Review: Need For Speed: Most Wanted
Criterion may not be renowned for the same things as the NFS franchise but here they are re-imagining the franchise in their image. So is Most Wanted one worth chasing after.
- Worth The Time?Oh yes
- Things LovedFast-paced racing and simplistic set-up make the game easy to jump into. Exciting police chases and solid handling. Wide variety of cars and explorable areas. Excellent social and competitive edge with enjoyable multiplayer. EasyDrive is brilliant.
- Things HatedLack of feel in collisions and many cars will hardly be used. Most Wanted races feel arbitrary due to lack of a character or face behind the wheel. Driving around to races in multiplayer becomes laborious.
- RecommendationMost wanted fans may be disheartened that this isn't a soul-successor to the original but it's a great game for anyone who's looking to have a good time on four wheels.
- Name: Need for Speed: Most Wanted
- Genre: Racing
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: 2-8
- Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
- Developer: Criterion Games
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Price: R517 (PS3, Xbox360), R345 (PC)
- Reviewed On: PS3
From the moment the game opened with Muse’s Butterflies and Hurricanes I knew I was in for a treat. Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a thoroughly enjoyable game that wins you over with its simplicity and focus on the pleasure of driving. If you were expecting a game filled with faux Hollywood plots, cutscenes and mods from here to Japan then you’ve come to the wrong place.
Admittedly when I heard that EA had signed off to make a new Most Wanted I was hopeful of a sequel to the 2005 game which is highly regarded as the best Need for Speed title alongside Underground 2. However once it was announced that Criterion was developing it quickly became apparent that this was unlikely and while I wish we could get a modern equivalent it would have to be something truly great due to the just how overdone the whole street racing with modifications sub-genre was a few years ago.
Criterion is best known for their Burnout franchise and that’s really what they do best – straightforward arcade racing games that are all about the fun of driving and little else. That really sums up Most Wanted right there. It’s a straightforward game with no frills, no distractions and a huge social component that keeps you going.
The game opens and once the brief opening cinematic is over you are let loose on the sprawling world of Fairhaven, a city with plenty of variety in its terrain and over 100 vehicles to be found. How it works is that you start off with a car and as you drive around you will find cars littered all over the city in various areas and alleys and this encourages you to explore the shortcuts and various explorable areas that await you off the roadways ranging from docks to power stations and parks. These locations where each car is to be found are called jump spots and as the name implies you can jump to them at any time or merely drive up to the car and switch to it with the press of a button.
Each car comes with its own set of races ranging from Easy to Hard and each race awards certain upgrades for a second or first finish. These upgrades are specifically for that car and cannot be used on other cars but it’s the same for each car whether it be off-road tyres or nitrous or a lighter chassis. I unlocked off-road tyres for my Audi R8 and had no idea why I should possibly need such a thing on a premium sports car. The upgrade system is somewhat useful but seems more of a token gesture than anything else. It’s a simple attempt at some form of progressive upgrades system and works well enough to motivate you to win races with each car but the real prize is the Speed Points you’ll pick up. Winning races is the easiest way to earn the points and once you reach certain milestones you will be able to challenge a member on the Most Wanted list.
Yes, just like the old game there is a list of Most Wanted racers, only 10 this time but their cars are so much better. Number 10 drives an Alfa 4C to put things into perspective. However it seems very detached and abstract that you’re racing against these cars because that’s all they are. The driver’s are nameless and faceless and for all I know the car’s are either remote-controlled or being piloted by The Stig. It’s a strange experience but it is rather cool that you don’t simply get their car by beating them. If you simply beat them in a race they will continue to exist in Fairhaven and earn more Speed Points which means they can cause problems for you so after beating them on the streets you need to beat them…on the streets. Yeah that didn’t make much sense. You need to beat them with your car after beating them with your car. Wait, let’s try a different approach: after winning a race against them you have to total their car in a takedown and then that car becomes available to you. Jeez, that took ages to explain.
Luckily, the actual game is not as dragged out as that explanation. In fact it is very straightforward with little else to do besides have as much fun as possible driving around.
