Review - Need for Speed: Most Wanted
When first playing Need for Speed: Most Wanted, there was a sense of helplessness. After a quick cutscene and a very short tutorial, you are dumped into the playground of Fairhaven. Your helmeted driver sits behind the wheel of a growling Aston Martin. The world is open. Go do stuff.
And what a pretty world it is. The horizon yields gorgeous sunsets, the city skyline can be seen at night from the mountains across the map, and white light temporarily blinds as you burst out of dark tunnels at midday. Car models aren't as detailed as you might find in say, Forza Horizon, but the damage models are sweet. You can even pop your back tires by doing too many donuts, sending sparks and orange light bouncing around your undercarriage. Since the world is open and is always speeding by, I can forgive the handful of stutters I experienced. This usually happened in multiplayer during a huge pile-up.
As far as sound goes, all is well here. Engines pair with their cars, tires screech and rub the road with resistance, and police chatter clogs the radio scanner. Crashes feature shattering glass and shearing metal. The music, on the other hand, is very forgettable. Some hits from The Who and The Chemical Brothers are appreciated, but the rest are forgettable punk and electro-pop songs. Thankfully, Criterion has included custom soundtracks.
The racing genre has been the same for 20 years—you start out with a shitty car, you begin boring races, and 20 hours of gameplay later you have the fastest cars to use and the craziest tracks to race on. Criterion has taken this 20-year-old convention and shoved it onto its ass. From the get-go, the entire city is open. All the cars are available—all you have to do is find them.
The single-player portion of Need for Speed: Most Wanted is very unorthodox. The 60-or-so single-player racing events are tied directly to whatever car you are driving. Victories result in either Speed Points (the game’s XP) or mods for your car. Mods consist of things like body kits that improve speed, tires that re-inflate, or a chassis that improves the vehicle’s toughness. Each car has around five races that you can complete. These range from standard lap races to speed trap trials where your highest average speed dictates victory. Other than the regular races that result in car upgrades, a series of 10 elite racers, the “Most Wanted” of Fairhaven, are waiting to be conquered. As you gain Speed Points, the next racer in the list opens. These are basically boss battles and their car is awarded to you if they are taken down. These serve as the main line in the single-player portion, and are all introduced with cool cutscenes that are worth a watch.
What makes the races unique in the single player portion of the game is the inclusion of the police. While racing, Fairhaven’s finest deploy patrol cars, SUV’s, roadblocks and spike strips to take down you and your opponents. This makes races unpredictable and chaotic. Since the world is completely open, police can be engaged in a chase at any time. If chases last long enough, the 5-0 will deploy more extreme measures of resistance like armored vehicles that cannot be taken down, or rhinos—heavy hitters that come at you head on.
This open-ended approach to single-player is also my biggest gripe. All the cars are set within their limited five races. Once you get gold on those five races, your car is maxed. Other than using that particular car to set better times or race against the “Most Wanted,” there is no reason to continue using that car. Also, if you want to switch cars, you will be automatically teleported to the location of that car on the map. I understand that this really encourages players to move on and experiment with every car in the game, but once I have found the SRT Viper, why the hell would I want to race in a Ford Focus?
While 100% completion of the single player portion will last tons of hours, AutoLog 2.0 really stretches the time you can spend with it. Your friend’s best race times, jump distances and speed trap passes are always a button-press away. Billboards, which are set up at the edge of jumps, showcase the avatar of the friend with the longest jump distance. EasyDrive, a quick menu version of AutoLog, is controlled with the D-pad (or with your voice if you have a Kinect) and is used to change cars, swap mods, look at AutoLog recommendations, and access Most Wanted’s unparalleled multiplayer suite.
This is where the game shines. In multiplayer, there are no lobbies, just the open world, a group of players, and endless activities. At the start of a new event, all racers speed to the starting point. Once all players arrive, the event begins. The diversity of these events is what makes the game so interesting. One of my sessions lasted around 6 hours, and not one race or activity was repeated. Things range from challenges to get the longest jump distance to team races that split the playing field, forcing cooperation and team tactics. I cannot stress how chaotic the multiplayer modes become. Cars are constantly drifting, flying through the air, and flipping out of control. If you are in the game chat, all you will hear are the screams of disbelief due to a devastating collision, a huge jump, or an impossible crash escape. Since there is no traditional lobby, it’s difficult to find a place to stop.
Unlocking cars and their mods in multiplayer falls back to the more traditional model. Cars are unlocked by level and Speed Points (which carry over from single player). Individual car mods fold out similarly to gun mods in first person shooters. These are usually unlocked by a number of takedowns, total jump distance, or miles driven in that particular car. “Pro” versions of mods can also be unlocked via major milestones. Cosmetic customizations are sadly limited to paint jobs, but there are customizable license plates that serve as badges when you wreck somebody.
Aside from the problems that naturally arise due to the structure (or lack thereof) in the single player portion, there are a few grievances that I have with the game. For starters, fans of the slow motion “takedown cams” from previous outings will be let down. Contrary to video previews of the game, here they are totally absent, so seeing the result of sideswiping your buddy at 220 mph will only be possible by looking behind you. Also, I cannot fathom why cops (A.I. or player controlled) are left out of multiplayer. Since the multiplayer and open world would lend itself so well to cop chases (and the fact that the game is called “Most Wanted”) this exclusion is absolutely unforgivable. I smell DLC.
While other racers are offering up the idea of driving around an open world, I can guarantee it is not implemented as well as in Need for Speed: Most Wanted. Fairhaven is an open (and vertical) playground for mangling metal, jumping over cliffs, and blind-siding your friends. It invites all of its drivers to be as crazy as possible, to embrace its sense of speed, and yell in panic as they swerve around and under the devastation on the road ahead.
8.5-Great: 8.5's are games that stand on the brink of excellence. They have small problems that are very forgettable, yet wonderful experiences that are not.
Shaun Bolen is a freelance reviewer for ScrewAttack.com. After interning with the site for eight months, he left to continue his education. Shaun holds a degree in Foreign Language with an English BA on the way, and is now back with ScrewAttack to write reviews in his spare time. He can't wait for GTA V to come out, and enjoys taking emotive black-and-white self-portraits.