Right, we've reached the end of the month, and as a reward for not missing a single day, I promised myself a treat - that treat being to play one of my all-time favourite games.
All my PS2 gaming came in the five-year spell when I lived in the USA. Well, it actually came in a three-year spell... we got our PS2 for Christmas in 2002, about fifteen months after I'd moved there. As we were members of Blockbuster, we used to mosey on down the road a few hundred yards to our local branch, pick up a film or two, and I'd look at the rental games. On one occasion, I found myself having to choose between Burnout 2 and NFS:HP2.
I picked this one, and to this day I'm glad I did. I played it a hell of a lot in my week's rental period, and my wife Lorraine then bought it for me for Valentine's Day (awwww!). And over my years of PS2 ownership, this remained one of my most-played games.
I don't own a PS2 at the moment, but my son does. This is handy, because the PS2 has a load of games that I love, and equally a lot of games I have yet to play but would like to. So every once in a while I kick him out of his room, and I take up residence on the PS2 for a couple of hours. Tonight, while he was on Animal Crossing, I was on NFS:HP2.
It's been a long time since I've played this, but it all came flooding back to me in the time it took to cross the start line. This might not be the most realistic racing game ever made, but it's really, really good fun.
You've got two main game options - Hot Pursuit and World Championship. World Championship is the straightforward element of the game... just you against other racers, competing for the Championship. It's very enjoyable as it is, but it's just the warm-up...
Hot Pursuit (well, the Ultimate Racer part of Hot Pursuit) is the real deal, and sees you completing different racing challenges to unlock branches of a progression tree. I like this progression system (which is actually the same in the World Championship)... you know exactly what you're aiming for at all times.
It does ease you in gently, and with not that much relative excitement... the first couple of races involve you getting from A to B inside a certain time. The cops are after you, but it's only you against them, and they're not that rough early on. It's when you start unlocking your third branch of races that things pick up...
This is when other racers enter the fray. The game takes on another dimension altogether when you're racing against the cops and other drivers. Your rivals are pretty vicious, and will nudge and bump you at any opportunity, and the cops will do likewise... when they're not radioing ahead for roadblocks or the police helicopter.
These elements are what makes the racing in NFS:HP2 so exciting and entertaining. It's fantastic, racing along with the constant CB radio chatter in your ear. And it's even better when you pull of a move that forces the cop on your tail into an oncoming car or a bridge, and you hear "I'm out of commission"... "Roger... we're sending over a wrecking truck". Brilliant.
It's even better when you're haring towards the finish, trying desperately to catch up to the flyboy who zoomed past you half a lap back, only to roar past him as he's pulled over by a cop at the side of the road. Of course, this works in reverse as well... you might be streaking towards a glorious win, only to have the cops gang up on you and knock you into a tree, leaving you staggering over the line as a couple of opponents roar past.
With all this and the stylish presentation, such as cuts to dramatic slow-motion camera angles as you make a particularly impressive jump, this is as close as you'll ever get to playing at Smokey and the Bandit. And I mean that in a good way. I wish EA would get their act together with the Need For Speed series... if they gave us this exact game with online multiplayer, I'd probably die of happiness. Here's hoping. In the meantime, I'll enjoy this for what it is... one of the finest arcade racers I've ever played.