I Feel the Need…for Speed! Need for Speed: Most Wanted – Review
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3
Need for Speed is a series that tends to cater to the more casual racer fans, as opposed to the hardcore crowd that go for the likes of Gran Turismo or Forza. It’s not as if one form of racer is superior to the other, merely that each game type caters to different crowds, and whilst Need for Speed has more emphasis on a pick-up-and-play style, the others lean more towards the tinkering and fine-tuning aspects of racing. The latest entry in the Need for Speed series, Most Wanted, continues with the tradition of an arcade-style racing game, and brings players to the fictional city of Fairhaven, which just happens to be a street-racing Mecca.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted is developer Criterion Software’s second bite at the Need for Speed cherry, following their initial release Hot Pursuit, back in 2010. Criterion is best known for their Burnout series, and in fact, Most Wanted closely resembles Burnout Paradise, particularly in terms of setting. Fairhaven is the open-world environment in Most Wanted, and players are able to drive around both the city and its surrounding highways looking for races, extra cars or collectibles such as billboards or speed cameras. Even the crash cameras that are featured here are remarkably similar to those of Burnout – and you’ll be seeing plenty of them, with even the slightest nudge (especially in some of the flimsier cars) sending you careening into the barriers or oncoming traffic.
The goal of Most Wanted is to climb the ranks of the police database to becoming their No. 1 Suspect throughout the city’s street-racing scene. To do this, players need to win races and gain speed points, with certain amounts of speed points unlocking one-on-one races with the already established most-wanted figures. Beating these one-on-one challenges moves you above those wanted characters in the leader board, and if you manage to make them crash their car following the race, you get to keep the car as well. Most Wanted includes a huge variety of vehicle manufacturers including: Porsche, Aston Martin, Bentley and Audi. Most manufacturers featured in the game have one or two of their cars available to choose from, with a total of 41 cars being driveable. The types of vehicles vary as well, from supercars and trucks to racers. Each has its own particular feel and style of handling, and you’re sure to end up with at least a handful of favourites.
To establish yourself on the Most Wanted leaderboard, you need to get out there and win some races. Events come in one of three difficulties, and four distinct flavours, namely Sprint Race, Circuit Race, Ambush, and Speed Run. The Sprint and Circuit Races are easily understandable, with Sprint events requiring you to get from point A to B faster than the racers you’re competing against, while Circuit Races require a similar goal, just on a set loop instead. For the thrill-seekers, Ambush events require drivers to escape from the cops, with a staggered time limit to aim for (if you beat the first time limit you get first place, the second time limit you get second and so on). Speed Runs operate on a similar level to the Sprint Race, but this time you’re on your own and have to try and keep your speed above a certain average to win the event. Although there isn’t a huge amount of variety in the events, there is a good number of each particular type spread across different areas of the map, meaning that you won’t be seeing the same scenery over and over.
A smart design decision made by Criterion Software is that each car only has five events available to it. You can, of course, drive whichever car you like around the city for as long as you want, but limiting each car to only five races means that to progress through the game you need to try almost every car at least once, rather than picking a favourite and sticking with it through the whole game. Coming in first or second in an event unlocks mods for each car, ranging from nitrous to different bodies to tyres and gears, and you need to unlock each modification for each car individually. There isn’t a lot of depth to the customisation scheme, as there are only a couple of options for each category, and each car has the same options, so you’ll soon know which ones to look out for depending on your racing style.
With each car in your collection eventually being determined by the mods unlocked for it, and comparison screens between cars and various mods springing up fairly regularly, Most Wanted quickly begins to resemble a racing version of Borderlands , only with cars being compared and switched instead of guns. This certainly wasn’t a comparison that I was expecting upon first starting the game. In order to boost your collection, you’ll spend much of your time in the open world searching for Jackspots, which either unlock new cars or additional locations for accessing said cars. Jackspots are highlighted in an interesting way, in that the controller vibrates gently when you drive by one which hasn’t yet been discovered. It’s a new way of highlighting hidden objects within a game, and personally I found it much more intuitive and immersion-building than a huge flashing sign popping up on screen.
