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You can choose to be a cop or an illegal street racer when you slide behind the wheel of “Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit,” the latest release in this adrenaline-pumping E-rated series by Criterion Games.

As a bad guy, the concept is simple: The more you speed, drift and win races, the more “bounty” you earn. You can use your earnings to upgrade your car, or to unlock new cars.

Make no mistake: This is not a simulation racer like “Gran Turismo.” You’ll probably find some similarities between this game and others like “Burnout,” also developed by Criterion. However, the objective here is not to crash your car, but rather to beat your opponents.

The game’s racing options help keep things fresh, offering four-on-four challenges between cops and racers. And this is where things get interesting.

If you’re playing as a cop, you work to stop the street racers and you are scored by how quickly you do it. Both cops and racers can fight dirty, using spike strips to shred tires or electromagnetic pulse blasts to disable vehicles.

From the police car, you can deploy roadblocks or request helicopter support.

It’s not all bad news for the street racers, who can use a powerful turbo boost and a jammer that allows them to shut down their opponent’s weapons temporarily.

All these wonderful toys really add a dimension of strategy and challenge to this fun, arcade-style racer.

The game has an adequate selection of rides to choose from, including more than 50 street racers and more than 50 cop cars. Choices include the Audi R8 Spyder, Ford Shelby GT500, McLaren F1, Nissan GT-R SpecV and the Porsche Carrera GT.

While it’s hard to imagine a real-life cop driving around in a Lamborghini Murcielago, it is just one of the game’s many outlandish charms.

The setting for all this madness and mayhem is in Seacrest — a fictional county offering every type of driving condition you could imagine, from sand to snow. The backdrops and the cars are nicely rendered with a look that really pops.

The game’s high-octane soundtrack of rap, rock, pop and hip-hop will put you in the mindset to speed.

“Hot Pursuit” features a decent online, multiplayer mode, which certainly makes playing this game worthwhile against friends or strangers. Also interesting is the game’s integration into the realm of social media: players are encouraged to share comments or post results from their races.

The game sports a global standings board, allowing players to see their ranking among their friends. This lends itself to a lot of friendly trash-talking.

If that isn’t enough, the game offers many expansion packs that include cars, tracks and other modifications.

“Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit” is definitely worth a try for fans of over-the-top racers, especially those in the mood for a little friendly competition without getting their license revoked.

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PC

Online: hotpursuit.needforspeed.com

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