The next instalment of the Need For Speed franchise is finally here with Criterion’s signature touch in the car racing genre. For some gamers, especially Criterion veterans, there will be a strong familiar feeling when playing the game. Most Wanted – while yes, is about racing some lovely cars and evading law enforcement along the way – has included some nice changes and dynamics that should be a stepping stone for all future races.
The Criterion reboot to the 2005 release of the same name, Most Wanted is open world, and seems very much like the formula of Burnout Paradise, but with a few differences. It is competitive gaming at its most aggressive, especially amongst your friends with the assistance of Autolog – a feature originating from Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010). You are free to roam about the streets of the city, locating new cars to compete in standard races and evading law enforcement in different ways. Police cars will be marked on your map if they are close by so driving by the road rules in their presence will keep them at bay, however reckless driving will cause them to take pursuit. You can either attempt to outrun them or keep the pursuit going and increase your ‘heat’ – which will add more police, and more tactics to bust you. The law enforcement AI is aggressive, and a simple crash into a roadblock or wall can shut your race down.
There is a great emphasis in the game that the action does not cease because the race has ended, and regardless of final placing. The races themselves will vary from standard racing laps to evasion, however completing a race to evade the police doesn’t mean they disappear, and you will continue to be pursued until successfully entering ‘cool down’, or you get busted. This for me was slightly boring in the process for the simple fact that you’ve already reached a finishing place after several minutes only to continue to be chased until who knows when. The police were on my tail for a further 8 minutes after one particular race had ended until I eventually crashed into a roadblock and got busted. I would have probably preferred to experience this on a coastal drive (Hot Pursuit) rather than on a freeway, and certainly not as often as it occurs.
There is a lot happening in Most Wanted, and not just on the road. The screen is littered with your speedometer, distance to locations/length of race remaining, a mini-map showing intended locations, notifications (for takedowns) and Autolog alerts that appear mid-race. It is a very busy screen when concentration is paramount.
There are two camera viewing options – on the bumper, and from above. I felt that this was limiting when previous titles have given the option of dashboard view as well. The bumper-cam certainly offers an exhilarating perspective and the most immediate steering response but really shuts down your view ahead.
On a side note, it is quite lovely to feel the different ways the cars handle, some of the nicest cars I will probably only dream of owning, let alone having the chance to get behind the wheel of. Perhaps I am more attuned to the option of prior titles where you choose your race on a map, rather than going hunting for it. I also find that searching for billboards and restricted area gates to be tedious, and takes away from the spirit of the game – racing. Am I here to collect objects? I like my time better spent getting my top gear and fanging down a straight over smashing inanimate objects with my car. This felt more in-line with Criterion’s Burnout Paradise which has always been a series with less emphasis on detail and more of this kind of play. It really feels out of place in a Need For Speed title.
One of the greatest strengths of Most Wanted is its look. Criterion have always done a great job in the presentation of their vehicles, cities, buildings and environments (sunshine, rain, daytime, nighttime), and Most Wanted is no exception to the rule. Even seeing the reflection of passing buildings and light reflection always looks great, and I found this impressive. I am looking forward to the future titles that continue to render their graphics with such authenticity. There are plenty of cars on the road as you race, and it’s also nice to see a lot of objects that can be knocked loose and add to the chaos of screaming around streets and highways, helping the game world to seem alive and a lot less static.
While the cars and environments are beautifully rendered, the GUI is super cluttered and really pushes the competitive nature of play. Every time you pass a speed camera, your speed and those of your friends will appear on the screen, and your friends’ stats are always on display somewhere. Most Wanted overwhelms you with sideline information about every social aspect of the game and it distracts from racing – it’s almost like using Facebook while driving your car in real life!
The sound design in Most Wanted is impressive, not only with the vehicles’ engines, but also with some nice soundtrack features. There is something aesthetically pleasing hearing a Maserati changing gears with a soft ‘click’ each time. Engines appropriately roar and flutter as you put cars sideways around bends, and the screeching of tyres and changing road surfaces combine with perfection. The crunch of crushing metal as I slam into a freeway barrier sounds about as painful as it probably would be – a sound I have heard a lot during my playthrough, nevertheless the experience has been enhanced by the great audio utilised. It gives a fantastic rush when you hear the spin of your tyres while drifting around a bend.
A brilliant element added that has not been seen for a while is the ability to have a custom music soundtrack. I was able to play media streamed from my laptop over our home network in the game, which made it a lot more fun when it came to getting into the races, as well as choosing your own playlist. Usually I am not as enthused with pre-selected soundtracks (based on my own personal taste) so this allows me to create my own driving mixtape.
I was really looking forward to getting my mitts on this title from the day of announcement. Need For Speed: Most Wanted is going to require a diehard fan or someone who can look past information constantly appearing on screen.. Features such as a fully customised soundtrack, gorgeous attention to detail on the surrounding buildings and the great sounds of the individual cars and their handling make it enjoyable and as close to authentic as you can get. The aggressive AI however makes it more boring than challenging, and I just don’t want to be that competitive amongst friends, nor do I feel like committing vandalism, trespassing and open-ended police evasion – even if it is in a video game. Burnout Paradise provoked players to roam and play in the environment, Need For Speed’s Hot Pursuit reboot allowed players to focus on either racing, pursuit or evasion without outstaying their respective welcomes. Most Wanted feels like an awkward mashup of the two with a crowded layer of social information splashed on-top and fails to capture the spirits of either better game; I just wanted to race.
Need For Speed Most Wanted was reviewed using an Xbox 360 version of the game provided by EA Australia.