With the arrival of the new wave of consoles, we didn't have the time to fully check out Need for Speed Hot Pursuit Remastered when it launched, but the Criterion masterpiece is especially deserving of our focus now as support has been added for the nex-gen consoles, opening the door to a 4K experience running at 60 frames per second. More than that, in the wake of the news that Criterion's new Need for Speed title has been delayed, it's also an opportunity to reflect on an astonishing run of iconic racing games from the Guildford-based developer.
It's something I was discussing with John Linneman recently: what exactly is peak Criterion? Some might say it's Need for Speed Hot Pursuit - a game that radically rebooted the franchise, bringing over the best of Burnout but respecting the core DNA of what made the original NFS titles so great. And then there was Autolog, of course, a remarkably successful attempt to meld social networking into a video game. But despite some remarkable coding resulting in input latency that matched or even beat some 60fps games, Hot Pursuit was a 30fps title in an era where 60fps was Criterion's hallmark. So maybe it's actually Burnout Paradise that's peak Criterion? But what about the incredible Burnout 3: Takedown? Or maybe the purist's favourite, Burnout 2: Point of Impact?
Perhaps it's simply enough to say that from the arrival of Burnout 2 all the way through to Need for Speed Hot Pursuit, Criterion was the undisputed master of the racing genre, with every game a must-buy - and in returning to what was the last truly great Criterion racing offering, it's very much business as usual. Yes, Hot Pursuit hasn't radically evolved visually from its PC rendition and despite running at higher resolutions and (on select formats at least) higher frame-rates than the original console versions, it's very much a game of its era. But the bottom line is that the game still runs beautifully, the handling is sublime and the concept is to-the-point, immediate and brilliant. Perhaps best of all is the vista-like presentation: the promise of an open road that stretches far into the distance. And yes, the resolution boost definitely helps there.
It's interesting to see how Stellar Entertainment has handled the remaster and its translation to the various platforms. Hot Pursuit was fundamentally a 30fps game and so are most of the ports. PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch all target 1080p30 (with 720p30 delivered on the mobile rendition). Only PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X had the option to improve frame-rate, with the choice offered between 4K30 and 1080p60 gaming. The recent upgrade isn't actually a patch specifically targeting the new machines: a new Maximum quality mode simply removes the frame-rate cap from the existing Pro and One X versions, allowing the inherent back-compat support in the brand new machines to kick in, propelling us to 60 frames per second. So yes, the modes targeting PS5 and Series X are also available on the last-gen enhanced machines too. It's not so much 'back compat plus' as such, more a simple mechanism to allow the existing game to get a measurable performance boost without the potential requirement to migrate across to a later, cross-gen enabled SDK.
What this does mean is bad news for Xbox Series S? Anchored down by the Xbox One S codepath, there are no extra modes added, so 1080p30 is the best you're going to get. Despite delivering a relatively huge increase in GPU power, and being easily capable of delivering 1080p at 60fps, there is no upgrade for Series S users - and that's a massive shame. And it's actually quite interesting to see that the new Maximum mode sees PS4 Pro at 4K unlocked typically running in the mid-40s, while Xbox One X by default is within touching distance of 4K60 in many scenarios - but what stands out from the performance analysis that running unlocked, Pro and One X are perhaps much more closer in output than the spec differential between the two systems would suggest.
In theory at least, moving the same code to PS5 and Xbox Series X should deliver a foregone conclusion then: with a 2x increase in GPU performance minimum, both should lock to 4K at 60fps with plenty of horsepower to spare. And that's definitely the case with PlayStation 5, which simply powers through at full frame-rate across our testing. However, we did encounter a specific problem area in the map on the Xbox version, which can see performance drop to the low 40s - and indeed the low 30s on Xbox One X. It only seems to be this one specific area on the map, near the coast, but because Hot Pursuit's tracks are all built around a single world, you do find yourself revisiting the same location fairly frequently and thus encountering the same performance drop. It's flawless on PlayStation 5, but clearly a problem on the Xbox side... and it does seem to be a GPU issue as the 1080p60 mode is still available and works fine there. To be clear though, it's very clearly a software issue - after all, Hot Pursuit Remastered does seem to be based primarily on the PC original, which was exceptionally well put together back in the day.
So, ultimately, a game that should have a large amount of overhead on the new machines (based on their unlocked behaviour on the last-gen enhanced consoles) should deliver a flawless experience on their shiny new equivalents. That is the case with PlayStation 5, but the drop is significant enough on Xbox Series X that we would hope to see EA revisit Hot Pursuit Remastered to iron out the problem there - and quite why there are any issues at all is a bit baffling. Meanwhile, the lack of Series S upgrades is also disappointing - there's no technical reason whatsoever why Microsoft's junior next generation console shouldn't be delivering 60fps. Enhancements like crossplay are welcome, but ultimately, the 30fps cap was the only real technological limitation that held back the original game and at full frame-rate, one of the best racing games ever made just feels sublime. Years on from its initial release, Hot Pursuit is still an absolute gem.