2010 has already seen its fair share of explosive arcade racing games, with Split/Second and Blur setting high standards for lovers of less technical automotive fare. If the reviews of Burnout studio Criterion's take on the Need For Speed franchise are anything to go by, however, Hot Pursuit has surpassed them both, earning a very healthy 90 per cent Metacritic rating in the process.
It's part of a continued improvement for the series, which after a few years in critical decline now seems to be maturing well - despite EA's penchant to change the constituent ingredients somewhat wildly for each outing.
In the hands of Criterion, Need For Speed becomes a riotous game of cops and robbers, with a dual-faceted single player campaign as well as a thoughtfully implemented and well fleshed-out set of online modes. To get a better picture of how the game's been critically received, let's take a look at some of the best sites on the web and their reactions.
What strikes Tom Orry at VideoGamer, as it does a number of reviewers, is the similarity between Hot Pursuit and Criterion's other arcade racer, Burnout. It's perhaps unsurprising that the developer would be able to shake off the legacy of the series, putting speed and spectacle above story and specifications - but initially it's no real detriment to Hot Pursuit at all.
"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," says Orry. "Driving in cop cars or high performance luxury vehicles might be what draws people in, but it's the speed they'll remember."
In the end, though, it's the semblance to Burnout which stops Hot Pursuit seeing top honours in VideoGamer's 8/10 review - as Orry concludes: "While the high-speed pursuits are up there with the best gaming experiences of the year, the game needs more than that: car tuning, a resemblance of a story - complete with cheesy acting - and a reason to explore the open world. Ultimately, Hot Pursuit could have done with a bit more Need for Speed and less Burnout."
Eurogamer's Tom Bramwell feels that Criterion are fully aware that this is a departure from the traditions of NFS's lineage, however, and makes as much clear in the opening passage of his 9/10 review.
"How do you define Need for Speed? A perennial stocking filler for Electronic Arts' long-suffering investors? A neon love letter to Vin Diesel and Paul Walker's The Fast and The Furious? After last year's Shift, perhaps it's just the latest addition to a long line of challengers in a field previously dominated by Bizarre Creations?
"Nonsense, says Criterion. It's about going really f***ing fast."
In fact, that speed and simplicity is to be celebrated, Bramwell feels this is not a game which is attempting to be anything other than a straight-out thrill ride.
"This certainly isn't a game where you can feel a particular track sealant coming up through specific tyre-treads as you might in Forza Motorsport 3, but then you won't be too concerned about that when you're trying to ram someone off the road in the driving rain at 4am in the morning."
It's a sentiment which carries through to his conclusion, where he points out that Criterion's track record with DLC means we can safely expect more to come from the game.
"It's stuffed with content but rarely for the sake of it, and knowing Criterion it will be handsomely supported for months to come, even though it's already the best pure arcade racing game since Burnout Paradise. For Need for Speed, it's a return to critical form to match, justify and potentially expand the series' enduring popularity."
The Burnout comparison proves to hard to resist for Nick Chester at Destructoid too, who opens his 9.5/10 assessment by emphatically identifying the shared genetics of the two titles.
"Let's get it out of the way right now - Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit feels and plays like a Burnout title in almost everything but its name. Hot Pursuit tries to straddle a thin line between realistic car handling and accessible arcade racing, and while it definitely nails it, it's unquestionably closer to the latter."
Like many other reviewers, Chester is full of praise for Hot Pursuit's Autolog system, which replaces leaderboards to automatically trash talk friends who've been playing the game, removing the need to hunt through tables to discover your relative positions.
"But where Criterion really takes things to the next level is the game's social aspects, which truly bring Hot Pursuit to life like no other racer. The key is the game's 'Autolog,' a consistent experience that has you competing with your friends 24/7, constantly keeping you up to date with their game progress, their most recent records, goals obtained, and more. It's an absolutely seamless setup that easily lets you compare event results in an elegant and streamlined way."
"I found myself pushing my records higher and higher, replaying events that I normally wouldn't have if Hot Pursuit didn't offer such a sophisticated competitive environment," he continues.
His conclusion is unswerving, offering a level of unmitigated praise rarely witnessed on the pages of Destructoid.
"Criterion hasn't rebooted the Need for Speed series, instead taking classic key elements and injecting them with new life for the current generation. It delivers a near-perfect competitive experience, in a way that few games - racing or otherwise - can. Hot Pursuit is not only a defining moment for the series, but for arcade-style racing, period."
The consensus seems to be that it's online where Hot Pursuit shines brightest, and although the lack of offline multiplayer is a disappointment, for Joystiq's Randy Nelson the brilliance of the online modes more than makes up for it.
"And that's where Hot Pursuit really shines for me - the online competition. The Hot Pursuit mode itself is just fantastic when played online against (and with) real people. There's a surprisingly deep level of strategy involved, but mostly a whole lot of fun. It really is something that feels infinitely replayable; digging its hooks in and not letting you go.
"Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit may have been a late entrant into the race, but it both grabs the chequered flag for this year and may set a land speed record for this entire class of racer," he concludes, before awarding full marks of five stars.