Review: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 (Playstation 2)

In this review, we blast through the roadblocks in the Playstation 2 game Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2. We find out how well this racing game plays.

This game was released in 2002. It is the first entry of this franchise on the Playstation 2 console.

We are already growing quite familiar with this franchise. Previously, we reviewed Road & Track Presents – The Need for Speed. That game got a somewhat average score here due in part to limited gameplay. We then reviewed Need for Speed II. That game got a barely passable score thanks partly to the limited gameplay and bland graphics. We then moved on to Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit. That game also got a mediocre score thanks to, once again, limited gameplay.

After that, we reviewed Need for Speed: High Stakes. While this game was an improvement, it still suffered from much steeper competition that made gameplay seem somewhat bland. Finally, we reviewed Need for Speed – Porsche Unleashed. While we had high hopes, this game represented a massive drop in quality for the franchise. It left a lot to be desired – especially for a game of its time. So, we continue to move forward with this game.

In the interest of full disclosure, we are approaching this game with little hope. Even if there is a noticeable improvement in this game, we have doubts that this game would be all that entertaining. The reason is that this game has such an abysmal track record already. We played every original Playstation game in this series and were left with the impression that this series is little more than shovel-ware. We’ve also been disappointed with other game franchises making the leap from the previous generation home console to this generation. So, we are left with a sour taste and the idea that we are playing this game just to “get it over with”.

This game brings back the concept of Hot Pursuit being a front and center feature as far as the packaging and introduction is concerned. This really meant little to us given the history of this franchise. As it turns out, there are two major modes in this game: Championship mode and Hot Pursuit Ultimate racer. We decided to try the regular Championship mode first to keep things simple. As it turns out, this is the major mode most players should try first as it is the easier mode of the two.

Once you are into this mode, you are greeted with a massive 30 event championship tree. The only event that is available is event 1. If you beat this event, you’ll unlock two additional events: events 2 and 3. From there, the championship tree grows wider and wider. You are able to take on more and more events as you progress. Eventually, the events start folding into itself and bottlenecks at even 28 and 29. Beating either one will unlock the “final” event, event 30. If you beat event 30, you’ll be crowned the champion and get to unlock event 31. Beat event 31 and the super bonus event 32 becomes visible. The only way you can race in that event is if you beat every other event in the tree.

While unlocking events is a big thing, that isn’t the only thing you unlock in the tree. Depending on how well you do, you can also unlock new cars and tracks as well.

It’s a very easy thing to underestimate just how big this game truly is. The first few events are little more than single race events. Win the race and unlock stuff. Win the next single race event and unlock more stuff. However, as you progress, you discover that some events are multi-race events. Sometimes they are three race championships. Sometimes they are 4 race knockout events. You can even encounter a massive single race endurance event as well. The largest multi-race event we encountered encompassed a whopping 8 races just for a single event. Suffice to say, this alone can take not just hours, but days and maybe even weeks to complete if you intend on completing every event.

Should you decide to take a break from championship mode and tackle the Hot Pursuit Ultimate Racer side, you’ll find a similar 32 event progress tree. While the events themselves are similar to what you encounter in the Championship mode, each race also involves police for you to evade in the process.

The police have a whole arsenal of tactics to stop you dead in your tracks. While simple car roadblocks and spike strips are nothing new to this franchise, there are numerous tactics that you’ll encounter in this mode that are new. One new tactic is the barricade which features not only cruisers making up the roadblock, but also massive grey drums to widen the roadblock. Sometimes, police may turn aggressive and deliberately try and push you off the road. There are even rolling roadblocks involved as well that you have to watch out for.

Of course, this game doesn’t stop there. Police can even throw in some air support with the help of a chopper. The chopper is where things get incredibly complex. Sometimes, the chopper keeps tabs on you. Sometimes, the chopper drops explosive barrels on the road for you to hit. If that doesn’t stop you, the chopper can even shoot rockets at your car. The rockets seem to bump your car and temporarily blind you. Just for good measure, the rocket is also heat-seeking. So evading, though not impossible, is incredibly difficult. Just for good measure, the chopper can also occasionally drop small spike strips as well.

While evading the police can be quite unpredictable in previous game, this game does offer better structure. If the police manage to stop you, you get “busted”. This adds a strike. If you get busted 3 times, you get arrested and are ejected from the race. While earlier races make it look like computer opponents don’t follow this rule, later races will confirm that it’s possible for computer opponents to get arrested.

Another point to note is the star system. While you don’t earn additional points for getting stars, you can earn up to four stars. These stars can be earned by a number of methods. This includes being spotted by police, resisting the police, running road blocks, and more. As you earn more stars, police will grow increasingly aggressive towards you.

In virtually every mode, you can earn Need for Speed points. Complete the race and those points will go towards an in-game total. The more points you earn, the more cars you can unlock outside of the prize cars. Points can be earned by passing opponents, starting in first position, getting air, running road blocks, beating the cops (rare), leading laps, and completing “clean” laps to name a number of examples. You can also earn points by playing in the Be the Cop mode and busting racers. Every race can be a race that nets you points.

One downside is the extremely limited choice you get for car selection in the two big championship modes. While the first event in the Championship mode gives you a fairly large choice, most events give you no choice as you are stuck with a single car. There is some small customization features for the car of your choice. You can choose between two forms of handling. You can choose Automatic and standard. You can also change the color of the car. That’s, however, pretty much it.

