Hot Pursuit 2 draws primarily from the gameplay and style of Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit; its emphasis was on evading the police and over-the-top tracks featuring lengthy shortcuts.
As with the game's predecessor, the player also has the option to play as a police officer trying to arrest speeders. To do so the player rams the speeding vehicle multiple times to disable it. The player must turn on their lights and sirens while in pursuit, and they automatically turn off after arresting the suspect. Police can call for a road block, spike strips, and request help from a helicopter to assist in chasing the target vehicle. At the end, the player is awarded for the cars busted. In the Playstation 2 version this mode is called You're the Cop mode while in the PC, Gamecube and Xbox versions its Be the Cop mode.
Races take place in four environments which differ in atmosphere, with a handful of tracks per environment. The different tracks in an environment are formed by different roads being connected or separated by road blocks. A fictional tropical island, reminiscent of Hawaii, is the most varied environment; the track traverses a city, volcano, waterfall, beach, forest, and two villages. The coastal forest environment, reminiscent of the Washington coast, sometimes has foggy weather, but this does not effectively limit visibility during races. The Mediterranean coast and so-called Alpine environments are more homogeneous, with little variation except the occasional short cut. Compared to the original Hot Pursuit, which features weather and day/night variation independent of track, and widely varying environments from snowy mountains over cities to desert, Hot Pursuit 2 tracks have significantly less variation.
Hot Pursuit 2 is also the first in the series to lack an in-car view that was available in preceding Need for Speed titles. There is only a "driver's perspective" view available, without a visible dashboard. There is one race however on the Playstation 2 version, with a Ferrari, in which the player drives with this in-car view.
When you finish the game, it is possible to see a video of a woman escaping of the police in a Ferrari 360 Spyder on the nighttime.
Hot Pursuit 2 is the final game in the classic era.