Curiously, the game also seems to support NVIDIA 3D Vision - in a fashion. There is no proper confirmed profile as of yet, but loading up my review copy instantly switched into 120Hz stereo 3D mode when according to the developer, it shouldn't have! Elements of the support didn't work yet (some lighting effects and shadows weren't rendered in 3D) but as a preview of what could be, the effect was simply... phenomenal.
In the past, Sony has talked about driving games being perfect for 3D - improved depth perception being one of the key benefits. Personally, I believe that game makers and players have developed their own sense of making depth perception work well in conventional 2D, but there's no doubting that the impression of immersion and realism within the game is significantly boosted, and even though the 3D mode wasn't fully working, having to switch back to conventional 2D to carry out the capturing duties for this feature was a more than a bit of a drag. 3D may well be a compromise on console, but it's demonstrations like this that convince me that it is going to be a hugely important element of gaming in the future.
In there and now, hopefully Criterion can work with NVIDIA to produce a fully working 3D Vision profile: the fact that the game is so light on system resources also means that there's plenty of horsepower to spare in maintaining a 60Hz frame-rate, despite the scene effectively being rendered twice. 3D Vision now supports HDMI 1.4-enabled displays, and it should be the case that even the more affordable NVIDIA GPUs should be able to support the only 60Hz mode available - 1280x1470, with 720p's worth of resolution dedicated to each eye. We plan to more fully investigate an affordable NVIDIA setup for use with HDMI 1.4-enabled 3DTVs in the near future.
From a technical perspective, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit stands apart from the console versions, even factoring in the lack of anti-aliasing. The improved resolution options help you to better appreciate the game world and has tangible advantages to gameplay, while the ability to run at 60FPS at max settings with fairly low-level graphics hardware is an obvious boon.
However, while technically it scores the win, socially the PC game does come up a little short in another crucial area. Autolog is the heart and soul of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, the mechanism that keeps the game fresh and awash with new challenge. On console, the game is intrinsically linked to either Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network, so the process of getting into the social side of the game is straightforward - Autolog recommendations, speedwall times and shared photos are naturally added in via the wonder of the friends list.
The PC version retains Autolog and the online gaming options of course, but the backing infrastructure of PSN and Live that organically populates the leaderboards and updates just isn't there. There is no Steamworks support, for example, so the friends list you have there isn't utilised. All you have to work with is the internal Autolog network, which means you actively need to seek out new friends to compete with rather than aggregate them automagically as your existing friends network goes out, buys the game and then plays through it. However, once you have at least one contact added, friends recommendations kick in which allow you to at least populate Autolog and the speedwalls, although the chances are you won't be playing with friends as such, rather friends of friends.
The lack of integration with existing friends networks on PC is a bit of a disappointment. Criterion has a deserved reputation for being a key technical innovator with a love for the arcade racing experience that many developers and publishers have left behind. Autolog shows that the Guildford-based studio has evolved its understanding of online gaming to a new level, producing a must-have feature that others are sure to copy. The fact that this brilliant concept probably won't be fully appreciated on PC is a bit of a blow, especially when the developer has worked hard to ensure that those who've invested in top-tier gaming hardware get an enhanced experience that outstrips the console version in many important ways.
So for the die-hard racing fanatic, the PC version is most likely the best buy - the technical advantages clearly do elevate the gameplay experience. In addition to this, once the 3D Vision support is sorted, any owner of a 3DTV should seriously consider picking this up (even in its current unfinished state, it's still extremely impressive in places). However, this is a console project at heart and the social networking features that are so fundamental to the brilliance of the game work best on PSN and Xbox Live.
So if we leave the technical comparisons behind for a moment and concrete instead on the friends comparisons, and it's evident that the core, competitive appeal of Hot Pursuit is at its strongest on console - and thanks to the engineering team at Criterion, the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game are exactly the same, and equally worthy of your time and money.