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Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered launches with cross-play next month

Criterion’s 2010 hit connects Autolog across three consoles and PC

a street racer in a souped-up sports car roars into the frame, trailed by two cop cars in ... wait for it ... hot pursuit Image: Criterion Games, Stellar Entertainment/Electronic Arts
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, the debut in racing series of Burnout maker Criterion Games, is being remastered for release in November. Stellar Entertainment, which led the 2018 remaster of Burnout Paradise, is behind this one as well, for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One. The new version will also feature cross-platform multiplayer, taking further advantage of the Autolog feature that drove Hot Pursuit to several awards.

“The opportunity for cross-play was, like, ‘Oh man, we have to do that,’” Chris Roberts, creative director for Stellar Entertainment, told Polygon. “You know, ‘We need to get this on as many formats as we can, get everybody connected and battling it out.’”

“This is the second remaster we’re doing,” Roberts said, “so we’re treating it with the utmost respect, first, but then we’re thinking about what feature really will sing with a modern audience.”

Autolog, a type of multiplayer social network that allowed for all sorts of convenient, asynchronous, pick-up-and-play moments, was a big reason Hot Pursuit was a multiplayer-game-of-the-year selection for many in 2010. Subsequent Need for Speed titles embraced Autolog and its capabilities, and EA even carried the concept into its Battlefield franchise for a time. Expanding its offerings — the weekly challenges, contests, photo-mode sharing, and more — to a pan-console audience is part of a natural evolution in Criterion-developed titles, said studio vice president Matt Webster.

“The germ of the idea for Autolog actually came from Burnout Paradise, and the telemetry system that we had inside it,” Webster, a producer on the original game, told Polygon. “For Paradise, it really informed us of what to make to add into [Hot Pursuit] because we can actually see what people are doing. So the natural expression of that was, ‘Well, hold on, we’ve got this information [...] why doesn’t the computer tell people when someone’s beating you?’ And then it was, ‘Well, what if you don’t have any friends?’ You know, it’s about beating your mates. So what we wanted to recognize is that [...] with this system, we can allow people to play together even when they’re not aligned at the same time, and then stuff started coming together.”

It came together with solid racing gameplay, a well-chosen fleet of cars, and the dual career of driving as a cop or driving as a racer. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit earned best driving or racing game honors from several awards bodies, largely on the strength of its multiplayer.

In Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered, players will get the original game plus its downloadable content, which added several hours to the campaign. Webster said that the DLC, now presented within the career rather than after it, “created a whole new progression system” that will be worth revisiting even for fans who completed the first game.

“It’s an additional six hours of content that’s spread throughout the single-player stage of the game, which allows for a much more varied and exciting route through,” Roberts added. “The other thing I really love about this game is the fact that you can choose to play your career as a cop and a racer, independently, and just swap seamlessly between the two of them. So there’s a whole bunch of new events for both the cops and the races, which allows for a complete fresh take on the career.”

In terms of synchronous multiplayer, Webster pulled out the Most Wanted mode, part of the Armed and Dangerous premium DLC for the original game, as a particularly enjoyable experience with new hardware. Hot Pursuit Remastered will feature Arms Race in multiplayer which, Webster said, “is just chaos on a track.”

“That’s using all of the technology of the game, in a racing situation,” Webster said. It seems to be drawn from the single-player and multiplayer event of the same name in the original game, where a cop player was given spike strips, EMP bursts, and helicopter air pursuit to help in busting five racers in top-of-the-line cars.

“The key to this game is exotic cars and weapons,” Webster said. “This game exemplifies that, by having some absolutely ridiculous cars in there. There’s a wide variety of cars serving as cop cars. You’re thinking, ‘The police budget must be astronomical,’ when you see a [Bugatti] Veyron cop car in your rearview mirror.”

Roberts said the game’s map (of fictitious Seacrest County, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest) remains largely the same. It doesn’t have new roads or shortcuts, but designers did go through it and add more visual information, calling out key intersections, useful getaways, or hideout locations. More destructible props have been added, too, to help one’s escape or capture efforts.

Burnout Paradise Remastered in 2018 gathered positive reviews and plenty of sales, enough to make another remaster project enticing for Criterion and Stellar. Webster said that the work bringing Burnout Paradise Remastered to the Nintendo Switch earlier this year aided development of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered across all platforms. Roberts said that his studio approached this job as it did Burnout Paradise, putting almost 100 hours of gameplay into the original before he started charting the big-picture course for development.

By then, Roberts said, he had a notebook filled with callouts of things to fix or enhance. He and Webster said Hot Pursuit Remastered will offer several quality-of-life and user interface enhancements to go along with the upgraded visuals and new content.

All that said, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered is, in a way, a reminder that the series’ most recent big hit was a decade ago. (2012’s Most Wanted reboot was critically well received, but not the kind of breakout hit that Hot Pursuit was). Four games developed by Ghost Games since 2013 ranged from disappointments to middling successes, leading to Electronic Arts handing the franchise back to Criterion and effectively closing down Ghost’s development operations in Sweden.

So Criterion’s first game since taking back the series is a remaster, which also raises the question of whether there’s enough gas in Need for Speed’s tank to merit an all-new game later. Webster bristled somewhat at the implication that arcade racers in general, and his franchise in particular, have done all they can for a video game audience.

“It’s a common misconception that an arcade racer doesn’t have a really, really, really powerful simulation at its heart,” Webster said. “What we mean by ‘arcade’ is just ‘simple to pick up and hard to master.’ You need that depth of handling to have mastery.

“We wanted to take the opportunity to bring a different type of experience back,” Webster said. “We’ve actually got a bunch of different experiences going: We’ve got Heat [the 2019 game] doing its particular thing in a really cool way, and we’ve got Hot Pursuit, which is something different if you’ve not played it before, or a slice of nostalgia. But do I think we’re done with action racing? No, no, no, no, no, not nearly done.”

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered launches Nov. 6 on PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One, and on Nov. 13 for Nintendo Switch.