Need for Speed has had more overhauls than we've had hot dinners. Every year we're promised a 'new direction' for the racing series, and every year the final product turns out to be not quite the revolution we were promised. But Hot Pursuit is genuinely different to what's gone before.
This time, the Burnout Paradise team at Criterion has been drafted in to rescue the flagging franchise, and what we've seen of the results so far has been extremely impressive.
As its old-school title suggests, Hot Pursuit returns to what the Need For Speed series used to be all about - high-speed pursuits with the law, beautifully exotic cars, red-hot asphalt. It also adds a few luxuries in the form of gorgeous visuals, a massive game world and a selection of seriously ambitious online options.
When you kick off your unsurprisingly Kelly Brook-less campaign, you'll get the chance to act on your childhood dream of choosing between playing a cop, or rebelling it up in the category Vin Diesel would most likely fall into - the racer. The cops chase the racers, while the racers try to escape the cops - it's that simple, and having played the cat and mouse multiplayer, we're absolutely sold.
Blasting along a woodland road at the sorts of law-breaking speeds that have become synonymous with the Burnout developer, racers attempt to weave their way in and out of incoming traffic. As a racer, illegal action like this tops up your 'Heat' meter, which then boosts to propel you away from the blues and twos flickering away in your rear-view mirror.
Criterion has brought along its trademark action-packed approach to the Need for Speed series, and racing successfully is all about sly handbrake turns, fishtailing opponents and perilous darting towards traffic. And then there are the power-ups. Within three or four minutes of a pursuit, all of your vehicle's weapons come online. And we're not talking red shells or lightning bolts - in Hot Pursuit, racers are able to radar-jam chasing coppers, or even slam on the brakes and swiftly retrace their skidmarks.
The cops' abilities sound even more exciting: with the boost less frequently dished out, wannabe lawmen have to make do with a tricky EMP which, when targeted properly, can reverse your opponent's controls. And if that doesn't work, you can radio for AI backup to assist you in your frantic man hunt, chuck down some road spikes, and when the racer finally does make it out of site (initiating a countdown), you can press the America's Most Wanted button and call in a police helicopter to sniff him or her out. Awesome.
The only mode available to play at E3 was the two-player Chase mode, but we're already blown away by how fast, fun and downright beautiful the game is. The most exciting part about Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, though, is that its best features are still under wraps. We suspect this is a new direction that we'll be following for some time.