Criterion’s decision to remake the original PS2 Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a gamble that’s paid off exceptionally well. Arcade racing hasn’t been this much fun since Burnout 3 released in 2004.
The heart of Most Wanted is Fairhaven, an open world whose locations are entirely available to you from the get-go. Environments span inner-city metropolises, demolition sites, parklands, sewers, woodlands and mountains. What NFS’s world has it over its contemporaries is that it has been expertly crafted to take advantage of the game’s mechanics, namely drifting, jumping, and weaving ridiculously fast through traffic. Part of this crafting is the architecture intricately woven into the city streets, allowing you to fly that cherished Lamborghini 130 metres over the top of a ten storey building before redirecting your dream machine away from the line of telegraph poles being ripped out of the ground like a category six hurricane. The city really is an arcade racers playground, tempting you to taste its delicious insides with promises of adrenalin and excitement. Excitement within Fairhaven’s boundaries continues into the multiplayer realm as you inhabit the exact same city where you can take on friends and randoms in both races and challenges.
Once you make it to the single player campaign your goal is to beat Fairhaven’s 10 most wanted drivers. Each event you complete earns you skill points used to unlock these 10 races. Win the race and take down the car and it’s yours for the keeping. The single player car list is extensive with 41 beasts to unlock and upgrade. Without giving away the most luxurious options you’ll get to take the wheel of Aston Martin’s, Chevrolet’s, Maserati’s, Mclaren’s and Porsche’s. Every car has five different events, pitting you in standard lap races, shaking the cops off your tail or maintaining an average speed over the course of a race. Placing first and second in these events grants you upgrades to your car. These upgrades enable you to customise different parts of your car from the tyres to its body and even the way it uses nitrous.
Choices extend beyond car customisation in Most Wanted to how you tackle each race. Will you minimise crashes, drifting around the traffic as you perfect your driving lines? Or would you prefer to take the more direct approach, smashing cars off the road as your nitrous metre refills? Perhaps to encourage such dare-devilish racing the computer is forgiving if you do screw up.
Often you’ll re-spawn ahead of where you originally crashed at a very generous speed. Because of this you can slip up multiple times in a race and still come out on top. Some may criticise this aspect of the game for making the difficulty too easy but there’s a payoff; Criterion have put so many awesome jumps and features into every single race and pulled off consistently excellent track design that you are going to want to test your limits, not play it safe. You have not experienced a true Need for Speed victory until everything that crossed your path lies in devastation behind you.
Unfortunately all this excitement is marred by its share of gameplay issues. On-screen information tends to block your view of the road in the middle of a race, often causing you to crash into objects blocked by the text window. Then when you do crash, the camera switches to a cinematic angle to give you the best view of the carnage. While some of these crashes are worth watching overall the effect feels jarring because you are reaped of control and forced to be a spectator for up to 10 seconds at a time.
Expect to see a fair share of in-game advertising too. EA, Bioware and Visceral Games billboards scatter the city and are a constant reminder that you’re playing a video game and not exploring an interactive city. Considering the production value of Most Wanted it’s a shame these problems exist as all are very minor issues that constantly pop up and could have been easily fixed or adjusted.
One thing which doesn’t need fixing is the graphics. On a PC Criterion’s latest looks fantastic with environment detail extending into the distance, realistic lighting effects and a final shine of polish that accentuates this is a brand new game. Not too demanding either the game can be maxed out on even a mid-range machine without losing too many frames.
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