Review: Need For Speed Most Wanted

Need For Speed is the most popular racing video game franchise in the world. And Most Wanted is perhaps its most popular sub-franchise. The hit 2005 game garnered a wide fan following and was perhaps the peak of the NFS brand name.

Since then, NFS has stumbled a bit in its last few attempts. Developer Electronic Arts (EA) tried going full-simulation (more realistic car handling), it tried to strike a balance between sim and arcade, but it never quite felt right. And meanwhile, Criterion Games launched its Burnout series and scored a mega-hit with Burnout Paradise, an out-and-out arcade racer (handling is not realistic, but more attuned for easier gameplay and control). EA ended up buying Criterion and put it in charge of reviving the NFS flagship with a remake of the 2005 classic.

But can an old game in new clothing really live up to expectations? Is the second coming all that it was hyped to be? And does it appeal to newcomers who have never been NFS fans? Read on…

Ready, Go!

NFS: Most Wanted puts you right in the middle of the action from the word go. You’re thrown on the streets of Fairhaven City in a car, free to drive around as you please. Let’s get this out of the way: the graphics are gorgeous and the soundtrack is fantastic – but hey, which racing game in the recent past has faltered on these anyway?

As you drive, you’ll come upon race events – circuit (multiple lap races), sprint (race to the finish line), ambush (escape the cops in certain minutes) and speed run (clock an average speed above a certain mark). Stop at the event marker and spin your wheels (brake+accelerate) to start the race.

Each race begins with a short teaser video, some of which are shot quite beautifully, while others seem like the developers dropped acid while working on it. The whole feel of ‘constant, free motion’ is maintained by keeping every race as a rolling start – no more ‘3, 2, 1, Go’ or waiting for the lights to turn green.

Completing objectives in the race will give you boosts for your car, such as nitrous, advanced tyres, different bodies, etc. You can choose to apply these or not, and in fact, it’s useful to customize your car according to the event you are racing in since each add-on has its own unique properties.

Lots Of Cars, But No Customization

As you drive around the roads of Fairhaven City, you will come across ‘Jackspots’. These are places where you can ditch your current ride and hop into a new one, making it your own. Just drive up and hit a button, that’s all it takes.

It’s an innovative way of building up your car collection, and it works surprisingly well to boot. Even when you are being chased by cops, if you want to get rid of your current car – which may not be kitted with a rugged body and reflatable tyres in case you go over spike strips – you can drive up to a car which does have those features and just get in. Quite cool!

When The Sirens Blare

The artificial intelligence in Most Wanted is top-notch, and this is most evident in a police pursuit. The cops don’t just give up easily, and sometimes work in unison to take you down.

Much like the previous Most Wanted, the cops will deploy roadblocks and spike strips in your path to slow you down. They’ll also call in stronger and faster cars once you raise your heat level – a meter that indicates how hard the cops will try to chase you down. And of course, be wary of the monster ‘Rhino’ jeeps that will come racing in for a head-on collision, stopping you in your tracks.

If the cops get you to a standstill and have you cornered, the ‘Busted’ meter at the bottom of the screen starts filling up – of course, you have to try and escape before that. But honestly, being busted doesn’t really have much of an impact in the game. It’s a minor inconvenience, if any, so there is really no motivation to escape the cops unlike in its predecessor, where you stood a chance of losing your car if it got busted. Where the original Most Wanted expertly intertwined police pursuits into the gameplay, this one uses it as a mere add-on element. It’s an absolute shame, to be honest.

Still, if you do manage to escape the police, you will get into a ‘cooldown’ phase, which slowly reduces your heat level. It’s best to head to a car shop at this time which will quickly give you a paint job and cool you down faster.

The Blacklist

All these races and pursuits serve only one purpose: climbing up the list of the 15 Most Wanted racers in Fairhaven City. Each race win gives you points, and upon hitting a certain number of points, you get to challenge the next Most Wanted racer in the Blacklist. Each racer has his own sweet ride, and you will have to do your best to beat him in the race.

Once you do beat the driver, he and his car are released into the wild. You have to track the car and take it down to add it to your collection.

EasyDrive

Most Wanted introduces the EasyDrive menu system, which is pure genius. Operated by your numpad, this sits quietly in the top-left corner of the screen, wherein you can access any element of the game. Customizing cars, choosing the next race, checking autolog for your friends’ progress – it’s all here, within a single tap.

And the best part is that it’s not a separate menu system that pauses the game. You can do it all on the fly, and it’s seamless and smooth.

If there is one innovation about Most Wanted that instantly wins it points, it’s the EasyDrive system.

Burnout: Most Wanted?

NFS:MW borrows heavily from Burnout Paradise, the last game by Criterion, but ends up making you wish it borrowed more. For starters, takedowns – the act of roughhousing and slamming an opponent into a wall – aren’t given much prominence in MW. Sure, it still exists, but there are no race events built around the carnage of takedowns, like in Burnout Paradise. And it’s a real shame, because that would add much-needed variety to the gameplay, along with fitting the theme of underground racers. And where the hell is that amazing slow-motion Takedown Camera from the Burnout series?

In fact, Most Wanted ends up feeling like ‘Burnout Paradise With Cops’. And given the weak integration of the cop chases in how it affects your races, there isn’t much to differentiate the two. Indeed, if you already own Burnout Paradise, there’s no real reason to buy NFS: Most Wanted – you have the better of the two games with you for single player gameplay.

Multiplayer Mayhem

But while the single player campaign of going up the blacklist gets old pretty fast, NFS: MW really shines in the multiplayer mode. My oh my, is this fun!

Sign into EA Origins and Autolog takes over, connecting you with your friends immediately and tracking all of your progress, keeping each other constantly apprised of the other’s achievements. It’s a factor that eggs you on to do better in Single Player mode, giving that much-needed motivation that is otherwise lacking.

Races in multiplayer are incredible fun and you just won’t want to stop. You can switch between cars seamlessly, and it’s a real treat that they all come with the bells and whistles – no need to run through races for the upgrades.

And the races itself have a wide variety, with some giving you a set of different objectives to complete, doing them better than your friends. Super fun!

There is no doubt whatsoever that Need For Speed: Most Wanted is the finest multiplayer arcade racing game ever made. There is just so much it offers in the free world of Fairhaven City that you won’t want to stop.

Casual Gamers Only

In the end, Need For Speed: Most Wanted is a worthy purchase for the casual gamer. If you find that you don’t play games for hours every day, then this is the best racing game your money can buy at the moment – provided that you are going to connect to the internet for multiplayer mode. If it’s the single player campaign alone that you’re looking for, then Burnout Paradise is still better bang for your buck.

And of course, keep in mind that this is an arcade game. It’s not meant to, nor will it give you, the feel of driving a real car like simulation games. And it’s not meant for you if you are a hardcore gamer, since it gets repetitive very fast.

NFS: Most Wanted is best enjoyed by those who, after a long day, just want to get out on the open road, cause some mayhem, put the pedal to the metal and leave their friends in the dust…


Summary

Need For Speed: Most Wanted is an out-and-out arcade racer whose single player campaign gets repetitive fast, but it really shines in its multiplayer mode

8