The Need For Speed series has been around for quite some time, since 1995 when it debuted on the PS1, 3D0 and PC.
It's goal was simple at the time. Drive cars that you'll never be able to afford at high speeds in an arcade-like form. Since then,
the NFS series has seen five more titles (including this one), plus it lent it's name to two of the V-Rally games that appeared on
the PS1. With the exception of the rally games, the NFS series really never lost focus of arcade racing with exotic speed demons.
In 1998, EA introduced police chases in the third installment of the series, labeled "Hot Pursuit". In addition to the arcade races,
you can press your luck against the police force and see how long you can last on the road. This mode has been included in
"High Stakes" and "Porsche Unleashed" as well, but I guess EA decided to do a full on sequel to "Hot Pursuit". So, here we are.
The structure of NFSHP2 is a little more different that previous NFS games. The previous two NFS games was a little more
on the simulation side, where you can buy your cars and upgrades. Here, you have a handful given to you off the bat. On top of
that, the championship structure is radically different. Instead of completing championship and series one after the other, the championships (for normal racing and Hot Pursuit) are arranged in a branched out tree. You start with the first race, and after that's completed, you can chose from two other races beneath it, and so on as you move down. But there's a problem with this, that may be good or bad, depending on who you are. Say you unlock two races after the first. To move on down, you only have to complete one of the races instead of both. There are 30 races in the championship. Really, theoretically, you only need to race in 15 competitions instead of the full 30. But, if you want every car and course, you really need to complete them all. The set-up seems a bit odd to me, and at times it seems like you're almost cheating by not completing every series.
There are a variety of race types within the championship series, including single race, tournament, knockout, one-make and specific car types (such as engine type or orgin of car). The Hot Pursuit championships include outrunning the cops within races, as well as a chance to be the cop. It's nice that there is such variety within the races, otherwise, this could have been a dull game. Also, there are two types of track, circuit and point to point. Circuit is pretty self-explanitory. Point to point hasn't been seen in a NFS game since the first game introduced, and it's nice they brought it back. While we're on the subject of courses, let's talk about the different areas and locales you race in. There are only about 5 or 6 core areas you race in, from a mediterraninan landscape to an island city and the australian outback. But Black Box kind of pulled a Ridge Racer on us here. Each course has different variations on where you can drive. While this sounds cheap, each main course is actually pretty big, so it's not so bad when these courses are broken up into multiple parts.
I'm suprised I haven't gotten to the cars yet, which is pretty much the main attraction of this game. EA has licensed som familliar favorites, as well as some new and unexpected appearances. Cars in NFSHP2 include the Opel Speedster, Lotus Elise, BMW Z8, Porsche Carrera GT2 (I believe), Dodge Viper, Ferrari 550 and a whole lot more. While the selection of the cars is pretty good, I'm disappointed not to see any Japaneese sports cars in here, such as the Mazda RX7 or RX8, the Nissan 350Z or the Acura NSX.
The way you earn cars is a bit disappointing as well. I really enjoyed having to earn money to buy cars like you had to do in "High Stakes". Here, you can earn them by completing certain races or by earning enough race points. While the race points were a nice inclusion, it's not very broad like the Kudos system in the Project Gotham series, and are not spendable. To earn a car, your point total only needs to surpass a certain amount. One more disappointment, you can't upgrade your car. You can win special NFS models of cars which are enhanced, but no car can be modified.
The control/handling of NFSHP2 is alright. It's not terribly difficult, but it's not the best either. You have a choice of two settings, classic or extreme. Classic is default, and is a little more arcade friendly than extreme. Your car is less likely to spin out, but the turning as a little more difficult. I found that the "extreme" setting isn't so bad of a choice, since you can clear the turns easier. You may be a little more prone to spinning out, but if you keep your car under control, it's actually a better setting than classic. I also suggest getting used to using the right analog stick for gas and brake, it's a little more friendlier to your thumbs than the face buttons. After about 20 minutes or so, my right thumb started getting tired from the face buttons, so I started using the right analog stick, and it's not so bad. I usally avoid using the right stick, but for some reason, it feels right here.
The graphics of NFSHP2 can basically be summed up as standard. It's not spectacular, but it's decent and gets the job done. But here's something a bit peculiar about this version of NFSHP2, it looks better than the X-Box and Gamecube version. That's pretty much due to the fact that this was worked on longer than the other two versions, as the PS2 was the original version. Had the GC version had extra care taken into it's graphics, I wouldn't be talking about the PS2 version, but here we are. The PS2 version does not have the same framerate problems as the other versions have. In fact, it's pretty stable and smooth most of the time, which is a shocker seeing how past NFS games had some low framerates ("High Stakes" for the PS1 had a really low framerate). On top of that, the game carries a good sense of speed, which is important when you have the word "speed" in the title. The textures are fine, not quite extraordinary, but is not blurry like the other versions. One gripe I do have is that the environments are not terribly exciting. After playing it's closest competitior, Burnout 2, there's no real sense of danger or excitement as was shown in that game.
The sound is decent, but it's stuff I've heard time and time again. The engine noises are pretty good, and there are ambient sound effects. The music selection is adequate, but with only one notable group (Bush), it's not entirely memorable. Also, the techno tracks have to be unlocked. Why they didn't mix both together at the beginning is kind of mystifying.
Need For Speed Hot Pursuit 2 is pretty good for an arcade-style racing game. However, it really never strays away from what it has established in the past, which in the end, has made this an experience I have already gone through before. It's unfortunate that the new things it does offer really are not explored to it's full potential, such as the point system. It would have been great if the developers would have mirrored the Kudos system from PGR. But in the end, it's not a bad game. The cars look great, there's a great sense of speed, and the cop chases can be pretty fun.