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Drive like a maniac in ‘Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit’

I will not lie to you. My favorite race car games are "vehicle combat" games named "Burnout" and "Wipeout." Those games let you race super-duper fast while firing rockets at rival cars. Do you hear me? Rockets!

And so, this is why I am in-like with the new "Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit."

"Hot Pursuit" isn’t the purest sort of vehicle-combat racer. There are no rockets. And only one-third of the game lets you destroy rival cars. But one-third of "vehicle combat" in a game is an exciting prospect.

When "Hot Pursuit" begins, it asks you to play either as a cop or as a speeder, and then you engage in a line of races as one or the other.

But smartly, the game lets you toggle back and forth between cop and speeder, from one race to the next. That way, the game unfolds in something that’s twice as deep as you expect.

Then you drive like a maniac through different challenges — multicar races, solo time trials, and best of all, those blow-up-other-car races.

"Hot Pursuit" isn’t nearly as massively destructive as the "Burnout" and "Wipeout" series. "Hot Pursuit’s" weapons range from mild (electromagnetic pulses that stun other cars’ mechanics) to indignant (spikes you drop in front of another car’s tires).

But this is just enough destruction to give you an edge in a race, or conversely to take away your edge when employed against you. Plus, it’s fun to blow things up when they’re in motion.

This is a big, pretty game with lovely vistas. It just doesn’t have enough tracks. That’s the knock against "Hot Pursuit."

But perfect roads hug snowy curves of mountains, sandy domains of beaches, sunny flats of deserts, and picturesque fluffs of farmlands.

Cars are licensed lovelies that are ludicrously fast, and I can’t even pronounce half their names. There are Lamborghini Gallardos, Lamborghini Murcielagos, Lamborghini Reventons, Koenigseggs, Dodges, Chevys, Fords, Astin Martins, Audis, a Pagani Zonda Cinque Roadster and a Bentley Continental Supersports. Whew!

To make your cars win, place or show, you must perfectly employ turbo gas. To earn turbo gas, you must drift around corners; slipstream and shunt behind competitors’ cars; then find shortcuts that let you peel away from the main track.

What I’m most addicted to is the online multiplayer mode that pits speeders vs. cops, both armed with tire spikes and EMPs. In the first week of release (on PS 3), I couldn’t find a lot of people to race online, but barely enough to keep competing. That lack of an army of other gamers to confront is a sort of negative consideration.

This isn’t an easy racer. It is simple for the first few hours. But then it becomes challenging, driving 224 mph on a winding road where, in the rainy dark, you can’t foresee every 55 mph pedestrian car that you need to pass without hitting.

Every little fender bender will blow your chances to win the gold. But it’s OK to win silver and bronze. Those are nice medals, too.

("Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit" by EA retails for $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3; $50 for Wii and PC — Plays quite fun. Looks great. Challenging. Rated "E 10+" for violence. Four stars out of four stars.)

Doug Elfman’s column appears Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. E-mail him at delfman@review journal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.

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