Aside from Jackspots, players can spend their time smashing through billboards, or activating speed cameras that are dotted around Fairhaven. Billboards are obvious to spot, but speed cameras are fairly invisible, and most of the ones that activated in my game weren’t noticed until the tell-tale flash went off. You don’t get punished for speed cameras; instead, they exist as a way to show off to your friends how fast you were driving through a particular stretch of road.
Showing off to your friends is one of the biggest features of Need for Speed: Most Wanted, with the Autolog and Speedwall features highlighting your successes against those of others on your friends list. Autolog recommends events and tasks to be completed that will move you ahead of your friends in the speed point standings, and your profile picture will begin showing on their version of Fairhaven’s billboards if you beat them to certain objectives. Speedwall, on the other hand, exists to serve as a leaderboard amongst you and your friends. It measures your performance in a race against theirs, and vice versa on their console, and really sets up a friendly rivalry – with tug-of-war competitions constantly erupting as you each struggle for leaderboard domination.
Perhaps the biggest change to the Need for Speed series within Most Wanted – and one that should spread to other racing games – is the inclusion of Easydrive. This in-game menu is accessed by pressing the right directional button, and is used to select cars and races, place markers on the map, and fiddle around with the mods currently assigned to your car, amongst other things. It’s an incredibly easy system to use, and the fact that you can operate it in real-time while still driving your car is a fantastic touch that completely removes the need for a map/objective screen outside of the on-screen action. Being able to switch from one car to another on the fly is especially useful when each car only has a limited number of races available for it, and assigning markers on the map without actually having to visit the map screen saves a lot of time through the course of the game.
As you drive through Fairhaven, you’ll notice that the overall city looks beautiful, with the lighting and shadows being a particular treat. However, the city doesn’t feel particularly alive. There are NPC cars driving on the roads, but not a whole lot of them, and there are no pedestrians either. Though Fairhaven has been designed as a huge racecourse, and works well as such, it doesn’t feel like a living, breathing metropolis as much as it does an empty shell existing solely for racing through. This isn’t aided by the fact that there isn’t really a lot to do outside of racing. Sure, there are the earlier mentioned billboards and speed cameras, but as mentioned previously, speed cameras are usually happened upon by accident, and the billboards aren’t particularly exciting. There are a lot of Jackspots to discover, but you’ll find most of these driving to and from the various races.
Whilst Need for Speed: Most Wanted does bring a lot of interesting factors to the table, it isn’t without its issues, mostly in terms of graphical glitches. For example, stretches of road and some buildings won’t load properly, leaving cars looking as if they’re floating in mid-air until the world suddenly pops back into place. Clipping issues also rear their ugly heads, particularly in the scenes shown after collisions, with multiple instances of my car disappearing into the scenery after a smash. Mechanically, Most Wanted works well, with little of the rubber-banding or cheating AI that can be rife in other racing games, and the aesthetics are largely impressive, with cars rendered with incredible detail, and a pumping soundtrack in the background.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted shows that although Criterion hasn’t released a (main series) Burnout game since Paradise in 2008, the developers haven’t lost their touch when it comes to building an open-world racing environment. Though the city could do with a little more habitation, the design of the roadways and dangers make for a perfect racing playground, with plenty of races and cars to keep you occupied. The inclusion of Easydrive is one of the finest mechanics to make its way into racing games in a long time, and the social aspect of Autolog means that any friends you have that also play Most Wanted will quickly turn into your fiercest rivals. If you’re into fast cars and crunching collisions, but don’t have hours to spare or the interest in fine-tuning a car for maximum performance, then this latest Need for Speed is an excellent choice to keep you occupied. Fairhaven is a petrol head’s dream, and the race is on!
Need for Speed: Most Wanted scores a podium placement with 4.25 out of 5.
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