Criterion Games was originally handed the keys to the Need for Speed franchise when they did Hot Pursuit, giving the series a kickstart to get back in gear after becoming stale for far too long. It appears that time has come once again, and Criterion is tasked with bringing the Need for Speed franchise back into the spotlight after EA beat the series down with yearly iterations.
Rather than tweaking the standards cops vs. racers formula from the previous games, Criterion has decided to bring the crash cams, warp-speed velocity and the free wheeling nature of Burnout to the city of Fairhaven, where the events take place. Cops have taken a back seat this time around, merely ending up as an obstacle on your way up the Most Wanted list. They pose no real threat other than potentially blowing our your tires or forcing you into a wall, but there are no repercussions when it comes to getting busted.
Instead of forcing you to purchase cars with in-game currency or by completing events, cars are spread out across town in jack spots. A few of the cars need to be unlocked by beating them in a race and then causing them to crash but they are all available; otherwise, that is if you can find them. There isn’t any of the consumer level filler as you find in Forza or Gran Turismo; most of the cars are beyond the price-range of people like myself and extremely fun to drive.
The driving experience is a bit hard to describe. It’s certainly not a simulator, but it isn’t totally arcade-based either. Cars handle as you would expect them to: muscles cars are heavier and can take more damage whereas the Ariel Atom or the Caterham is quick and nimble. Most of the cars are drift heavy and you’ll need to get the mechanics of that down before you’ll win some of the harder races. Choosing a pickup truck or an SUV allows your to wreak havoc across the city in free roam, smashing into objects with little to no fear of repercussion.
The excitement wears off when you realize that the progression system is practically nonexistent. Each car has its own set of five races to complete, but the races repeat from car to car. You’ll find yourself doing the same races on the same tracks for each car to earn enough points to take on the car above you on the Most Wanted list. This can get rather tedious especially when you are playing offline or don’t have any friends for the Autolog to display. It’s a better experience when you have someone to swap the controller with to relieve some of the tedium; it’ll have to do in terms of local multiplayer, since there isn’t any.
Thankfully, the environments and models of the cars make up a bit for the shortcomings. The game is absolutely beautiful and the cutscenes, especially for the Most Wanted races, are great. The city is detailed and offers a good bit of variety, offering up mountains, country and city locals to help break up the normal track monotony that comes with racing titles. The city always tends to have a wet sheen to it, as if a fresh rain had just fallen even though you’ve never seen it. I guess that would describe why everything drifts around so easily.
The best way to get the most of your gaming experience would be to check out the multiplayer. To help relieve the issue of staring at the lobby while waiting for a match to start, games feature a “Speed List” that includes five events to go through. One or two events will generally be a race while the others are a variety of various activities. The events are spaced out, and drivers need to make their own way to the events, getting rewarded to take out other drivers on their way. As you can assume, “rubbing is racing” is a statement that the game fully embraces.
Unfortunately, this state of mind causes races to quickly devolve into smash-fests, often turning into who can take other drivers out fastest rather than setting the best drift time or winning events. You’ll eventually run into drivers who want to actually race, but those tend to come on later in the days, after parents have put their children to bed.
I can’t recommend Most Wanted for everyone, especially those who want to play offline. The practically nonexistent progression system can lead to some staleness when playing by yourself but is a much more fulfilling experience when you have friends who own the game or are willing to jump into multiplayer. If you are looking for a game to pick up for short bursts, you’ll be pleasantly surprised but don’t expect to feel fulfilled afterwards. Hey, at least there aren’t any FMV cutscenes.
Beautiful cars and environments, wide assortment of cars that all handle differently
Stale progression system, multiplayer can be hit or miss