Drive fast, look stylish and crash into incompetent policemen. Need for Speed: Most Wanted is an adrenaline-fuelled feast of developer Criterion Games’ signature traits, as it infuses the best of the highly regarded Burnout series with Need for Speed’s high-flying reputation.
In somewhat of a purposeful naming blunder, there is a 2005 game called Need for Speed Most Wanted that teetered on the brink of being in both the current and last generation. Despite being a reboot, Criterion has left its own mark on Most Wanted, whilst paying homage to the game’s recent origins, as it did with Hot Pursuit in 2010. The similarities in terms of gameplay between the two are negligible.
Most Wanted turfs you into the thick of the action with its sleek, simplified presentation. There’s no need to retreat to the refuge of a main menu, or even the pause menu (unless Mum’s yelling at you). Everything from setting a destination, changing car and modifying your ride is handled by the fantastic Easy Drive menu using the D-Pad in-game. Yes, that means you can add nos to your car in the middle of a race, if you foolishly failed to equip it earlier.
Every car, from the Bugatti, to the Aston Martin V12 Vantage and the Porsche 911 is available from the outset.
The vehicular presentation is stunning, with each car doing its real life counterpart proud. Likewise, they handle in surprisingly unique style, for what boils down to a fast-paced arcade racer. They’re matched by a lively and diverse world, and a signature up-beat EA soundtrack, which can be replaced by your own music if you’re hard of hearing or have an affliction towards a quality track list.
Just as it is in the real world, the Bugatti Veyron is the fastest car in the game — the Most Wanted, if you will — with an obtainable top speed of 417 KM/h, which has been verified in the real world by Top Gear’s James May, of all people. Upon reaching such breakneck speeds, you’ll immediately slam into an oncoming truck or an unfortunately positioned speed camera, utterly ruining the car.
For all their enviable beauty, the cars of Need for Speed: Most Wanted are disposable. They’ll bounce back, lighter on windows and graffitied in dents, but drivable enough to limp to the nearest repair shop, of which there is an ample supply, to instantly refurbish your ride back to factory mint condition.
Every car, from the Bugatti, to the Aston Martin V12 Vantage and the Porsche 911 is available from the outset. All you need to do is find them, scattered across the picturesque landscape of Fairhaven, and they’ll enter your on-demand garage. Some are parked on perilous rooftops or down small alleyways, but most are hidden in plain sight. You simply need to cruise around the world of motoring mayhem to add them to your collection.
Each is decked out with stock components, which can be enhanced by winning a series of race events. Theses are managed by Easy Drive and comprise of five unique to each vehicle. However, races, which are introduced by an action-packed cinematic to offer a semblance of context, are only the beginning.
The appeal of Autolog is inherent to its social nature. To best enjoy Most Wanted, even as a single-player game, you’ll want your friends on Xbox Live or PSN to compete against your times. Beating the A.I. is almost meaningless if Autolog taunts you with an alert that a friend is better than you. It refines the competitive edge first introduced in Hot Purist by comparing your every move and achievement with those of your friends.
Besting your friends’ times in Autolog will earn you additional Speed Points, the currency for progress, which are acquired by winning races and driving recklessly in general. Accumulating Speed Points will unlock the 12 Most Wanted cars, and by “unlock” I mean have the gracious opportunity to try and beat and then destroy them against the game’s most skilled A.I. racers for the privilege of entering the driver’s seat. Should you be skilled enough, you might even move up the leaderboard.
Whilst Most Wanted’s single-player could be criticised for a lack of content, that would be unfair. It’s a joy to replay a race to ensure you better your friend’s result, which eventually leads to immense frustration when they beat you again with a blitzing time — “impossible!” you’ll scream.
Unless you’re purposely trying to garner the maximum heat level, and there’s some merit in doing so for a challenging laugh, the cops offer intense chase, but are no match for your speed on the lower heat levels. They’ll eventually deploy spikes and call in the SWAT team, but before that, evasion is a simple nudge into oncoming traffic away — unless there are more cops around, in which case such tactics will just make them even more displeased with you.
The freedom to explore the diverse open-world of Fairhaven is perfect for some, yet could pose a nightmare for others. On the whole, it’s an effective system that pushes you to explore every inch of the environment, but the lack of a narrative driven approach could confuse some players, especially if you’re looking for events your friends have competed. If you only have one or two friends playing Most Wanted you’re really relying on them having played more than you to be driven to improve, and the motivation can waver if you’re confronted with a series of races not completed by any friends. That’s not a blight on Most Wanted, however, it’s more indicative of your disappointing online friends list.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a high-octane delight full of motoring mayhem, a vibrant landscape and the prefect garage for an arcade racer. With a fantastic competitive streak, thanks to the refined Autolog system that compares your every move against your friends, its biggest fault is a confusing name. Criterion knows what it’s trying to achieve and goes back to basics with fast cars and intense collisions. The influence of Burnout is evident at every turn, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.