Need for Speed: Most Wanted Review
The Good: Burnout Paradise gets a spiritual successor.
The Bad: Handling quirks and texture pop-in are problematic.
The Ugly: Menus are sometimes illogically laid-out.
Criterion’s second reboot in the Need for Speed (NFS) series delivers the same kind of classic Burnout gameplay that Hot Pursuit (HP) did, but with the added benefit of Burnout Paradise’s (BP) open-world (and some confusion since it’s got the same title of a game released during this generation). Your goal is to race around the city of Fairhaven and take out the ten most wanted racers, while having to avoid the cops just like HP. The most-wanted racers drive some incredible cars, and you’ll have to beat them in one-on-one races to add them to your collection.
Beyond filling your garage with their rides, you can find some scattered around Fairhaven. The key is to look for cars with GIANT MANUFACTURER LOGOS ABOVE THEM, which are larger than some buildings in the game, so they’re relatively easy to spot. You’ll want to find as many cars as possible because each vehicle has its own set of races attached to it. There’s usually one easy race, a pair of medium ones, and a few hard ones for each vehicle. Winning, or just getting what would be a podium finish not only nets you XP (or SP as its known here), which gives you the points needed to face the most wanted races, but can also grant you extras like car upgrades and boost. Using those upgrades is integral to actually winning the most-wanted cars in the game.
Beating any race is much easier said than done since this is the toughest racing game I’ve played in a long time. The AI is out to win and like Burnout, will smash you into anything to wipe you out. It’s easy to go from 2nd to 8th due to one takedown. Now if you’re new to this kind of gameplay, it can be quite discouraging, but for Burnout veterans it’s just a matter of getting back into your groove and smashing them into everything to win.
The core campaign has a clear set of goals with the most wanted list, and then gives you a ton of races to compete in to gain the points and experience needed to top that list. A variety of race types are available, including point-to-point and track-based ones. Thankfully, unlike Burnout Paradise, a clear path is set for point-to-point races to prevent you from getting lost. There are also point-to-point speed runs that challenge you by forcing you to maintain a high average speed. However, the game’s greatest challenges come in the form of anything involving the cops. The regular ambushes where it’s just you versus them aren’t too tough, but trying to complete a race where you’re battling your rival racers AND them will test your patience.
Thankfully, unlike BP, Most Wanted ships with the ability to restart a race after you fail. Just escaping the cops on your own is hard since they gang up on you, and your only course of action is to take them out. Hopefully you can do it quickly or else you’re in for a long, drawn out war as the popos bring out roadblocks and keep throwing cars at you with the hope of taking you down and busting you. If you’re lucky, they’ll go after the lead racer instead of you if you don’t focus on taking them down. Cop chases are incredibly difficult, but also very rewarding. Beating my first one gave me a huge rush, as did toppling my first race involving them since the odds are seemingly stacked against you, and unlike a lot of racing games, you don’t get difficulty settings – you just get an ass-kicking until you gain the skills needed to avoid one.
Like BP, online integration is fairly seamless with the offline game. Just hit right on the D-pad to open up your menu and choose multi-player. You’re also able to use the Kinect to verbally command the game to do what you want, which I would recommend if you’ve got the capability given some of the iffy menu design choices. Putting “no” above “yes” on a menu, and keeping it as the default for something like retrying a stage is just weird. The menus can also take a while to load, although there are at least some cool innovations that make it worth the time. I love being able to swap cars on the fly using a menu, and being able to upgrade them like that seems like something that always should have been done.
I love that both the offline and online portions keep the same open-world racing experience, but execute it in totally different ways. Online, you’ve got regular races where it’s you against everyone, team races where you either get a partner, or it turns into a 2-on-1 affair, and a slew of secondary things including long jump and drifting competitions. I love just how different the online game is while still retaining some of what makes the offline game fun. If you want to have time to explore, you can do so between races, but in doing so, you’ll sacrifice being able to get some easy SP by beating others to the starting point. There are also some little things worth noting that help ensure a fun experience. Beyond the lack of slowdown or lag even with eight players, I love that the game shifts hosts in case a race’s original host leaves. This is tremendous because it means that as long as the race is able to conclude, your time wasn’t wasted. Now if that host leaves, and you wind up being the only person left, it ends, but that’s far better and more tolerable than the race just ending out of nowhere due to one person leaving.
