As watchers of procedural police dramas will attest, the difference between criminals and crime-stoppers is often no more than the uniforms they wear.

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit's very setup seems designed to prove that point, serving up a racer that - whether played as the strong arm of the law or tackled as a cog in the wheel of the criminal underworld - offers much the same experience on either side.

So it's just as well that both encounters are packed full of fun.

A balanced bout

Part of the game's appeal is that whatever car you happen to be racing in the action on the track is slick.

Where other smartphone racers either overcomplicate controls or misjudge handling, EA's latest effort offers a fairly restrained approach that doesn't get anything wrong.

The accelerometer controls are particularly well-tuned, with the slightest of tilts resulting in a satisfying sweep around the game's OutRun-esque bends. On-track architecture is also kept to a mininum - the two factors combined meaning races fly by at quite a pace.

With auto-acceleration also on board by default, the game's three main modes are focused affairs, and all the better for it.

Blockbusters

The most interesting on offer are the Interceptor or Escape races (the former are available if you're a cop, the latter if you're a criminal). Though you can race the same tracks in both modes, they seem to be built around chasing rather than being chased.

The aim in Interceptor (and others) is to repeatedly smash into your foe until he's forced off the road.

Success in such events is a bit of a lottery: special moves that refuel several times in each encounter can sometimes prove the difference. Laying spikes to burst tires or setting up a road block, for instance, can take down your foe (and, indeed, yourself if you're not careful) very quickly.

But deploying the same tactics at exactly the same times in the same races can prove utterly fruitless.

This inconsistency may make the game more realistic and less predictable, but it's actually a little frustrating. That said, when smashing senselessly into the back of your rival achieves the same result, it seems churlish to moan.

No swipe gripes

Compared to such destructive delights, the game's standard races seem a touch dry. They also take Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit firmly into the territory of the likes of Asphalt and the series' own previous exploits.

Such races are littered throughout the Career mode, ensuring that they never become too onerous. There are usually more enjoyable races on either side of them.

Add in the game's generous boosting system - satisfyingly activated by swiping up on the right-hand side of the screen - and even the most straightforward of contests has plenty to pull you through.

Taken as a whole, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit really is full of the kind of thrills that the series is known for. It's no revolution, but the game's unfussy approach recalls some of arcade's finest moments, and delivers a solid experience on both sides of the law.