It’s that time of year again when all the big boys start showing off their big guns. As always EA brings their flagship racing franchise, Need For Speed with Need For Speed: Most Wanted. This new Need For Speed title should not to be confused with the 2005 title of the same name, though some similarities can be drawn. The 2012 NFS (Need For Speed) Most Wanted has been developed by Criterion Games who are best known for their Burnout franchise. Criterion Games does not consider their title to be a sequel to the 2005 title developed by Black Box, but a modern re-imagining of the title. Before I continue I must stress that I have been a massive fan of the Need For Speed franchise since the original title on the PlayStation 1 and I consider the 2005 Most Wanted to be the best in the franchise.
The story of Most Wanted is…well…there isn’t one really. You play as an unknown racer who is dropped in Fairhaven City and then told how to make it to the top of the most wanted list. There is no reason or motivation to climb up the list apart from your own drive to collect and/or drive all the cars. Even in the 2005 title you were motivated by revenge to climb up the list. I feel like Criterion Games could have had a simple story revolving around infamy and notoriety, given the type of game. What makes things worse is that the most wanted list seems to be populated by self-driven cars. None of the drivers are given a background story or even a name.
Most Wanted plays very similar to the 2005 title. To challenge a member of the most wanted list you first need to acquire a certain amount of points. To replace them on the list you need to defeat them in a one-on-one race, but after winning the race you then need to hunt them down and take them out like in Burnout Paradise. You get points by completing race events and the amount of points you get depends on the position you finish in. You can get more points by completing milestones, but these milestones are things that you will do anyway while playing the game, like drifting and being airborne.
The races fall into four distinct types; circuit, sprint, speedrun and ambush. In the circuit and sprint races you fight to be the first to complete a certain number of laps or become the first person who passes the finish line. The speedrun races are a re-imaging of the time trail mode where you attempt to complete a course with a high enough average speed. The ambush event tests your ability to quickly evade the police. I was surprised by how few race types there were and why the Speedtrap mode was absent considering that the game contains various speed cameras. Though these race modes are okay, I would have loved to have seen classic Need For Speed race modes like Lap Knockout, Tollbooth and Outrun.
In each event, apart from ambush, there is a chance that the police will come along and attempt to spoil your fun. They do so by trying to ram you off the road and using the P.I.T maneuver. If you manage to resist, they call for back up and block the roads with combinations of spikes strips (aka stop sticks or stingers) and road blocks. If you are still having fun then the police call in federal forces that lock roads with SWAT trucks and use SUVs (aka rhino units) to crash deliberately into you to stop you. This is where the game begins to get frustrating because the rhino units or SWAT cause you crash or get “taken down” no matter what car you use. Also for some odd reason, other drivers are not at all affected by spike strips. These sometimes add unnecessary seconds to your time which can result in you finishing in a lower position, unless you know how best to deal with them.
Instead of separating the cars into different tiers and having you unlock the tiers as you progress, all the cars, apart from the ones on the most wanted list, are unlocked from the start. The cars are parked in various locations around the world called Jack Spots and you can change your car for the one at the Jack Spot. Each car has their own upgrades that you unlock by completing races and these upgrades can be improved by completing challenges.
What’s most interesting about Most Wanted is the Easy Drive system which removes the need for a garage. With Easy Drive you can instantly change your car modifications at any time, including during races and pursuits. Easy Drive also allows you to switch to any of the cars you have found or any race you have previously competed in. But if you prefer to take the scenic route you can set a way point and be off. This can all be done without you having to stop driving, so you are kept in the action as much as possible.
Fairhaven is a large and beautiful looking city with a good mix of city streets, country roads and highways. The city is split into multiple districts, with each district having a distinct look and feel to them and once again the entire city is open from the start. What surprised me most were the short cinematic sequences before every race that are so unique and different they could be part of any art film festival.
The cars themselves vary from the somewhat everyday cars to super cars and even a couple of off-road cars and even an electric car. All the cars are beautifully modeled after their real-life counterparts with even a somewhat detailed interior thought no cockpit view. Being licensed cars, there isn’t a lot of damage that they can take visually. The windscreen gets cracked and the windows shattered while the body gets dented and some sections begin to flop about when you go over bumps. You can always drive through a repairs center for an instant repair, color change and nitrous refill.
Previous Need For Speed games have always had an amazing sound design accompanied with a great soundtrack and Most Wanted is no exception. The sound design is as great as you expect it to be. Each car has a distinctive sound while staying true to its classification type. There are almost no words to describe the feeling when you’re driving through the tunnels and hear the engine echo. Whether it is a V10 humming in the low gears or a turbocharged V8 singing at the limit, going through the tunnels just put the icing on the audio cake. The vehicles used by the Fairhaven City Police Department sound as good and the drivers can be heard talking tactics over their radio.
The soundtrack contains a strong mix of mainly UK and US artists with various types of music including Hip-Hop, alternative, drum ‘n’ bass and electric. With such a variety of music to listen to, you’ll be hard pressed not to find a favorite but if you can’t then you can also import your own soundtrack. Just because I could, I imported the soundtrack from the original Most Wanted so I could relive all those fond memories.
After taking down the most wanted racers there are still plenty of things to do around Fairhaven City. They are mostly aimed at completionists and those who enjoy setting high scores. Throughout the city there many billboards, security gates, speed cameras and Jack Spots to find. Each speed camera and billboard has a leader board which is connected through Autolog 2.0 with any of your friends. I liked how whoever had the longest jump through a billboard, had their picture on it, making you want to beat their records even more.
Now multiplayer is where Most Wanted really takes off. Like in the single player, menus and pre-game lobbies have been stripped and replaced with the city itself. No more having to wait staring at a screen with the names of other players, waiting for the game to start; now can you freely drive around the city while waiting for the next game to start. The games are split into five rounds with each round being an individual race, team race or challenge. You can unlock license plates which are displayed whenever you take down other players; you can further customize them by adding your own eight character text. What’s interesting is that the unlocks in single player are separate from those in multiplayer, so unlocking everything in single player will not really give a you an advantage over people in multiplayer. However you can still acquire points that count towards single player progression.
Overall Need For Speed: Most Wanted lives up to what makes a Need For Speed game which is delivering a sense of speed unlike other games. Criterion Games does a great job making it different enough from the 2005 Most Wanted while still retaining most of what made it so great, though plenty of us hope to see Need For Speed take on street racing once again. There are enough cars and collectibles to keep you entertained for hours and that’s before going into the fun and engaging multiplayer.
- On the fly customization and car change
- Great sound design
- Interesting cinematics before races
- Wide variety of cars to choose from
- Lack of variety in single player races
- No real story