Review: Need for Speed Most Wanted amps up the action, as well as the difficulty
Ever since Criterion has started making Need for Speed games, starting with Hot Pursuit, it's undeniable that they've gotten much better, both in terms of quality and gameplay. Much like Hot Pursuit was a reimagining of sorts, Most Wanted is doing pretty much the same. It is strange, given that the original Most Wanted is not that old, but being one of the more popular Need for Speed games on next-gen consoles, it makes sense that Criterion would want to relate their next game to a fan favorite.
Criterion's Most Wanted doesn't deal with overly cheesy cinematics, filled with terrible acting. It focuses on pure adrenaline, and pure, unadulterated racing. So much so, that it even cuts down on menu navigations, but I'll get to that later.
You're still on a mission to become the number one racer, by systematically taking down the top 10, one by one. To get the opportunity to go one on one with these speed demons, you'll need to get enough points you accumulate through a myriad of races.
A lot of what Need for Speed is, has been streamlined. Everything from customization to acquiring cars has been completely redesigned to keep you on the road, and out of menus. This is thanks to the game's new Easydrive feature. With a tap of the d-pad (or Kinect voice command) you'll be able to find new races, customize your car loadout, or even change to a different car you've previously acquired.
Speaking of acquiring cars, gone are the days of saving up that cool million for that speedy Lamborghini. Cars are now found, meaning as you're cruising around the open streets, you'll come across a Maseratti, Lamborghini or any other car just sitting there, waiting to be claimed. What this means is that you can literally drive a Lamborghini 10 minutes into the game, which is pretty awesome. Switching to a different car however doesn't switch it on the fly, rather you get sent back to the spot where you originally found the car.
Most Wanted is what you'd get when taking the authentic licensed cars from Need for Speed, and crossing it with the intense racing and open world of Burnout Paradise. This is clearly evident as you'll be tasked to crash through EA billboards, smash down gates, and execute risky jumps. During races, you're encouraged to take down your opponents 'Burnout' style, whether smashing them into a wall, or some oncoming traffic. Either way, seeing your opponents eat dirt is always satisfying, though unlike Burnout, you don't get to actually watch your prey get smashed into thousands of pieces. What's more, every time you beat one of the most wanted racers, in true Burnout fashion, you have to 'shut them down', which is awesome.
The attention to detail and speed is evident from the get go. Each race begins with a stylish intro which borderlines artsy at times, but it shows that Criterion has put just as much work into the aesthetics, as they have into the actual racing. The fact that you never start a race from a stand still, and instead immediately thrust into high speed just goes to show that Criterion always wants you to be in the action, without much downtime.
I was initially very pleased with the swift and easy upgrade mechanics, until I saw that they're exactly the same for each car. Every time you step into a new car, you'll have new challenges and races to complete that are unique to that vehicle. Winning all of them, which range from Easy to Hard will unlock various modifications and upgrades, such as nitrous, reinforced chassis, and longer or shorter gears shifts. While the streamlining is great, it's just a little weak that you're essentially working to get the same exact upgrades for each car. Given that there isn't any body customization either, really limits the possibility of distinguishing your car from the competition. I understand the need to streamline, but I can't deny the fact that part of my past Need for Speed experiences that I fondly remember are outfitting it with different spoilers and body kits.
Of course you won't get around the city in high speed without upsetting the Police. Cop chases are once again at the forefront in Most Wanted. Whether you're drifting around a corner at 100mph, or in a heated race, the cops are always watching, and always more than willing to take you out. To say they're ruthless would be an understatement. They'll ram you into traffic, drop spikes, and barricade themselves across the road, giving you very little reaction time if you want to stay in one piece. While it's fun to escape the cops the first few times around, it does get tiring after a while, especially when your Heat level grows above 3. When a cop chase is going on for over 20 minutes, with no signs of stopping, that's when things stop getting fun, and just plain old irritating.
Tying the whole experience together are the social mechanics that made the previous Need for Speed games that much better. The improved Autolog 2.0 will once again keep you in the loop with how your friends are doing, and how you're faring against their best times, highest jumps, smashed billboards, etc. You'll also be given various recommendations based on other people's progress and best times, giving you the chance to earn some extra Speed Points. Hopping online is also completely painless. There are no lobbies whatsoever, just connect and race. There is constantly something to do with ongoing challenges, meaning all you have to do is drive to the meet up and race.
Perhaps Most Wanted's most unappealing feature is its crazy difficulty. I consider myself a seasoned racer, and I had trouble finishing races, or dodging cops. Though the biggest culprit behind this is undoubtedly rubberbanding. It doesn't matter whether you smash your opponent into oncoming traffic, ram them so they end up driving through an exit lane, or even have them crash into a police barricade, they magically appear right behind you regardless. I understand the need to keep the races intense and action packed, but if I'm good enough to take my enemies out with some skilled driving, I want to be rewarded for that, and not punished by some incredibly unfair rubberbanding.
When it's all said and done, Criterion did an incredible job at reimagining Need for Speed Most Wanted. It's action packed, streamlined and best of all, doesn't feature any over the top, terrible acting that the other Need for Speed games are known for. It's not easy by any means, so casual racing fans beware. If you like a bit of Burnout in your Need for Speed cup of tea, then Most Wanted should be high on your wishlist.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]