Game: Need For Speed: Most Wanted
Developer: Criterion Games
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows PC, PlayStation Vita
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
When Most Wanted was unveiled at E3 2012, the words that were softly spoken from the lips of many a racing game fan were “Burnout Paradise 2″. That open-world arcade racer is one of my favourite games of this generation, and the prospect of a sequel pushed my salivary glands into overdrive.
But now that game is in my console and I’m playing it, I realise that to stamp Most Wanted as Burnout Paradise 2 is unfair to both the game and developers Criterion. From the moment the game is booted up and you are greeted with various views of a beautiful cityscape while Muse’s “Butterflies and Hurricanes” plays, it is so clear that this isn’t a followup to Burnout Paradise, or even previous Need For Speed titles. It’s the result of Criterion fully maturing as a developer, having taken DNA from all their previous works and spliced them into an evolution of the arcade racing genre.
STORY: Most Wanted takes the open-world structure of Burnout Paradise and previous Need For Speed titles and merges it with the gameplay structure of Black Box’s original Most Wanted release from 2005, while adding the cinematic intensity of Criterion’s previous Need For Speed title, 2010′s Hot Pursuit. Once again you are thrust into the world of illegal street racing, with the game’s moniker referring to the elite group of ten racers that you must defeat one by one; until you are the Most Wanted racer in the city of Fairhaven. The only problem is that Fairhaven’s finest seem to have a problem with civilians tearing up the tarmac in their million dollar supercars, so are looking to serve racers with more than a few speeding tickets.
GRAPHICS: This is easily the best looking game Criterion has ever created. Their Burnout titles are known for their heart-stopping 60 frames per second action, but in keeping with the Need For Speed frame-rate of 30 frames per second, Criterion have made sure this game is gorgeous to look at, when your eyes have time to actually see the sights, of course.
Every second of the game oozes with stylish visuals, from simple but gorgeous lens flare effects to the brilliantly choreographed intros for every race and event (that can be skipped, but I’ve never wanted to). Most Wanted’s setting of Fairhaven City is full of detail that makes every location a unique one, which really helps with navigation.
Then there are masses of cars that populate the environment. Detailed models of some of the world’s most desirable vehicles, it almost brings a tear to the eye to see the punishment they are subjected to as panels are pounded and tires are wrenched from their wheels.
SOUND: When playing a driving game it’s incredibly easy to ignore audio, but Most Wanted’s aural offerings have certainly had more thought put into them than most. While the game does tick the usual boxes of meaty engine noise and crunching sound effects that ring out from every bump and smash, as well as that modern EA staple, the trendy licensed soundtrack, it’s the cops that leave an impression on me the most.
When trying to evade the long arm of the law, you are greeted with what could be mistaken as generic radio chatter. But should you turn your car radio down slightly and pay attention, after some time you will start to realise what the Police are actually saying, and start to figure out their tactics. Different types of Police vehicle will have their own call signs, and it’s a great way to warn you of what’s coming, because there’s nothing scarier than tearing down a street at 100mph to find without warning, a Police Rhino SUV coming straight towards you, looking to turn your expensive mode of transport into an expensive dust cloud of fibreglass and metal.
GAMEPLAY: While borrowing elements from previous Criterion racers, Most Wanted is not afraid to innovate itself. Remember that bit in most racers where you start off with an old banger and have to grind away before you get to play around with the Porsches and Maseratis? Criterion do, and they realised how old fashioned it was and threw that bit out. Instead, most of the cars in the game can be found parked on the street somewhere and once found, they can be used at any point thereafter.
While cars are freely available (except those that are unlocked by beating ranked Most Wanted drivers), they all have their own list of races, which offer unlockable modifications. Earnt by winning races or performing challenges, they are unique to every vehicle, encouraging you to try out every car you find – finding new cars and their modifications is the key to beating Most Wanted racers.
In terms of the cars themselves, handling feels closer to the heavier steering of Need for Speed titles, especially Criterion’s own Hot Pursuit. Drifting is the order of the day and there’s something so satisfying about performing a nice long drift around a corner, while dodging oncoming traffic. As you work your way through all of the game’s vehicles, there is a definite difference in handling; especially when you’re racing vehicles from the SUV class, and when you collide with other racers for Takedowns, you’ll notice how the weight of your vehicle versus your target’s car.
Which segues nicely onto Most Wanted’s EasyDrive feature. Taken from Burnout Paradise and improved ever further, EasyDrive is a menu that is opened and operated entirely from the D-Pad at any time, giving you quick and easy access to races, car modifications and more. It’s an intuitive menu that in many cases removes the need for a menu-based user interface. In a few button presses you can change your car, modify it and then select the next race.
Pretty much everything you do in the game (in both single and multiplayer) is rewarded, usually in Speedpoints, Most Wanted’s XP system. In single-player mode, Speedpoints unlock Most Wanted races, allowing you to climb up those elusive ranks, while in multiplayer they increase your level, unlocking new cars, modifications and customisable licenseplates. As well as Speedpoints, each car has its own challenges that unlock Pro versions of vehicle modifications. You are constantly bombarded with rewards, giving you both a sense of Achievement and a carrot on a stick for even the most mundane-sounding tasks.
MULTIPLAYER: While Most Wanted has a pretty good single-player mode, it’s clear that it’s very focused on social interaction. The game comes with an Online Pass to access multiplayer and you will need it to get the most out of the game, along with other friends that also own Most Wanted. The Autolog system that debuted in Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit has returned and it’s better than ever. As well as comparing your race and event times with other people, it will now keep track of other scores such as Speedpoints earned in pursuits and highest speeds past every Speed Camera, in both single and multiplayer modes.
Similar to Burnout Paradise’s online mode, Most Wanted’s multiplayer puts you into an online session with up to seven other players. You are able to explore the same environment as in single player and hunt for speed cameras, cars, billboards and security gates; but you also partake in a series of events ranging from standard races to stunt challenges. While not as over the top as Burnout Paradise’s stunts (no barrel rolls here), Most Wanted does give you the chance to partake in some pretty off the wall activities such as landing a Land Rover onto the top of a building using a nearby sculpture as a ramp.
While the police don’t feature in Most Wanted’s multiplayer, it’s the other online players you need to worry about. You can be taken down by an opponent as all times, even when races have been won. The game was made for being an absolute bastard to people, as a well timed smash can really mess up someones progress or even eliminate them from a challenge. Of course, even when eliminated you can always get revenge.
LONGEVITY: The single player campaign of Most Wanted will take you at least ten hours of play, but that’s provided you don’t get distracted, and this game has an incredible amount of things to distract you from the task at hand. Every car has its own set of races and challenges and finding everything in Fairhaven will take quite a while.
In terms of multiplayer, Autolog 2.0 extends the life of the game for as long as you and your friends try and beat each other’s scores, while the multiplayer mode itself is incredibly fun whether with friends or strangers and could keep you playing the game for months as you rank up and unlock new license plates, cars and modifications.
VERDICT: Criterion’s latest is possibly the best Need For Speed game so far, simply because it is one of the most accessible and entertaining arcade racers ever made. Most Wanted seamlessly bridges the gap between single and multiplayer gameplay, adding a hyper-stylised lick of paint to the series as well as throwing decades-old driving game conventions out of the windows.
Merging the unbridled fun of the Burnout series, with the intense cinematic nature of the original Most Wanted, this has surely got to be a Game of the Year contender.