Need for Speed™ Most Wanted
Need for Speed: Most Wanted was originally released in 2005 and while some rose-tinted glasses are always involved with games that old, it was one of the better entries in the series. The cheesy storyline with FMV actors was strangely compelling and, at least initially, the police chases were quite thrilling. Unfortunately, the only thing that this version of Most Wanted has in common with the original game is the name.
Most Wanted is an open-world racing game developed by Criterion Games that is set in the city of Fairhaven, and not Rockport, which was the location of the original game. Criterion also did away with the whole storyline, so instead players are told that there are 10 “Most Wanted” racers that must be beaten to become number one. Players are then dropped into the city without any further fanfare and told to get on with the task of accumulating enough “Speed Points” to move up the Most Wanted list. The lack of story, user interface, and open-world setting means that Most Wanted has much more in common with Burnout Paradise than any Need for Speed title. To make matters worse, it also feels inferior to Burnout Paradise in almost every way apart from the visuals.
The vehicle selection, which consists of cars from the likes of Audi, Alfa Romeo, BMW, Ford, Lamborghini, and others are all unlocked from the start. The only catch is that players must find the “JackSpots” that are scattered around the city to gain access to new cars. Once players are behind the steering wheel they can take on different events to unlock new upgrades for the car, such as nitrous, off-road tires, a reinforced chassis, and so on. With the large selection of cars on offer, this might sound like there are plenty of races and events, but sadly this is not the case. Instead, a lot of the races are exactly the same for many cars and upgrades do not carry over so you have to do them all again if you want the parts and Speed Points. In addition, the events themselves range from simple point to point sprint races or circuit-based races along the same routes. Some variation comes in the form of Speed Runs, which is basically sprint races where you try and keep your average speed as high as possible, and ambush races, where you must evade the police as quickly as possible. Once enough Speed Points have been accumulated players can then challenge a Most Wanted racer and earn their car. It’s all very simple, straightforward and after a while, very tedious.
In an attempt to keep players interested in the open-world setting of the game Criterion returned to the destructible billboards and fences found in Burnout Paradise. The problem is that Fairhaven is the most generic, bland-looking city that driving around feels more like a chore than an enjoyable experience. Burnout Paradise at least had the option to start a new race at virtually every intersection or take part in crash events, but none of these are available in Most Wanted. Instead, players have to dodge the idiotic traffic and stay away from the police as any infraction can result in a lengthy chase that is as boring as it is pointless. The police cars in this game are simply head seeking missiles on wheels that will stop at nothing to ram into you as hard as possible, no matter who or what they hit in the process. Occasionally they will employ roadblocks or throw down spike strips, but anyone looking for the exciting chases of Hot Pursuit is out of luck. We found that the easiest way to avoid wasting time with the police is to simply get caught, which comes with no other penalty than losing the Speed Points you might have accumulated during the pursuit. The police also sometimes show up during races, but once again they are more of a nuisance than a threat.
While playing Most Wanted it is hard to shake the feeling that the single-player mode was simply tacked on as an afterthought and that Criterion spent most of their time working on the multi-player. Here cars are unlocked by gaining levels with mods awarded for doing well or driving specific cars. However, even multiplayer is best reserved for friends as the public games appear to consist mostly of players roaming around aimlessly or trying to crash into you the whole time. This is not exactly encouraging as the whole point of the multiplayer mode is cooperation, which is something severely lacking in public games.
From a visual standpoint, Most Wanted is not a bad looking game, although it is clear that the PC was not the leading platform. There’s not a whole lot of options to change, but being able to set the VFX detail level, ambient occlusion level, and geometry detail does allow players with decent hardware to boost the visuals. Supersampling of up to 4X is also available and things like motion blur and shadow levels can be tweaked. The rain-slicked roads of Fairhaven look nice, but we would be hard-pressed to remember any landmarks apart from the odd sculpture or unique building in the game. The abundance of blinding sunlight, clouds of dust, and showers or spark also seem to indicate that Criterion wants to hide the blandness of the city. One thing that they are clearly very proud of is the crashes, which are not only very frequent but comes with unskippable cut-scenes. The first few times your car gets rammed by the police or hit one of the numerous obstacles in the game is entertaining, but when it happens three times in a row and you have to sit through everything each time, it begins to wear a bit thin. The animations that are shown before each race are also extremely bizarre, but luckily these can be skipped.
The audio is the usual fare for a Need for Speed title, so expect tracks by the likes of Skrillex, The Chemical Brothers, Muse, Green Day, and others. These sound decent enough the first few times, but eventually, you will turn them down in favor of your own music. The car sounds are also serviceable and crashes sound exactly as you would expect. There’s some repetitive police chatter thrown in the mix too as well as an announcer who sounds like she was borrowed from Burnout Paradise. The controls feel a lot like Burnout and playing the game with a gamepad is highly recommended. The cars feel like they have a lot of weight to them and they are very easy to drift, but the handling is far from realistic. Thanks to rubber-banding it is also possible to crash multiple times in a race and still finish in the first place if you can nail the last few turns perfectly. It’s also worth mentioning that the races are all checkpoint based, so you don’t have the freedom to take your own path to the finish line as in Burnout Paradise.
Overall, Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a hard game to recommend to either fans of the franchise or Burnout fans. It feels like a game that is trying to straddle both franchises but just ends up as a bland mix of the two. Driving around the city is boring and the excitement of spotting a new car dampened when you drive up to it and discover that you need to purchase some overpriced DLC to actually get it. It’s rather telling that EA is also selling a “Time Saver” pack for real money that marks the location of every car on the map and provides access to all the cars immediately in multiplayer. The original Most Wanted was far from perfect, but it certainly felt like less of a cash-grab than this game. Racing fans with plenty of like-minded friends might enjoy the multiplayer mode, but there are far better titles available for a decent single-player experience.
- OS: Windows Vista (Service Pack 2 and all available windows updates) 32-bit
- Processor: 2 GHz Dual Core (Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHZ or Althon X2 2.7 GHz)
- Memory: 2 GB RAM
- Graphics: DirectX 10.1 compatible with 512 MB RAM (ATI RADEON 3000, 4000, 5000 OR 6000 series, with ATI RADEON 3870 or higher performance)
- Storage: 20 GB available space
- Sound Card: DirectX compatible
- OS: Windows 7 (Service Pack 1 and all available windows updates) 64-bit
- Processor: Quad-Core CPU
- Memory: 4 GB RAM
- Graphics: DirectX 11 compatible with 1024 MB RAM (NVIDIA GEFORCE GTX 560 or ATI RADEON 6950)
- Storage: 20 GB available space
- Sound Card: DirectX compatible