Until last year, the Need For Speed series on Wii was synonymous with crap from day one. And while Need For Speed: Nitro had its issues, it at least showed that EA’s heart was in the right place: instead of trying to shoehorn a game developed for HD platforms onto the Wii’s lesser hardware to the benefit of no one, it went out and created an arcade racer specifically for the console that played to its strengths.
Thanks to Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, the series is back to its bad ol’ days. Not only does it have virtually nothing in common with the lauded Criterion-developed game on other platforms, it manages to be an absolutely terrible racer with few redeeming factors.
Instead of the open road approach Criterion took, developer Exient stuck with a no-frills, standard career progression of completing events in a very specific order to unlock more and more difficult events, of which there are five types: Hot Pursuit, Eliminator, Rush Hour, Interceptor and Time Trial.
Hot Pursuit is your standard lap race with some AI cops thrown into the mix when you crash into stuff. Eliminator has eight racers buzzing about trying to not be in last place every 30 seconds lest they be knocked out of the running – Rush Hour is the same but with one hundred cars eliminated by the tens. Time Trial is self-explanatory, and Interceptor puts you in the role of either cop or racer, trying to knock out specific racers by tapping them three times as the law or stay in the game as a competitor. This is the only particularly interesting addition to the otherwise standard fare and is a moderately okay time; Rush Hour sounds like it could be fun but in practice flooding the track with that many vehicles is a mess of dumb AI and traffic jams. Completing events and driving like a loon nabs you Bounty points, which can be used to fill out your garage with new vehicles or buy cosmetic upgrades for them. All but Time Trial are available to play in four-player splitscreen, with no online multiplayer (nor the touted Autolog from other versions) available.
Career mode spans four varyingly exotic cities (Chongqing, Dubai, Rio de Janeiro and Las Vegas) and a Grand Prix finale. Cities are broken into segments of three, each with four events that must be completed in order to unlock the boss battle for that city. The boss battles actually try to do something different by plopping checkpoints across the city map and allowing you to trawl for them however way you choose, with the winner nabbing the most. Since each event takes you through a somewhat different path it may seem like there are a lot of tracks to go through, but each one feels largely the same and are sometimes nigh-indistinguishable.
It’s a very meat-and-potatoes affair with little spice or garnish, which would have its place had the rest of the game been serviceable, but it’s almost shocking how Hot Pursuit manages to drop the ball on even that. Cars never quite handle with the precision you'd expect of them, with the lower class cars as manoeuvrable as lead bricks and higher-end vehicles too slippery. And don’t be fooled by these screenshots: Hot Pursuit on Wii looks worse than even the original Burnout on GameCube. Vehicles are about as basic as they can get away with, the environments all blend together and the draw distance leaves something to be desired. Despite retaining Burnout’s signature slow-mo crashing there is no visible car damage, so when it does cut to slow-mo you just see your car "dramatically" bob or hop a bit. Speaking of which, the crash physics are all over the place: sometimes the lightest touch will trigger a crash whereas hard hits may cause you to bounce all over the track until you straighten out and start driving in the wrong direction.
Not to kick a bad game while it's down, but there's more. The framerate drops significantly during split-screen multiplayer, the soundtrack is all over the place in consistency across menus and in races, and the lack of announcer means that events are a very quiet affair only interrupted by the bleeps that accompany the constant Bounty notifications. Car customisation is pitiful, relegated to changing tires or buying a generic body kit that adds spoilers, both seemingly impotent towards handling or strength. And while the game supports any kind of controller the console can handle, even here there are oddities: when we tried starting a race with a Classic Controller Pro the camera was stuck in front of us looking back, and the GameCube analogue stick couldn't be used to navigate menus. Bizarre.
Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit on Wii is a very poor excuse for a racer that feels like a slap in the face compared to its PS3/Xbox 360 cousin. Taking the game in a different direction is fine, but not a single thing here feels as if it was given the proper time and care needed to live up to its potential, let alone surpass last year's game. Instead, it's just a boxy, ugly car crash.