To make matters worse, the game doesn’t really offer some straight up statistics. You can be stuck with choosing a car based more or less on looks. This really represents a step back for the series. The thing that saves this game on this front is the fact that the car you choose almost never has any baring on the chances of your success. You can win with pretty much any car whenever you are given a choice.

Of course, that doesn’t undercut just how huge this game really is. Not only are you offered hours upon hours of gameplay, but also a non-linear progress tree to work with to boot. The order of events you choose can ultimately be up to you – only limited by what you’ve unlocked. This marks a massive improvement over the previous titles. Some titles offered so little content, that you could be bored in the matter of hours. This game keeps going and going and going.

This game isn’t exactly glitch free. For us, we noticed that the game sometimes randomly adjusts the laps of opponents. Sometimes, opponents are randomly declared “finished” in the middle of the race. Other times (though something that happens less often), opponents suddenly have a lap deducted, making catching up for that player a near impossibility. This isn’t a well documented glitch, so this may be a rare thing to encounter in this game.

Another glitch is the fact that opponents can randomly stop racing. We’re not sure if it’s related to the first glitch we mentioned, but it can happen.

Finally, a more minor glitch is the fact that pausing the game in Hot Pursuit mode will make stars disappear from your display. If you un-pause, the game will seemingly “re-award” you with the stars you’ve already earned. An odd one to say the least.

An additional downside to this game is the fact that play can gradually get more and more repetitive. If you are simply trying to complete event 31 in both main modes, it isn’t so bad. Unfortunately, the game demands that you complete every single event to race event 32. With the huge number of events, the game can get tiring after a while. Switching between the main modes can help extend the enjoyment of this game, but only to a certain point.

A part of the problem might lie in the fact that the tracks themselves are quite repetitive. You can race in a forest. You can then race in an autumn forest race course. You can race in a tropical island wilderness. In addition, you can race in a desert wilderness. You can make the argument that the desert is somewhat different, but they all have one thing in common: you are racing in wilderness highways. There are no races where you race exclusively in an urban setting. The variety between courses could have been improved on even though there are sparse signs of population to be found with one downtown core.

Still, one of the strengths, interestingly enough, comes from the tracks themselves. This game finally breaks from the linear or near linear routs and adopts a more adventurous style of design. There are countless alternative routs beyond the main rout. This can be a shortcut under heightened buildings. This can be a cave setting. You might be able to find some old dirt roads to blow through. Not all alternate routs are really shortcuts. Sometimes, the routs are so difficult, they may not even be worth going through. It’s a track design style more in line with games like Beetle Adventure Racing and San Francisco Rush 2049. A marked improvement for the franchise.

Generally speaking, this game was a huge surprise. It is also one of the biggest turnarounds we’ve seen in a franchise to date. The series went from one of the worst games we’ve played to a very good game to play with this entry. It was a big and pleasant surprise. Up to now, we wondered what is so good about this series and why people even enjoy it in the first place. This game alone is a great answer to this question. It’s quite enjoyable. It is in-depth. While not a perfect play by any means, it is our first recommended game in the whole franchise.

Graphics is another big surprise and marked improvement. The amount of content in each track was nicely done. The trees, the forests, the features within the tracks were all well done. Even the hidden routs offered a lot of hidden gems throughout the game. The fires, coastlines, ruins, tunnels, and rock face all offer a lot of eye candy. The draw distance was also nicely done. The car models were also nicely done – especially with the damage effects thrown in to each one. The effects of the spoke trails and sparks were also very helpful in giving this game a nice pop to it. On this front, this game was very well done.

A major weakness this franchise always had was the audio. The very first game, up to this point, contained only one memorable track. After that, nothing has ever been memorable about this game as far as music was concerned. Then, this game rolls around in the series and manages to impress with a lot of memorable tracks. Probably the only weakness to this is found in the “techno” tracks. These tracks have to be manually turned on. Though they weren’t bad, they never get to be that memorable. As for default tracks, weaknesses in the audio are few and far between. Probably the only weak track was the One Little Victory track from Rush which doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from other tracks already in the game.

The sound effects were also nicely done. The police voice work, which is something that typically gets praise, once again impresses. The emotion was very well realized here. There’s the excitement of cops finally getting the green light to crash your cars. The humiliation of some of the police officers calling for a tow truck just adds so much punch to the excitement of the game. Overall, this was well done.

Overall, we had very low expectations for this game given the history of the series. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that this game not only turns the series around, but also manages to entertain and impress. Though this game does have flaws with glitches, lack of racing statistics, and repetitive gameplay after a while, this game has its strengths as well. This game offers a lot of gameplay, the featured mode is actually worth playing, and there is a non-linear style of play to boot. The tracks were well done, the graphics were impressive, and the audio gives this game a nice pop to the overall excitement. Finally, we found a game in this series we can say is worth playing.

Furthest point in game: Championship mode: Won events 1-10, 16, 22, 28, 30, and 31.
Hot Pursuit Ultimate Racer mode: Won events 1, 3, 8, 12, 17, 24, 28, 30, and 31.
Earned over 1 million NFS points.

General gameplay: 18/25
Replay value: 8/10
Graphics: 9/10
Audio: 5/5

Overall rating: 80%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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