It certainly is a good arcade-style driving game, but it's nowhere near as fun as the PlayStation 2 version.
A few weeks ago, Electronic Arts released three versions of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit II simultaneously. This sequel to the 1998 arcade-style driving game was made available for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube, but interestingly enough, not all three games were identical. While the PS2 version, which was developed by Black Box, is a wholly satisfying racing game with great graphics and a visceral sense of speed, the Xbox and GameCube versions of Hot Pursuit II are noticeably tamer in terms of control, graphics, and sound. That's because those two versions of the game were developed by a completely different company, EA Seattle, in order to ship on time alongside Hot Pursuit II for the PlayStation 2, which Electronic Arts considers to be the primary version of the game. Unfortunately for PC game players, EA didn't port the superior PS2 version of Hot Pursuit II to the PC. Instead, PC owners get a port of the less spectacular GameCube and Xbox versions of Hot Pursuit II. That's not to say that Hot Pursuit II for the PC is bad. It certainly is a good arcade-style driving game, but it's nowhere near as fun as the PlayStation 2 version.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit II is not a driving simulator. It's not Grand Prix 4, and it doesn't set out to be. This game is all about arcade-style racing, where car-handling properties are wildly exaggerated, and physics are more like loose suggestions, rather than strict laws. Nonetheless, like all of the previous games in this series, Hot Pursuit II has a number of highly coveted car licenses from American and European manufacturers like Lotus, Lamborghini, Dodge, Chevy, BMW, Mercedes, and the two most prestigious car makers, Ferrari and Porsche.
As its name implies, Hot Pursuit II largely focuses on the art of outrunning the law. Actually, Hot Pursuit II is like two games in one. Unlike other racing games, this one has two equally large championship modes, only one of which involves the police. Called "hot pursuit," this career mode is composed of 33 individual racing events that force you to beat a number of opponents, while contending with the police, through a handful of different race types. In contrast, World Championship mode is laid out in a branching manner, and in this mode, you're required to successfully finish one race before unlocking the next. As you'd expect, your opponents will get tougher, your goals harder to achieve, and the police less forgiving as you progress through this tree. The police will come after you if you break the speed limit, and since you must cross the finish line before your opponents do, you'll be breaking that limit constantly. At first, the cops will just send a couple of Crown Victorias after you, but if you refuse to pull over, they'll pull out all the stops to bust you. Much like in Grand Theft Auto III, the number of cops that are thrown at you is measured by the number of stars in the center of the screen. When this meter is full, the police will place barricades and spike strips on the roads, they'll chase you with faster cars, and they'll even call in a helicopter that drops, of all things, explosive barrels in front of you. If the police manage to pull you over just once in a given race (you get three strikes in the PS2 version), you'll have to start all over.
However, that sounds more foreboding than it really is. Hot Pursuit II starts off relatively easy: You'll be driving "low-end" cars like the Lotus Elise and Opel Speedster, as will your competition, and the cops will go easy on you for the most part. As you work your way through the 33 missions, the competition will gradually get stiffer, but never to the point of being frustrating. The other cars are ruthless--they'll take every opportunity to give your rear bumper a not-so-friendly tap, though they themselves are by no means perfect. You'll often see other racers plow into oncoming traffic or miscalculate a turn and ricochet off a wall or guardrail. You'll do that too, especially with some of the faster cars. While the physics in the game are by no means realistic, the cars' performances are still reflective of their real-world counterparts, although in a much exaggerated manner. The Ferrari F50, for instance, has a loose back end, making it harder to control around corners than the tamer BMW M5. Still, you can pretty much go through every race without ever taking your thumb off the gas button, though judicious use of your hand brake makes cornering a lot easier.
It's perhaps a little strange that you're not rewarded for driving wildly in the PC version of Hot Pursuit II, like you are in the PS2 game. In fact, the points system in this version of Hot Pursuit II is completely different from the PlayStation 2 version. Here, you'll be awarded with a bronze, silver, or gold medal upon completing any of the hot pursuit racing events, and each of these awards has a certain point value attached to it. You do get a few points within each race for posting the fastest lap and such, but unlike the PS2 version, which lets you earn points in many different ways, like taking massive jumps, the PC version is much more limited. What's more, you can choose which cars and tracks you wish to unlock yourself by spending your points accordingly--nothing becomes available to you automatically. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; it just seems strange that it's done in a completely different manner from Hot Pursuit II for the PlayStation 2. There are a little more than 30 cars that you can unlock in the game--about a dozen less than in the PS2 game--including 10 cop cars, all of which can be driven at will in the game's challenge mode. Additionally, Hot Pursuit II has 12 unique racetracks, though that number quadruples if you count the mirrored, reverse, and mirrored-reverse courses. In a nice touch, Hot Pursuit II's challenge mode even lets you play as the cops, and you can call in roadblocks and helicopters of your own.