Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit had a lot to live up to. Not only does it share a name with what are generally considered the best of the Need for Speed series, but it was developed by Criterion Games, the makers of the fantastic Burnout games.

There’s no sense in beating about the bush: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is not only the best Need for Speed game I’ve ever played, it’s also one of the best racing games I’ve ever played. I can’t help but also feel like it’s probably what I wanted from Burnout 3- real cars, simple mechanics, more of the cops ‘n’ robbers mode from Burnout 2.

It seems silly to compare the two series, but they share so much in terms of gameplay that it’s difficult to separate them. The mechanics are all there: driving into incoming traffic and getting near misses fills your boost meter, taking down other racers does the same, and the signature sense of immense speed remains.

The main focus of Hot Pursuit is, unsurprisingly, on the “Hot Pursuit” mode, where one team of cops tries to shut down a team of racers (who are all gunning for first place) before they finish. The way they do this is by wrecking their cars- but it’s a bit more complicated than just smashing into each other.

Both teams are equipped with a set of abilities to help them out. Both teams get a front-firing EMP and a rear-firing spike strip, both of which do damage to anyone caught by them. The police also have a helicopter which drops spike strips and tracks racers, and the ability to call in a roadblock ahead of the race. The racers get a jammer, which shuts off all of the police’s weapons and map, as well as disrupting their EMPs if they are trying to nab you with them.

The best thing that the racers have, though, is the turbo boost. While both teams have a boost meter, the “Turbo” ability is so much more than that. As a racer, sometimes you really just need to get away from the pigs behind you- and you will. In many cars 200mph will be broken virtually instantly, sending you rocketing into the distance. If you’re a good driver, it’s amazingly fun to use.

The sense of speed in Hot Pursuit is incredible. It really gets the adrenaline pumping- and for a Burnout junkie, that’s exactly what I need from this sort of game. What’s even better, though, is that I’m doing it in real cars. They’re not simulations, but that’s not a problem. If I want to see what it’s like to drive a supercar, I’ll have a go on Gran Turismo. If I want to drift a $1million supercar around a corner and smash into another, even more expensive supercar, I’ll get straight on Hot Pursuit. What’s more, virtually every car has a “cop” version, and the flashing light versions of some of the more outlandish cars are an absolute delight.

The game also employs an “Autolog” system, whereby your friends’ times for each event in the single-player campaign are displayed on a “wall”- and you’re encouraged to try and beat them. If you’ve got a lot of friends this is a great little competitive system, but if you’re a bit of a loner it’s a wasted system, really.

The online multiplayer, however, is a delight. There are plenty of modes to enjoy, including the excellent Hot Pursuit, in several different classes of vehicle. You can play with the lower-level cars, or bomb round the tracks in ridiculous supercars. Crucially, you can continue earning “Bounty” in the multiplayer- the currency with which you unlock cars. This means you don’t have to worry about grinding the single-player to unlock the better cars: you just play more multiplayer.

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is genuinely a delight to behold. It looks great, plays very well indeed, and has tonnes and tonnes of content. It’ll be a long time before you get bored with it- and despite clunky menus and a lack of the “exploratory” spirit of Burnout Paradise, I can’t recommend it more.

The game released on november 16th 2010 for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC (tested). The game was played for around 4 hours single-player, many more in multiplayer (since you can unlock cars that way, too). Specs of the PC used are as follows: AMD Phenom X4 965 @ 3.40 Ghz, 4GB RAM, ATI Radeon HD5850 Black, and a slightly shitty hard drive with Windows 7 64-bit installed on it.