Nathan Weller On November 27, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Criterion returns with their latest attempt at a Need for Speed title with Need for Speed: Most Wanted. Their 2010 entry into the series, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit was well accepted and garnered several awards, before EA’s Black Box studio took the reigns with 2011′s Need for Speed: The Run, which didn’t do nearly as well. If the title of Most Wanted sounds familiar, it’s because this is a reboot of the 2005 title of the same name. Thankfully, it looks like this game will live up to and surpass its predecessor.

Unlike Criterion’s take on Hot Pursuit, Most Wanted does not have a story mode. The game starts and drops you immediately into a car in an open world, with the Autolog 2.0 system at your command. A minimap in the corner helps you navigate around the game world, helping you find your way to objectives.

Information junkies will love the constant stream of data all around the screen, updating you with where you stand with your friends in challenges as they happen, and showing other available missions as you get close to them. You don’t have to be playing online with your friends at the same time, either – you are being compared to times and speeds they have already set – so as soon as you start the game you can see what you have to live up to.

Instead of having to build up credits to buy new cars, in Most Wanted, you can drive up to a car and take it. New cars are littered around the world with their manufacturer logos hovering over them. Some will be tucked away, while others more out in the open. In the middle of a police chase and see a better car? Hit the button at the right time and you can swap over and be on your way. Once you’ve taken a car, it will be available to you to swap into at any time (as long as you’re not currently being pursued). When you first start playing the game, you will be finding lots of these new vehicles and completionists may suddenly have a lot of work on their hands, but it’s a new way to introduce new cars without having to complete many, or any, races.

Each car has challenges associated with it that can earn it upgrades, which you can apply on the fly with the Autolog system. If you have Kinect, you can browse Autolog with voice commands. A quick “look around” does a 360 degree spin around your car, at a speed that scales to how fast you’re going. Other voice commands let you switch out your tire, nitrous, chassis, body, or transmission setup as you race. Without Kinect, you can still browse Autolog with the 4-way pad on the controller. Autolog basically replaces any idea of a main menu, although you can drop into a map view by pressing the Back button on the controller. The Autolog removes the need for any kind of garage or loadout as well, since you can easily swap out your car parts depending on the mission at hand. If you’re bored, Autolog can provide a number of recommended challenges, giving you a challenge to knock one of your online friends off a leaderboard.

The game world is expansive, and provides a full 24 hour cycle – accelerated, not real time – that lets you race in the day and night. A variety of city, highway, and offroad streets provide a generous playground for vehicles of all kinds. The selection trends towards sporty and unattainable supercars, but there are a few outliers like a Ford F-150 and Range Rover Evoque. There is a fair amount of licensed cars from the likes of Audi, BMW, Lamborghini, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche which are modeled well, however you don’t get any internal camera when driving around. Your two options for racing are a high rear external view, and a low front bumper camera which gets your face right in the action.

The digital city of Fairhaven is a fun playground filled with obvious jumps and shortcuts, with repair stations littered about to fix your vehicle when you crash, which you will, repeatedly. The slow-motion crashes are visceral, showing damage to your car and certain environment objects, but you may grow tired of them if you find yourself constantly accident-prone. With certain mods, you can beef up your car to protect against such disasters, but you will be rewarded if you can flit about in a light and quick car while throwing caution to the wind.

As you progress through the game and earn Speed Points for your exploits, you can begin taking on the Most Wanted. This group of 10 cars will not be available to you until you beat them in a race, and successfully take their car down afterwards. While you take down the 10 most wanted, you’ll also progress up your own leaderboard of friends who might also be playing the game. The various billboards, speed cameras, and challenges provide many points where you can defeat your friends list. For example, you’ll see people from your friends list on billboards so while there is some product placement here and there, you also get your own experience as you drive around the game world.

Races can get interesting as you draw the attention of the police, when you suddenly have to worry about being rammed off the road and avoiding spike strips being deployed. While a race may end, your police pursuit may not until you can get away and out of the sight of the police. The only downside of being busted by the police is a loss of any Speed Points earned since the pursuit began. While not devastating, getting busted can sting if you had many points saved up, but it’s a quick wait before you’re back in the game.

The pace of races is frenetic, especially once the nitrous kicks in. The game world becomes a blur and the scenery will jump out at you without much warning. Pedestrian cars litter the game world and have the potential to wander onto a race at the worst times, and rubberbanding AI vehicles seem to constantly make races interesting even if you manage to have a perfect run. The options in Autolog let you customize your car to a point, but these are broad options, not like the detail you get from a Gran Turismo or Forza title with minute garage adjustments. The game definitely trends towards the arcade when it comes to handling, and will not apologize for pushing you to go as fast as possible.

When you drop into races and the various game modes, there is usually a brief intro that plays using the in-game engine. Some of these intros are downright psychedelic. If you get stuck on a race they can become repetitive, but they can be skipped. It’s a nice change to see them adding some artistic elements to these brief breaks – I will admit at first when I saw cars flying above the ground I thought my Xbox was losing its mind, but then saw it was just part of the intro.

Multiplayer mode lets you bring friends or random people into your game as you race, complete challenges, but mostly bash the crap out of each other. There’s the usual amount of trash talk and people who have their TV turned up so loud their mic just plays it constantly, but that’s no fault of the game. Unfortunately, online multiplayer is also the only game in town as there is no local multiplayer split screen option. Online, you can have a lobby with 8 players. Most Wanted does require an online pass that comes with the game, so used game buyers should be aware of this extra expense if they want to play online.

Multiplayer, like the single player, offers a range of game modes. You’ll be directed to a meet up point which you can race to, and any range of 5 challenges or races will jump off from there. After your 5 events have completed, a winner is shown and the fun can continue as the multiplayer is designed to be continuous. In testing, dropping into multiplayer was quickly achieved as I was set up with a group of strangers, but you can also have the option to create your own playlist of events and wait for your game to be populated. Not all of the events are racing, as some will have your group challenged to jump from one building to another, or attempt to land the longest jump off a roof. Quickly determining the best car for your objective will pay off and give you an edge while other players may not realize the objective is listed at a ticker at the bottom of the screen. Unfortunately, some of the challenges may get drawn out if competitors fail to reach a goal and you’re forced to wait out a time limit.

As we reach the full maturity of the current consoles, we’re able to really see developers pushing the most out of these systems. We might be waiting for the new consoles around the corner, but for now, there are still some great titles available. Need for Speed: Most Wanted provides a lush world, full of experiences and color, and a great playground of cars to choose from.

Gameplay

Lots to do in an open world, enhanced by multiplayer options.

Graphics

A well rendered world, day or night.

Sound

Lots of engine noises, metal crunching, but some phrases get repetitive.

Overall

Worthy successor to Criterion’s previous entry to Need for Speed, online and off provides a wide array of experiences.

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