There’s a wide variety of vehicles from your typical sports and hyper-cars to off-roaders such as Hummers, Ford pick-ups and the Range Rover Evoque and some more eclectic rides such as the Tesla Roadster or Ariel Atom V8. It’s fun to explore the city and find cars but it quickly becomes meaningless to collect cars because you’ll likely stick to only a small percentage of cars which you fancy and that will be enough to earn you the Speed Points you need to get all the way to the top of the Most Wanted list.
In addition to competing with the AI you’ll also find yourself locked in constant competition with friends thanks to leaderboards for just about everything. Whether it be clocking in at max speed past a speed camera or getting the most air off a jump or the more typical fastest time for a race – you’ll want to outdo your buddies and show them who rules the streets.
Another way to earn Speed Points is through some rather enjoyable police chases. They never really become frustrating although pursuit breakers would be most welcome especially once your heat level starts rising and you suddenly have Corvettes on your tail. What’s great is that races are not isolated systems. If you pick up cops during a race that chase will spill out into the city once the race is over and you’ll still have to evade the police. These chases add to the experience rather than distracting. For example in one race against a member on the Most wanted list I hit a spike strip about 1.5km from the finish and thought I was done for but with some tact and a lot of luck I ended up winning the race in spectacular fashion and do you know what the best about the whole experience was? It was incredibly exciting and unexpected.
Sure Most wanted seems a bit more relaxed in its approach than the white knuckle ride you used to get from Burnout titles but it’s got some refinement about it and you can’t fault it for much when the core experience is so damn entertaining.
The actual business of driving is in no way aiming for realism with the intention being for you to drive fast and on the red line constantly. You drift around corners rather than adopt the slow in fast out tactic and every car feels noticeably different in terms of its weight and momentum. The handling is superb and you really feel like you have complete control over your car.
The game’s soundtrack may be very hit and miss by my standards but mercifully you can now employ your own playlist. Visually Most Wanted is stunning with vehicles looking great, collisions looking good and the environments being gorgeous. The only pity is that collisions don’t seem as hard-hitting as they should which results in a lack of feel to them. Maybe that’s just me?
Keeping with the theme of convenience and simplicity is EasyDrive which is basically an in-game drop down menu that lets you challenge Most Wanted drivers, view leaderboards, upgrade your car, set destinations for a race and even change cars on the fly. All of this while you’re still driving around and although it seems tricky at first you quickly get the hang of it just like texting while driving. By law I am obligated to now tell you that texting while driving is bad and should not be attempted in real life because it could kill you or that guy walking across the street or that cute little guinea fowl that just hopped into the road. Actually screw it the guinea fowl knew the risks; who does he think he is – a chicken?
If asynchronous competition with your friends isn’t doing it for you then how about a good old race in the game’s multiplayer mode? It offers the usual array of races and tracks in addition to some special challenges based in specific areas of the city. There’s also a curious mechanic whereby you have to drive to each race in multiplayer rather than simply having a lobby where you set up the race and then get dumped at the starting line. It’s a novel idea but one that grows tiresome very quickly. Regardless, the multiplayer aspect of this game is fast and fun.
What Most Wanted lacks is a sense of direction. You’re just racing but you don’t why or how. I like to think my protagonist has webbed toes which is why he is such a great racer except this makes him a social outcast so he has opted to become the Most wanted driver in the Fairhaven and use his accumulated Speed Points to pay for the necessary surgery and leave behind his life of hooliganism, maybe settle down with a wife and kids one day. This hinges a lot on Speed Points being the accepted currency.
Despite my arbitrary machinations the game doesn’t suffer from its lack of direction because you are rarely ever left alone with it. The winning agent in this game is its social component. You’re always competing with friends for supremacy so you rarely stop to contemplate your purpose in life and when you do a nitrous-fuelled 150m jump is enough to satiate that burning need for relevance.
The game is fun, fast-paced and perhaps one of the most social racing experiences you will ever have in a video game. There’s very little to fault it for because it keeps things so simple and this is precisely why it wins you over. The no-nonsense nature of Most Wanted is what draws in any fan of enjoyable driving experiences because that’s all the game is about. I may go so far as to say that we’re looking at the best racing game of the year, bar perhaps Forza Horizon although that is quite definitely in the simulator stable.