No matter if you’re playing off- or online, you’re going to have a fun time. In-between races, you can just drive around Fairhaven and explore the world. It might not sound exciting in theory, but in execution, it results in you finding a slew of sweet rides and doing crazy jumps off of high things through signs or driving along circular statues. There are a lot of thrills to be had outside of the racing action, and it winds up helping that aspect of things be better than Burning Paradise. Autolog is back and is done better here than any NFS since Hot Pursuit. It’s felt tacked on in other games, like Shift 2 and NFS: The Run, but here, you get constant updates about Autolog just like in HP and it feels incredibly rewarding to beat your friends’ times, and then you’ve got the back and forth war to top each other. It’s something that is theoretically minor, but adds a lot of replay value – even for something minor like passing a speed camera. There’s still a thrill in beating someone there by a few miles per hour, or by a half-second in a race.
While the overall package is great, there are some issues that hold it back. The biggest one to me is the occasional stuttering in the gameplay that disrupts the flow of the game. It’s not a huge deal because it only lasts a fraction of a second, but is definitely noticeable and is something I hope they fix with a patch. I also don’t like how some cars feel like they have forces pushing them against the direction you want to turn. It’s really annoying to try and turn a car only to see that it takes forever to turn how you want it to and then have to swap through a variety of rides before finding one that turns the way you’d like it. It may be realistic to have all of the cars control differently, but in this instance it comes at the expense of having fun. Thankfully, it doesn’t take too long to unlock cars that turn with ease, so this isn’t a huge problem for very long if you don’t mind leaving a troublesome car’s races unfinished to some degree.
NFS: Most Wanted is a stunning game to look at. The day to night cycle has a lot of variety to it, and as a result, you’ll see things like the sun going through every building and baking your car while it bathes the screen. Conversely, night driving is impressive in a different way. There, it’s more about being blown away by how the lights shine off the cars and how little light you really have to navigate the tracks compared to daylight racing. However, it’s done in such a way that it can still be done – you just need to pay attention to where you are and as long as you do that, you’ll be fine. The visuals are mostly great, but there is some texture pop-in that can be jarring. It’s not terrible, and could very well be fixed with a patch later, but right now, it’s a minor issue.
Another very minor issue lies in the form of repetitious comments from the cops. Thankfully, that’s the only problem I have with the audio. The soundtrack is outstanding and manages to feel modern with some dubstep and rock without seeming like it will wind up being a time capsule of the period and feel ‘old’ in a few years. I love the remixed version of “Baba O Riley” that’s included, and the other stuff like the Chemical Brothers, Bassnectar, and Skrillex tracks add a lot of energy to the game. It’s not my favorite racing soundtrack ever, but it’s a blast to listen to in the game, had me seeking out the aforementioned mix of The Who’s classic, and is worlds better than the licensed stuff that used to plague the Burnout series – like Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” being included in multiple languages. The sound effects are also realistic, and the whir of sirens combined with lights blaring and car engines roaring around you leads to an adrenaline rush that will either drive you into first place or cause you to crumble.
Need For Speed: Most Wanted is a challenging game with some handling issues that bug me at times and framerate problems that bug me every time they crop up. However, the overall greatness of the game easily overshadows those comparably small complaints. It’s great to have another Burnout-style game from EA, especially one that takes Burnout Paradise’s format and improves upon it. Both the offline and online portions offer a lot of thrills that are unique to each. The highly-detailed graphics are mostly a feast for the eyes and the soundtrack is diverse enough that it should please everyone playing to at least some degree. If you enjoyed any Burnout game or 2010’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, you’ll love this.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Electronic Arts
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of Need for Speed: Most Wanted provided by Electronic Arts.