The Need for Speed series has now been around for almost 20 years, and through that time one thing has been made abundantly clear, quality isn’t always guaranteed. Criterion Games, the famed makers of the Burnout series, and more recently Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, have taken over the wheel of the Need for Speed franchise. In Most Wanted, Criterion seems to have found the opportunity to inject a fair bit of their last Burnout game; Burnout Paradise. Is Need for Speed still its own game, or better yet, is it any good?
Need for Speed: Most Wanted takes place in a city called Fairhaven, the largest city yet in the Need for Speed franchise. Fairhaven is filled to the brim with smashable billboards, immense jumps, car unlocks and secret areas, providing excellent opportunities for exploration. The main goal of the game, however, is to reach the number one spot of the police most wanted list. Every event you complete or collectable you find grants you speed points that accumulate into one overarching pool. As this pool increases you unlock most wanted events, in which you get to challenge one of your rivals, and take their car and place on the most wanted list. Thankfully there is no real story, and with it no bad writing needlessly shoehorned into a game that doesn’t need it.
Unlike Burnout Paradise, events in Most Wanted are sectioned off for the different available cars. Each car has five events that reward players with vehicle upgrades like nitrous, body kits and more. It’s nice to have some customization options, but the system isn’t nearly as deep as the one found in the original Most Wanted. After you’ve won the gold in each event of a any given car you’ll have to switch to another one if you want to keep the speed points flowing. Disappointingly there are only three different event types available, one is a simple circuit race, one has you trying to set the highest possible average speed while going from a-to-b, and one trying to escape an ambush by Fairhaven’s finest. While we wouldn’t expect to see the return of Burnout staples such as Crash mode, some more variety would have gone a long way. There are no drift, drag racing, or even takedown events.
The Autolog makes a return appearance of course, and with all the bells and whistles we’ve come to expect from the service. As you fly through billboards or speed cameras, your distance or speed will be recorded and uploaded to Autolog for all your friends to see. Trying to beat your friend’s score on a billboard by driving through a giant picture of him is immensely satisfying, and when you get a good back and forth going it can be downright addictive.
The cars themselves are a joy to drive. his game is an arcade racer. You won’t feel like you’re fighting with torque, bad suspension, or poor weight distribution. All the cars handle in a loose and fun way, allowing you to easily drift through corners or dodge traffic at incredible speeds. While you will – at some point – want to pay attention to how much a car weighs, whether or not it has a roll cage, and what tires you’re using, this isn’t in any way a requirement to enjoy everything the game has to offer.
Of course, seeking to thwart you at every turn is the Fairhaven City Police Department. Should you be speeding or driving erratically, they’re sure to take notice. Most of the time it’s easy to outrun them as they’ll barely have time to react before you’ve put a considerable amount of distance between the two of you. Every once in a while you’ll encounter a race in which they are scripted to appear. During such a race they’re hardly ever a problem, but once you complete the race, win or lose, they’ll be hot on your tail with significant tenacity. The more heat you gain, the more cars, spikestrips and roadblocks the police will throw at you. Early on it’s easy to avoid being caught, but it is extremely challenging to unhinge yourself from their incessant hooks once the heat meter rises high enough. Sometimes this becomes a real annoyance when you just want to start the next race, but can’t because the cops refuse to leave you alone.
The multiplayer is a whole different story. In addition to the events found in the singleplayer, now enhanced by human opponents; there are several new challenges thrown into the mix. While the pool of speed points is shared between the multi and single player, the unlocks aren’t. In the singleplayer you unlock cars simply by finding them around the city, but in multiplayer cars are unlocked as you gain speed points. Meaning you can already have most of the cars available if you finished the singleplayer portion of the game before jumping into multiplayer. Fear not though…or perhaps do, because you’ll still have to unlock all the vehicle upgrades again in multiplayer.
The “speedwall” keeps track of all the points you earn in each multiplayer event, meaning that in addition to winning the individual races and challenges, there is also the chance to become the overall winner. Some events will have you competing to get the longest continuous drift in a cramped area. Others are co-op events where the whole team has to “park” in difficult positions for a set amount of time, usually on top of a building. And of course there is the obligatory race and takedown challenges. We can easily say that the multiplayer was where we had the most fun. With the great mix of competition and cooperation, the frenetic nature of the challenges, and the cutthroat tactics some players employ, it’s a much richer experience than the comparatively banal singleplayer. The removal of the annoying man in blue doesn’t hurt either.
Two years ago Criterion made it clear that they knew how to get the right feeling of high speed racing with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. That definitely hasn’t changed in Most Wanted. It’s all about the little touches. As you approach 100 km/h the back spoiler of certain cars will majestically rise. Break even higher speeds and the screen will start to slightly shake while passing lightposts become a blur. Driving through tunnels amplify the engine sound of the car, while exiting the tunnel will cause your screen to oversaturate with light as the sun pierces through your windshield. On consoles the game suffers from an uneven frame rate and low resolution textures, but for the most part it’s still a very enjoyable ride.
The licensed in-game music is a fairly varied mix of house, dubstep, alternative and punk rock. Disappointingly there’s almost nothing for metal, rock, electronica, or pop fans. But the songs that are in there are definitely ones we would qualify as good driving music. All the sound effects have been polished to perfection, and it’s rare to hear licensed cars sound this realistic in an arcade racer.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a great arcade racing game that probably should have been called Burnout Paradise 2. Although, we wish Criterion put a little more time into the singleplayer portion of the game, gave the customization a few more options, and rebalanced the police chases to be less time consuming. With a gamepad or racing setup, the PC version is immensely superior with a steadier framerate and higher resolution textures. With the excellent sense of speed, the great community integration, and fantastic multiplayer, we have no qualms about recommending Need for Speed Most Wanted for purchase. Drive safely.
- Name: Need for Speed: Most Wanted
- Available on: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
- Developed by: Criterion Games
- Published by: EA Games
- Release Date: November 1st 2012
- Elder-Geek Score: 4 out of 5 / Worth Buying