your progress through the careers, and you've also got a basic nitrous boost. As a Racer your boost meter is filled by driving dangerously or drifting, while Cops only get it from driving fast or drifting.
Without a single slow car in the game you're always going to be travelling at breakneck speeds, with only fractions of a second available to make decisions. Indecision is a real killer as you just don't have time when faced with an oncoming car while travelling at 180mph. Thankfully there's never traffic jam levels of cars on the roads, but there's just enough to cause problems if you're not concentrating 100 per cent on the road - which is easy to do when you've got your opponents to think about.