'Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit'

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit

I'm not a fan of racing games, as they tend to be far too similar to each other. Only the Burnout series caught my attention, primally satisfying in its exhilarating action with a focus on wrecking other racers and events designed to cause as much destruction as possible. So when I saw that the developers of Burnout were making this year's Need for Speed title with a cops-versus-racers theme, I salivated like Pavlov's dog. While not as chaos-oriented as Burnout, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii) is still a wickedly fun experience.

You can freely switch between events such as races, new-car previews, and escaping the fuzz, or jump into the squad car and take down racer suspects one-on-one or as a group, or rush across town to street-racing busts. As you progress, equipment starts playing a role in the form of spike strips and electromagnetic-pulse charges to take other cars out. For racers, the intensity hits a climax when police helicopters are called in, keeping pace with your car and dumping panic-inducing spike strips every so often, followed by police barricades you'll need to avoid to survive.

The same extreme matches can be set up online, with up to four racers and four officers for some crazy team-based racing and smashing. All of these events carry leaderboards for bragging rights against your friends and grant Bounty points to reward players with fast new toys, offline and online alike. Every event features high-octane action blazing across highways, as you narrowly avoid traffic and make sharp turns at breakneck speeds, all while trying to make your opponents crash in stunning ways.

The Autolog system introduced in Hot Pursuit is a simple concept with big results. It's basically a more in-depth leaderboard within the game, allowing you to compare stats only with friends rather than everyone worldwide. You can see how they've done in races and what cars they've done best with. You also receive instant updates anytime someone has surpassed your personal best in an event. Race challenges can be recommended to friends, the system will recommend new friends with similar racing tastes, and you can take and share flashy racing pictures. It brings comrades and competitors together like peas in a pod.

It's not a simulator like the Gran Turismo and Forza series, in which upgrading parts and delicate touches matter; it's mindless, arcade-style jump-in-and-drive racing at its best. Hot Pursuit creates amazing excitement that makes you eager to put the pedal to the metal.

'Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood'

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

I've had quite the love for the Assassin's Creed series (on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360), but the hype surrounding the introduction of multiplayer modes on Brotherhood, the new installment, had me worried the solo story mode might become second-fiddle. My fears were realized, but because the multiplayer features some of the tensest playing I've ever experienced, I'm willing to give the overall package a pass.

Picking up at the closing moments of Assassin's Creed II (read my review at RCReader.com/y/creed), story protagonist Ezio returns victorious to his villa, only to come under attack from a new enemy that very evening. With his home destroyed, allies dispersed, and equipment lost, Ezio begins picking up the pieces in the heart of Rome and building a brotherhood of assassins.

Single-player gameplay remains largely unchanged from the last episode. Combat has a minor upgrade in "execution streaks" in which Ezio can take out many combatants at a much faster pace. It comes off as too easy at times but still looks exciting. The larger city of Rome gets the same detailed art-design treatment as the previous game, with historic landmarks and architecture. It's still a lot of fun to mess around in the city, but the lackluster story - largely forgettable and trivial in the grand scheme of things - leaves me wanting a better sequel.

Recruiting assassins is a surprisingly fun new single-player feature. When you save certain city dwellers from oppression, they dedicate their lives to serve you. You can send them away on jobs to earn money and grow stronger, or call them into your battles as backup or distractions. It's addictive watching them progress into full-fledged assassins, but this once again can make battles too easy. I can accept that these changes help make stealth assassinations more strategic, but I don't think the idea was fully fleshed out before integration.

Multiplayer mode is undoubtedly the standout here. Up to eight players select a character and get placed in a small section of a crowded city, each with a contract to kill one of the other players. Instead of a random massacre like shooter games, you only earn points by killing your target or escaping your pursuer(s). It quickly turns into a psychological game, trying to see through your target's tricks while attempting to remain incognito to both predator and prey. It's nerve-wracking and amazingly fun because of it. With updates coming in team-play variants and maps as free downloads, it's going to have my attention for some time.

Once again I'm left anticipating what will happen next in this franchise - whether the developers will bring the story back up to earlier standards, or if my interest in the narrative is going to get assassinated by my desire to hunt down friends and strangers online. Surprisingly, I think I would be fine with either result.

Need for Speed: Hot Puruit is now available on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 for $59.99, and Wii for $49.99. For this review, the author played in multiple races on both the racer and police sides, and competed in and recommended races in Autolog.

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is now available on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 for $59.99 for the regular edition and $99.99 for the collector's edition with bonus content. For this review, the author completed the story and played dozens of multiplayer matches.

Luke Hamilton is a buyer, creative designer, and online coordinator for Video Games Etc. He can be reached at ssj_4luke@hotmail.com.

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