Score: 9 out of 10
The best thing about Need for Speed Most Wanted is the fact that Criterion has focused it squarely on racing. This may sound redundant for a driving game, but it is surprising how many driving games end up with lots of distracting things that just take you away from the driving. There’s very little in Need for Speed Most Wanted other than the actual driving. Unlike some of the game simulations out there which feel way too heavily laden with non-race detail you won’t need a course in mechanical engineering.
The game plays out in Fairhaven, a sprawling city with lots of varying terrain to drive. The detail to be found in this city is spectacular and you can really get lost simply driving around marvelling at your surroundings. A big part of the gameplay is the discovery of exotic luxury cars scattered around the vibrant Fairview and it’s this living world that turns the hunt into a pleasure.
The interface has been ingeniously integrated in that your D-pad now allows you to quickly access the standard menus without actually leaving the driving experience. You can quickly choose races or events and the Easydrive “GPS” will plot your route without trouble. The menu interface is an area of this game that I really think a lot of game developers can learn from. Gamers have come a long way and I think we need to start seeing a lot more titles introduce the “no pause screen” thinking. Good job Criterion.
The openness of the environment does not end with the city. What I really enjoyed was the fact that if you’re willing to go looking for the cars then they’re yours to drive. Gone are the overly complex unlock trees where you could drive yourself crazy with frustration trying to unlock a cool car. There are some cars that will remain slightly out of reach until you complete certain challenges, but the majority of vehicles are right there from the start. You’ve just got to find them.
Speaking of the impressive collection of cars that await you: the varying drive dynamics are instantly felt and immediately engaging. Somehow Most Wanted allows you to really feel the differences between cars and what that translates to for the player, is wanting to find more, more, more.
As you play through the events, and assuming that you complete them, you will receive upgrades for your vehicles. Of course this will seriously upgrade their performance and force you to think about which performance options are best for certain events.
As we are told early in the game, you can earn “Speed Points” by smashing through billboards are crashing through certain gates. I particularly like the billboard smashing and was incredibly satisfied to see that my Xbox profile avatar ended up on the billboards that I destroyed. You can also expect to see the profile pics of your online friends too as they smash their way through billboards across the city.
Showing us profile images of our friends is only one of the ways the game keeps us informed. The more friends the more updates. There are lots of things to hear about including how fast your friends go through speed cameras and of course their records in events.
All in all Need for Speed Most Wanted is a terrific game with the focus in just the right place. The heart of any racing game is the actual racing and for once we have a racing game that goes straight to the heart.
Available on: Xbox 360, PS3, PC, iPhone, PS Vita, Wii U