There are two main types of racing game, the arcade racer and the driving simulator. For me my preference is always in that arcade racer category, perhaps because I can’t drive very well (in games) or maybe because I don’t want to be penalised for taking out a whole sidewalk’s worth of streetlamps. Luckily for me then, Need for Speed: Most Wanted is definitely an arcade racer.
The nineteenth title in the Need for Speed series, Need for Speed: Most Wanted takes the IP from the 2005 game of the same name and brings it back up-to-date with the help of developer, Criterion Games. Best known for the Burnout series, this is the second time Criterion have tackled the Need for Speed franchise and you can tell they have been fine tuning some of the game’s features.
The basic plot is that there is a top-ten wanted list that the police of the fictional city of Fairhaven are circulating and hunting down. Throughout the game you are winning numerous events to make a name for yourself and work your way up the top-ten list to become the Most Wanted. But we are not really playing the game for its storytelling; we are playing it for the driving.
The way you work up the Most Wanted list is by collecting speedpoints through completing races, challenges, evading police pursuits or autolog recommendations. Once you have gained enough speedpoints you can then choose to race against your Most Wanted rival and take them down.
Aside from the ten Most wanted cars in the game, there are over one hundred and twenty five cars available for you to drive. Unlike previous games where these have had to be unlocked, all are available to play as soon as you start the game. What differs with this title is that you have to find the cars through discovering Jackspots that are hidden all over the open world environment. Drive up to the car and you have unlocked it and its location is added to your map.
Each car has six unique events, whether they are circuit races, sprint races, ambush events (evade the police) or speed tests. When you win one of these events you not only win speed points but also upgrades for your car (such as the very important Nitrous upgrade).
This system of discovering cars works really well and I found myself just driving round the open world environment for ages trying to discover different cars and collecting them. On hindsight, the first forty five minutes of my time with the game was like I was playing it as an automobile version of Pokémon.
Unlike Crtierion’s Burnout Paradise, the open world environment didn’t put me off. Whether this was due to great design and depth of Fairhaven or the new easydrive system I don’t know, but Criterion have definitely been learning from both their previous titles and from previous Need For Speed titles to ensure this is one of the best Need for Speed games to date.
As mentioned, alongside the now commonplace autolog system that integrates social leaderboards on your friends list into your game experience, something that has been common place for a few titles in their series at this point, Criterion have developed the easydrive system.
The easydrive system can be accessed by your D-Pad or Kinect and lets you select from a range of options while in-game, rather than having to go to the menu screens. If you want to customize your car with upgrades you have won from events, you can choose to do that here. If you want to start an event, select it form here. It is worth noting that if you haven’t participated in the event yet you will need to set the destination and drive to the starting location, but from then on you can just select to the start the event. The best feature of the easydrive system though is you can jump to any of the cars you have discovered previously and not have to drive back to that point on the large open world map.
The handling of the cars is very well balanced, so much so that the cars are not too light and flying off the corners but also not too heavy or slow. The control is great and it is easy to lose track of the speed you are going when cruising around the city. It is important to note then that the Police in this game are more proactive and vigilant than in any other Need for Speed title and will come after you for what can sometimes be the smallest thing when cruising the open world. This isn’t a bad thing in any way but just shows that Criterion has focused on giving the police their own personality rather than be background elements aside from moving along the plot.
The Multiplayer is easy to use and is another progression of the franchise that this title offers. You can easily join friends or even compete against strangers by selecting the option and going to a meet point. Again this game keeps on giving and moving up the tracks to be one of the better race games of recent years.
In summary, it is great to see Criterion tackle another Need for Speed title. The team have brought their Burnout touches, including being rewarded for taking down your rivals and as a result, added a much needed flourish to the franchise. The Autolog system works better than ever and the open world environment is fully realised and looks great. There are a huge amount of cars available from off-road vehicles to muscle cars. In addition, with a vast amount of events to tackle in single player and the multiplayer option, the game offers players hours of drive time. Each year we are given a new Need for Speed title and this has been one of the best in a long while.