Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Hands-On: A Whole Lotta CarS

Under EA Black Box, Need For Speed had conditioned me to put the accelerator trigger in a death grip and never let go until the end of the race. That won't help in Criterion's Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.

During a quick hands-on with the game's multiplayer cops-vs-robbers mode (shown during Electronic Arts' news conference), I quickly found the cars have been tuned much more for performance and handling. I oversteered like crazy while clamping down in the patented Need for Speed deathgrip. Clearly, this is not not how you're supposed to drive in this game anymore.

Criterion said it wants to build an accessible racer that delivers the feeling of masterfully handling an exotic car, without much of a learning curve. So when you get behind the wheel, my first piece of advice is to back off the throttle until you really need to go all out. Of course, this was a pursuit mode against a live opponent, so I have no idea if the game's bot racers will rubber-band and push you just as hard as previous installments.

I was advised by a Criterion rep to really try driving more by feathering the throttle and brakes, especially through curves. For handling, the car is sharply responsive, so you're going to want to get your thumb off the edge of the stick - difficult for some, I know - and up on top. Flick-steering, something I've grown accustomed to doing, got me into a lot of trouble.

But this is Need for Speed, you pick up the game, wreck a lot, then figure out how not to wreck and you're off and driving. So I got killed on both ends of the cops and robbers chase. But I enjoyed what I saw.

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Hands-On: A Whole Lotta CarS

First up, I was the racer. Your job is to give your human cop the slip, his job is to stop you, and that means ramming you until your damage meter goes past 100 percent. Fortunately, these cars can take a ton of abuse (they look like hell but still drive normally). My special weapon, activated on the D-pad, was a radar scrambler. It was difficult to tell if it worked or not (though playing as the cop, I can tell you it did.) You don't get the full arsenal at first, you have to work up and unlock the rest of the options, such as a decoy, or the overdrive. Nitro's standard.

As the cop, my unfamiliarity with the handling mean I missed a lot of PIT opportunities, but I noticed the cop car is indestructible (not cosmetically though). If your target ventures up to the edge of your radar, you can bet the jam signal is coming. It's useless if you're within sight, obviously. Cops can call for a roadblock as their base special ability; it wasn't clear to me how far up the road they deploy though. But don't just call it because you're lost and have nothing else to try.

Other details: Visually, the map we raced looked very similar to the rural course areas of Need for Speed: Undercover and Need For Speed: Most Wanted. There were shortcuts and dirt paths galore, but no pursuit breakers or dynamic environment - none that I could tell anyway. I asked Criterion if there would be manual stick shifting on the right analog, as per past games. The jury's still out on that, I was told (there was none in the demo.)

During an eyes-on, Criterion's Craig Sullivan joked that if he actually got behind the wheel of one of these cars in real life, he'd probably drive it into a wall, stall out or worse. I did better than that, but Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit definitely gives you the feeling that you're running with a lot more car, and its authority should be respected. The cops, not so much.