Ever since the first wheel rolled into mankind's collective consciousness, there was undoubtedly somebody trying to get it to move more quickly. There's just something built into the human—and some would say the human male—psyche that screams, "Go faster!" Of course, these instinctive yearnings for mad acceleration are often accompanied by wails of "owwwww!" after every crash and crumple.
So for all you modern wheelmen who long to go fast and avoid the threat of broken bones or soaring garage bills, there are video game alternatives. And Need for Speed Hot Pursuit captures more high-def sheet metal sparkle and blisteringly fast digital realism than any of its franchise predecessors.
The controls for this high-octane racer are tight and precise. It takes a bit of initial practice, but after a few runs, players will get a feel for the sensitive analog stick steering. And with a tap of the brake here and a blast of nitrous oxide there, newbies will soon be keeping up with the pack, jockeying for position and enjoying the game's pulse-raising intensity.
If you're looking for a storyline to go along with your graphically impressive lead-footing, though, you might as well grab your keys and find something at the cinema. This speedster is all race and chase and little else. You alternate between being one of a gaggle of drivers who shatter the speed limits along 100 miles of twisting public highways and a posse of hotly pursuing Seacrest County policemen who hurtle along behind.
In this setting, you earn bronze, silver and gold medals (in single-player mode) as you try to avoid the cops and hit a course's finish line first. Or you put on the badge and earn accolades for bumping the bad guys off the track—or incapacitating them with speed strips and an electromagnetic pulse generator.
(It should be noted that this is not one of those games where several family members can grab controllers and compete for the checkered flag. There is an online multiplayer option, but you can only race against fellow speedsters from the Web who each have their own separate consoles and Internet connections.)
Beyond the whole scofflaw/speed demon thing—which sometimes makes it feel like you're thumbing your racing glove-clad thumb at authority—there's not a lot else here to slam the brakes over. Cars crash and crumple on a regular basis, but no injured drivers are ever seen and the goal is to get through a course as unscathed as possible. Mangled metal generally means it's time to restart the level.
If you listen closely to the rocking underscore you might catch a drinking reference or even recognize that a few s-words were blanked out of the lyrics. Frankly, though, the tunes are so buried under the sound of racing engines and screeching tires that you'll have to work pretty hard to come up with even that much. (I did!) You can also turn the music down or completely off in the options menu.
As to whether Need for Speed Hot Pursuit will inspire 17-year-olds to want to race real cars after school, it really does depend on who it is with his finger on the nitrous oxide button.