I Feel The Need...
Lauded developer Criterion doesn't bother itself with a storyline or protagonist in its new open-world racer, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, instead choosing to focus its efforts on doing what it has done best for over a decade: making bar-setting driving games that capture the speed, sound and sensation of bombing around in exceedingly fast cars.
Your goal is a simple one: compete in sprints, time trials, circuit races and stunt challenges to earn Speed Points which unlock Most Wanted match-ups - punishing duels against elite street racers which, if overcome, move you a place further up the leaderboard, edging you towards the ultimate goal of becoming Most Wanted.
Speed Points are dished out liberally, not just for completing challenges but also for driving dangerously. You'll rack them up by ignoring speed cameras, smashing billboards, ramping off art installations, and causing and escaping run-ins with the law. Cops even pile-in during challenges, leading to exhilarating three-way battles in which you're attempting to take out competitors while outrunning the police.
I Like Driving In My Car
The game is set in Fairhaven, a gorgeous urban playground styled after an east coast American city. It comprises several purpose-built race tracks merged into a city, and the sights and terrain are nicely varied, managing to weave together high altitude mountain ranges, ports, airfields, wide-lane highways and the downtown alleys of smoggy industrial zones.
Fairhaven plays home to 120-plus cars and almost every one is free to drive from the word go, but they're hidden around the world for you to find and collect. The vehicle roster spans well-known classics to more obscure beasts, and handling is pitched perfectly between simulation and arcade; with each vehicle responding differently, there's a car for every taste, from the boy racer to the cruise-control freak. You can unlock various car parts and mods such as re-inflatable tyres, nitro boosters, and a reinforced chassis for your favourite ride, although you have to repeat the process for each vehicle you acquire.
The game offers a real sense of seamless play, with new objectives popping up as you travel through the city, rather than having to be selected from a menu. Petrol stations dotted around the map also add to the feeling of immediacy; if you breeze through one your vehicle is instantly repaired and given a fresh paintjob, and if the cops don't see you make the switch you'll escape their pursuit. So too does the decision to strip out the crash camera from Criterion's last Need for Speed game, 2010's Hot Pursuit, which momentarily removed control from the player to display takedowns in slow motion.
Want Vs. Need
In-game networking platform Autolog 2.0 constantly tracks and compares every detail of your time in Fairhaven with that of your friends, from your total number of Speed Points to record speeds, times, pursuits and jump distances, and these stats regularly pop up on the screen. It's a brilliantly realised feature which serves as a constantly updating high score table, adding a highly competitive and social layer to the experience that compels you to keep playing in order to boost your ranking.
Perhaps the main gripe we have with the game is the frustrating catch-up artificial intelligence. Most Wanted employs rubber-banding safety measures preventing you from getting too far ahead in races, rendering much of your effort futile until relatively close to the finish line.
While it features the odd frustrating moment, Need for Speed: Most Wanted offers an excellent action-filled racing experience set in a gorgeous open-world location, nitro-boosted by great social elements and online competition.
- Driving feels great.
- Brilliant multiplayer features.
- Fairhaven looks stunning.
- Frustrating catch-up AI.
- Repetitive police chatter.
- We miss the opponent crash camera.