When I heard the name Need for Speed Most Wanted I couldn’t help feeling nostalgic for one of the series’ that served as a launching pad for my all-time favourite console. The original title from Electronic Arts was an extremely exciting experience riddled with high-speed races and police chases, backed up by mind-blowing graphics that made the previous generation look twice as old as it was.
The new NFS:MW was developed by Criterion games, most famous for the Burnout series, and promised to be bigger, better and faster. After the success of the Need for Speed Hot Pursuit remake of 2010, Electronic Arts has handed over the reins of the Need for Speed franchise and now we have Criterions attempt at rehashing a 360 classic.
NFS:MW takes on the gameplay style of its predecessor, a game that is all about open-world discovery. After a brief tutorial that introduces to the games basics, you’re free to explore Fairhaven as you wish. A city full of things to discover, Criterion has stuffed Fairhaven with extra fun: billboards to jump, secret gates to smash through, or just some good old fashion law-breaking and evading of the police. Successfully complete any challenge and you’ll be awarded Speed Points, the games currency system spent on an array of in-game upgrades.
You play as an up-and-coming racer vying for a spot on Fairhaven’s Most Wanted list, eventually climbing your way into the top 10. Place first, second or third to rack up Speed Points that can be spent on modifying your vehicle. Speed Points are also used to challenge those in Fairhaven’s 10 Most Wanted. They drive 10 of the most desirable cars in the games, comparable to boss fights in other games the Most Wanted test not only your skills but your knowledge of the city. Take them down and take their ride, it’s that simple.
Speaking of vehicles, most racing games start you off in a low level compact like a Ford Focus and require you to move up the ranks and earn newer, cooler, and faster vehicles. In Most Wanted the motto is “if you can find it, you can drive it.” Effectively encouraging you to explore Fairhaven and jump into any vehicle you find giving player’s access to basically every car from the get-go, a first in Need for Speed history.
The game will use Autolog, the competition-between-friends system developed by Criterion for Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Autolog in Most Wanted plays a larger role and gives more information to players. Autolog recommendations have now been integrated into the game world, rather than sit externally on the menu system, showing your friends’ fastest post past speed cameras, collectible completion, and even providing a friends’ leaderboards. The most impressive of these however has to be the billboards. Instead of just smashing through once they keep you coming back by tracking how far you jump through them and prominently displaying your friend’s avatar if he beats your distance. You want to smash your friend’s face right? Of course you do. Activities in-game, allow players to earn Speed Points which can boost players up on the Most Wanted list.
Electronic Arts’ Origin game service is required to play against others. It’s free, but mandatory, and some gamers (myself included) aren’t thrilled about it. You can then challenge friends to games or a number of consecutive events. Online play is very much a party atmosphere, and you’re actively encouraged to wreck other players as often as possible. When starting a race players aren’t held to a set line and don’t even have to face the right direction, so jumping the gun a bit early will give you the advantage. While races are great otherwise, the challenges are what really let you take on the world in new ways. There’s a mix of teamwork and competition as you try to get everyone to drift circles around a tower, or drive at each other to get as many near-misses as possible.
Among modes to try: “Ambush,” where you need to evade police; “Sprint Race,” challenges you to not only hit the finish line but also all checkpoints along the way; “Circuit Race,” which is your typical races around the city; and “Speed Run,” where you’re vying to reach and maintain the highest average speed against your rivals. This is where differences in car handling often come down to a sense of weight as you zip around corners in a Lamborghini or slowly build up speed to barrel through vehicles in a Ford Raptor. Speed runs can often be more difficult than races as maintaining a high average speed without slamming into traffic or the environment around every turn can be quite a daunting task.
Graphically, the game is stunning. Damage models on the cars and crashes are ridiculously realistic. Fairhaven City is an automotive playground – everything you do set upon the backdrop of a beautiful city with soaring skyscrapers and white sand beaches. Sadly, the takedown camera – a staple in many-a-Criterion game has vanished.
Nevertheless Most Wanted stays true to its namesake, never losing its sense of character. The gameplay provides a solid mix of break-neck speed and exploration. Whether you’re busting through billboards, weaving through traffic trying to beat the fuzz or running your chums off the road, the automotive playground of Fairhaven city is just plain fun to explore. Throw some pals in the mix and it’s a blast, Criterion did a great job paying homage to a 360 classic and is right up there with the best racing experiences this generation.