Need For Speed: Most Wanted Review
Crash and learn.
A cacophony of deafening sirens and roaring engines reverberate inside the concrete confines of one of Fairhaven’s many tunnels. The furious flashing of red and blue lights illuminate the surrounding walls as the police draw ever closer to their fleeing target. My grip tightens around the controller. “You’re almost there. Come on…”
A blast of blue nitrous spurts out of the Porsche’s exhaust, the injection of speed provides temporary relief from the persistent pursuers and brings me closer to the race leader in front. My adrenal glands shoot another unwanted dose of adrenaline into my system. “Breathe. Don’t forget to breathe…”
The car’s tyres squeal angrily in dismay as I drift around a blind bend. A last second change in direction manages to shake off the magnetic pull of a passing car in exchange for a lick of the Porsche’s exotic paint job. “That was too close. Concentrate, damn it!”
An aggressive manoeuvre slams a nearby rival racer into oblivion, the constant jostling for pole position is perilous to say the least. But, at last, first position is finally mine. “BREATHE!”
Suddenly, the light at the end of the tunnel approaches as the finishing checkpoint draws ever closer; surely it signified salvation? If only…
The glare of the low-sitting sun is blinding, leaving me momentarily helpless, hurtling out of the tunnel’s exit. At this speed, salvation this is most certainly not. Eventually, my eyes refocus only to witness a horrifying obstacle on the horizon. “Wait, is that a toll booth?! For the love of God.”
There’s no time to react. Either I would sail merrily through the booth and on towards certain victory, or… no, it didn’t bode well to dwell on the consequences. “Choose an entry point! Choose!”
The AI opponents gleefully zip past, driving over my hopes and leaving my dreams in the dust as I wait for the crash cinematic to end. As I slump to a 4th place finish, the controller is tossed violently across the room.
Shaking, head in hands, exhausted and defeated, I’m left to rue yet another sadistic twist of fate that has snapped the jaws of victory shut.
Welcome to the exhilarating and excruciatingly cruel world of Need For Speed: Most Wanted.
A Love Hate Relationship
Need for Speed: Most Wanted is punishing. There’s no rewind button. There’s no helping hand. There’s no one there to dry your tears, give you a hug and tell you everything’s going to be ok. You will be screwed over; spat out; beaten. You will be left feeling dejected and alone. Sunday drivers, do yourselves a favour and walk away now. This game is not for you.
However, if you’re a so-called adrenaline junkie, stubborn as a mule, have the reaction speeds of a fighter pilot and are a sucker for punishment, then please, be my guest and take a seat. Get yourself comfortable and strap yourself in. Put the keys in the ignition and get ready to have your patience pushed to the absolute limit by a phenomenal racing game that takes far too much pleasure in reveling in your misery.
Yes, Need For Speed: Most Wanted can indeed be excellent. But all too often it refuses to play nice and leaves you screaming at the screen with untold rage.
This Fair City
Need For Speed: Most Wanted is visually stunning. From the moment you take control of the glistening Porsche at the start of the game, it’s immediately obvious that Criterion has produced a spectacular playground for racers to carelessly career around.
The open-world setting of the city of Fairhaven seems relatively small when viewed from the menu, but there’s so many different shortcuts and inconspicuous routes to discover that the depth of exploration on offer is quite daunting. Best of all, however, is the fact that every facet of this urban city is oozing with detail, accentuating every possible action.
Whether it’s the accumulation of dirt that sprays onto the screen as you veer off road, the rays of light bouncing off of every surface, the convincing day and night cycle, the sparks, smoke and debris that dance across the screen with every bump and collision, there’s not an ugly view in sight. The Frostbite 2 engine is a stunning tour de force in Most Wanted.
And, as I rather dramatically alluded to earlier, these visual moments of flair are more than just mere eye candy; they affect the core gameplay experience. You will be blinded by the light. Your view will be comprised. These fantastic moments of fidelity are not just for show and will amaze and infuriate you in equal measure.
Highway To Hell
The city, though fantastic in its size and scale, is also a debilitating deathbed by design. You will crash more than you ever did in Burnout, and it’s extremely frustrating to say the least. Whether you accidentally nick the side of a bridge, lose control and spin into a wall, hit one of the many unpredictable passing cars, get rammed by police or simply misjudge a corner, prepare to become the crash dummy over and over again.
The game is stupidly hard and often, downright unfair.
It’s this unrelenting crashing that represents the biggest flaw of the game. The game is stupidly hard and often, downright unfair. Races can be over in an instant or act as a form of drawn out torture. Even the seemingly simple task of travelling to and from a race will involve numerous crashes as you sit there, wait for the cinematic to end and then reverse and readjust to continue on towards your destination. It really is incessant at times, no matter how well you seem to drive.
Unless your concentration is at its absolute maximum, you can forget about winning a race or getting to an event safely. Yes, you will progressively get better over time. But the game does its utmost to trip you up at every possible opportunity, and most of the time, it will manage to do so successfully.
