Hey racing game fan, want to feel old? EA Games’ Need For Speed franchise has been running for over fifteen years now. Its initial releases on #DO, MS-DOS, Playstation and Saturn brought the player quite close to an actual driving simulation in its day. Things done changed, though. Not only has the “king of realism” crown been up for grabs with Gran Turismo and Forza titles for the last few years, it seems EA with developers Criterion at the helm shifted gears to arcade-style racing. Criterion’s newest reboot in Need For Speed Most Wanted (PC, PS3, XBOX 360) is the latest to follow the trend set forth by their previous effort in 2010’s NFS Hot Pursuit.
There are two dominant categories of racers in our gaming world: racing simulators and arcade racers. NFS Most Wanted confidently skews toward the latter but has some authentic touches. Instead of building a hardcore sim racing experience or simplified arcade game, this title gives us a nice blend of visual realism. More importantly, the game calls Fairhaven home: a fictitious city serving as our automotive playground. NFS is effortless to play from the start. Accelerating and braking are smooth. Plus strong controller vibrations sync up with crashes and even engine purrs.
Like most of the titles in the new NFS generation, you are first equipped with a beginner’s whip to ease you into the world’s various street races for credits, evading 5-0 in the process. Instead of purchasing the extra cars, you find them around the city in “jack spots”. This makes jumping into the exotics and muscle cars an early game experience so long as you’re an explorer. Switching to jack spots from the usual means of unlocking cars is a welcome task as sight seeing comes with great benefit.
Most Wanted still makes you earn the rights to their ten “most wanted” vehicles, by making you race then wreck the owner of the coveted machines. Ranking up and taking down most wanted cars serves as the main objective throughout the campaign and, despite it’s straightforward nature, it’s pretty entertaining. The upgrade system, however, is dumbed-down to the lowest denominator. Each upgrade tier contains few possible parts. Also, there is virtually NO visual customization capabilities in Most Wanted. Instead, you get a drive through bodyshop, which only repairs and randomly re-paints your ride.
Autolog debuted in Criterion’s NFS Hot Pursuit and returns to Most Wanted with even better integration. Your speeds, lap times, credit total and other stats are all tabulated against your friends’ results and you can specifically come back to an event just to beat their scores. Generous XP, credit incentives and good ‘ol bragging rights for topping each others’ results fuel rivalries and said rewards count towards your overall progress. For instance, seeing your or your friends lap times and avatars on billboard jumps around the city drive friendly competition and make the game a constant, social outing: that is, if you have friends who own the game.
Speaking of multiplayer, there’s no split screen but you and the seven other drivers attack the environment with activities like standard races and some crazy stunt challenges. All these races are tough because the other drivers can take you down, which gains them credits, embarrasses you and can ultimately get you eliminated from speed tests. There are no cops online so getting payback on a rival driver is a driving force in this mode.
As stated before, the developers at Criterion Games know how to present a game visually, because this NFS is the best looking yet. Sure, they use graphical touches we’ve seen in the Burnout series, but with the attention to detail in the cars we love (especially the Porsche 911 and Lamborghini Countach) you can’t help but zoom through the city with these super cars, crashing all over the place.
And yes, you will crash. The handling used in the game are actually responsive. Cars hug corners when they should, weave through traffic under capable hands. Even crashing at 120 mph tends to be a blast. Sadly, every now and then you will get totaled for a simple fender bender or run into a police roadblock and not injure a single squad car. The downside to the handling comes with many of the cars controlling too similarly. The controls are pretty easy to use and master but, since this Most Wanted doesn’t incorporate any detailed weight mechanics, a Marussia B2 will turn like a McLaren MP4-12C.
At the end of the day, Criterion’s direction is evident. Some folks just want a racing game they can enjoy without too much preparation to each race. Cars are easy to upgrade, you rank-up credits just by speeding through the streets or toying with the police, and you’re always playing with friends via online play or by targeting their times. The car details are superb and the driving and drifting is just fun, satisfying experience. The Need For Speed franchise isn’t going anywhere. And Most Wanted just works well because, well, it knows its lane.
Second Opinion – S.Cadet:: Burnout vets may look at Need For Speed Most Wanted with a raised eyebrow and rightfully so. The game presents an initially weird compromise between the Need For Speed franchise’s namesake, licensed cars and practically everything else that made Burnout Paradise fun nearly five years ago. Nevertheless, Most Wanted is at its best online and the GPS makes navigating races much easier for newer players: despite having to glance at your map while driving at 150+ mph. Competitive scoring is kind of funky thanks to limited edition owners getting a short-lived double xp boost, cop chases can be annoying and you’ll run into some bugs.
Need For Speed Most Wanted holds its own despite clear influences from Criterion’s prized Burnout franchise. You’ll get more mileage from it if you never played those games before this one. However, the feeling of deja vu make make stans torn between christening NFS: MS as a fitting successor or an alright spiritual sequel.