Electronic Arts put the franchise back in the hands of Criterion and unveiled it Monday with a blood-pumping chase demonstration in its E3 news conference. Tuesday we got a closer look at the multiplayer chase mode, but also the new social features of the game’s “Autolog” dashboard, which the developers hope will divert you into one-off and one-upsmanship competitions as you work your way through the game’s campaign mode.
First, the pursuit, shown to us by Craig Sullivan, Criterion’s creative director, and Matt Webster, the studio’s senior producer for this game. Craig picked cop and Webster racer, each with a simple mandate, make the getaway or prevent it. The contest opened with a very appealing animation introducing the two sides – “Sergeant Craig Sullivan” brought a chuckle – and then the pursuit was on, Sullivan in a police-skinned Veyron, Webster in a Lamborghini.
There won’t be the kinds of pursuit breakers or speed breaker moments in past iterations of the series, for the obvious difficulty of having one player proceed in bullet-time and the other in real time. Each player instead gets three special-use items that affect their foe in a similar way. Cops, for example, have an EMP burst that scrambles the player’s HUD; racers have a radar jammer that does the same to a cop, and can have a good effect if the racer is well in the lead. Cops can call in a roadblock ahead; racers can call in a decoy. Finally, cops can bring in a helicopter to drop a spike strip (cops also can deploy a spike strip if they’re in front of a racer). Racers have an “overdrive,” which Webster said is the fastest anyone has ever run in Need for Speed.
That was an online competition arranged by conventional means. Criterion however hopes you’ll engage in a number of offline multiplayer contests – trying to beat a score or time set by a friend. Autolog is meant to broaden online challenges beyond standard head-to-head and a global leaderboard, Sullivan said, constantly comparing the game choice you’ve picked to how your friends have performed at it.
“We call it shopping for gameplay,” Sullivan said.
The match options will be rated according to difficulty and carry a corresponding bounty payoff – bounty being the experience points equivalent in the Hot Pursuit universe. There’s a social networking aspect to the Autolog, which may also be managed by logging in to a website to upload pictures, send taunts and the like. Autolog’s main screen was constantly buzzing with a newsfeed generated by friend activity, race results, and personal leaderboard positions.
Bounty, no matter where acquired, all goes into one aggregate score for a player’s cop and racer rankings – and players will be able to go through the entirety of the game’s singleplayer career as either, apparently able to switch between roles mid-career. In addition to ranking up, bounty provides the expected unlockables such as cars and associated content.
Visually, the game performed true to expectations of the Need for Speed franchise. Aspirationally, Sullivan said Criterion’s shooting for a pick-up-and-play experience that has racers shifting, sliding and drifting expertly without much learning curve. We’ll see how close it comes when we get hands-on time with the game.