The ridiculously rubber banding of your AI opponents does little to help diffuse the feelings of unjust. Though you can sometimes get away with one crash during a race, it’s agonising to see your phantom lead completely vanish in seconds as your opponents burst past you as if out of nowhere. It almost makes racing feel like a survival game because no matter how well you drive, your opponents will be right there to capitalise on your mistakes – of which there will be many.
Nevertheless, there is a reason to stick with this game. Despite its abhorrent desire to crumple your pride like a car bonnet and deflate your enthusiasm like a punctured tyre, Most Wanted is a hell of a ride when lady luck’s on your side. And it’s the dangers and thrill of failure that makes each hard fought win and desperate escape a gripping spectacle to play.
Most Wanted is a pleasingly seamless experience. Load screens are kept to a bare minimum and everything that’s crucial to the game is available with just a few clicks of the directional pad. You can upgrade your car, choose a race, change vehicles, access multiplayer and many other options all from the ‘Easy Drive’ in-game menu. It’s an effortless system that almost renders the traditional full-screen menu obsolete.
There’s also a satisfying amount of freedom on offer. Naturally, as Most Wanted is an open-world game, you can choose where you want to go, which races to compete in, which upgrades to equip and which car you want to drive. That is, if you’ve discovered any along the way.
Instead of rewarding the player with money to purchase new vehicles, Most Wanted focuses on the joy of discovery. Over 100 cars are dotted around the game’s sizeable map, each one hidden away until you happen to pull up next to it. Once discovered, players can hop into a selection of licensed vehicles at any time and tackle the races assigned to that particular car. It’s strangely invigorating driving past a parked powerhouse of a car, only to realise that you’ve suddenly added a new vehicle to your collection. Thankfully, cars feel distinct from one another in the way they handle and perform.
Get Your Heart Racing
The handling of the cars are an enjoyable blend of arcade and simulation, with enough weight to please the realists and enough maneuverability to cater to the arcade crowd. Whipping a car round a corner with the handbrake down is surprisingly intuitive, as is the drift mechanic, which is simple to perform by tapping the brake and tilting the analog stick in the required direction. You never feel hindered by the game’s controls, just screwed over by the game’s overly hazardous environments.
Of course, when engaged in competitive racing, you can shunt, shove and smash your way to the front of the queue by taking down your opponents in classic Burnout style. There is a risk to doing so, however, as you may unexpectedly come off much worse than your opponent or lose sight of what lies ahead. But it’s wise to be aggressive, as you’ll be rewarded with a full tank of nitrous should you win the deadly duel.
Don’t You Want Me
The story that underpins the game is predictably bereft of any real narrative. A few lines are delivered by a seductive female voice over who outlines what you need to do, but that’s basically about it.
Essentially, you begin the game at the bottom and have to work your way to the top by earning race points which act as the experience system in the game. Points can be gained by competing in races, smashing through billboards and security gates, blazing past speed cameras and evading the law should you happen to anger the boys in blue.
The race types are fairly generic with standard circuit races, point to point races and average speed races making up the majority of the game’s challenge. But luckily, the open-world setting ensures that each race feels genuinely unique despite the familiar premise.
Finishing first or second in a race earns you upgrades to use on your ride such as nitrous or better tyres. Sadly, the customisation on offer is fairly shallow, with each car receiving exactly the same unlockables each time. It quickly gets repetitive doing the same thing for the same upgrades. So, unless you’re desperate to max out the capabilities of a particular car, it’s unlikely you’ll go through this process all too often other than to gain more race points.
Once you have earned enough points, you can challenge ‘the most wanted’: a group of notorious gearheads who drive around the city of Fairhaven in the most desirable cars imaginable. To take their spot on the most wanted list you’ll have to beat them in an extravagant race across the city – driving through pipes, over train tracks, across busy junctions, off road, over bridges and even take to the air after death defying jumps – all the while attempting to evade the pestering police.
If you happen to make it to the end and trump your rival to the finish line, the onus switches, as you then have to ‘shut down’ your opponent to steal their shiny ride and then lose the heat from the police (a process that is almost identical to that of Grand Theft Auto IV – and equally as annoying).
Always Logged On
Tracking every stat and your progression through the game is Criterion’s ingenious Autolog system. Your friend’s scores will show up in the game for you to best, and it’s a great way of keeping you connected and encourages you to beat your personal bests, even if you’re not directly competing in the multiplayer suite.
If you do decide to hop online, what awaits you is a vast, impressive array of modes and an active community of players. You can essentially enjoy everything that’s offline online, but with far more manic and hilarious results. People have a stupid tendency to spend most of their time ramming each other online, but when race rules are adhered to, the thrill is all the more fun with human heads battling away.
A review copy of Need for Speed: Most Wanted was provided courtesy of EA. The game was reviewed on PlayStation 3.
Need For Speed: Most Wanted should come with a health warning: This game will drive you crazy! Most Wanted is not for the faint hearted, the easily frustrated or the impatient. There's spectacular highs and crushing lows round every corner and whether or not you'll be strong enough to endure it is a question that only you can answer. That being said, if you truly have a genuine need to experience incredible speed, then look no further than Most Wanted. Get behind the wheel and buckle up for a white knuckle ride.