After a small hiccup in the shape of The Run, Need for Speed is back with a bang. With Criterion back in charge it was clear from day 1 that the Most Wanted reboot was going to take more cues from Burnout and Hot Pursuit than anywhere else, and that’s exactly what has happened. With the open world style of Burnout coupled with the brutal police presence from Hot Pursuit, Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a fast, dangerous and ultimately great street racer.
Initially things seem to be very closely following Burnout – you’ll start with a single car, then drive around some traffic-filled streets finding races at intersections – do a bit of wheel-spin at one of these locations and the event starts. Sound familiar? Well it should at first, but that’s when things start to change. Instead of every event being open at all times for you to try in any car you choose, each vehicle has a handful of events available to race in. Each event will allow you to win upgrades to the car in question such as nitro boosts, self inflating tyres and a lightweight body. Once won you can assign these to your ride on the fly, so you can be screaming round a course in your slick track tyres then instantly switch to self-inflating ones when you start seeing the police using spike strips. It’s not easy and needs you to dip in the Easydrive menu to swap things (something I suspect was made intentionally fiddly) but it adds a nice element of strategy to your racing.
Unlocking new cars is different too, and instead of getting them by winning a certain number of events you just need to find them out and about. There are over 40 cars to find, and once you spot a rotating badge hovering in the distance it’s simply a case of pulling up along side it and it’s yours to use whenever you choose. This takes some of the reward away from the racing, but does mean you can get hold of some pretty funky vehicles without actually being too good at the game. That’s not all though; every now and then you’ll have racked up enough points to be able to take on one of the Most Wanted racers – beat them in a one-on-one race and you’ll have the opportunity to hunt them down and take them down in order to win their car. It’s an idea swiped straight from Burnout Paradise, but it gives you a bit more work to do if you’re going to add that car to your collection.
The Autolog is back in full force, tracking everything you do whether it’s the speed you’re going as you pass a speed camera or the distance you travel as you smash through one of the numerous billboards dotted around the place. In the case of the speed cameras you’re instantly shown a league table of you and your friends, giving you an instant smugness or immediate annoyance, depending on the result. Billboards are equally adept at rubbing your nose in it, with the profile picture of your highest scoring friend plastered on it as you burst through it at speed. As you’d expect you also get compared before and after each event, pushing that “one more try…” feeling home with some considerable force. This does also lead to some frustrations, and players of Hot Pursuit will know just how agonising it can be to run a perfect race, only to have a moment of indecision and end up ploughing head-first into an oncoming Fiat Punto. You’ll get to know where the restart option is, that’s for sure.
But, like previous Criterion titles, the biggest fun is to be had online. Taking inspiration from Burnout’s online objectives, Most Wanted lets you play as a group of up to 8 racers, bombing around the city in races and various other events which have you trying to rack up near-missed, certain amounts of drifting and a range of other challenges. The actual races themselves are good fun, and there’s a certain sick satisfaction in putting in a few decent corners before shoving your opponent off the road into a nearby shop window. Lag was minimal too, which is pretty ideal when the game is moving at the pace it is.
And yet despite the great racing and awesome multiplayer capabilities, Most Wanted never seems to quite feel as gripping as Burnout or Hot Pursuit. Maybe it’s the slight disappointment of there being no option to play as a cop, as you can in Hot Pursuit. Maybe it’s the fact that so many cars are instantly available and there isn’t a massive amount to work towards. Or maybe it’s the lack of the old favourite takedown-cam which used to cut away to show you the smash you’d just caused by hammering your rival into a brick wall. Whatever it is, I haven’t found myself quite as drawn back in the same way that Paradise always managed.
Don’t be mistaken, Most Wanted is a brilliant racer and will fully reward anyone who takes a punt on it. Get a few friends and you’ll lose track of the hours as they fly by, hidden by the sheer amount to do online. Even offline it’ll take a fair while to upgrade all of the cars, win all of the Most Wanted vehicles and top the Most Wanted league table. This is certainly enough to realise that Criterion are the kings of road-based racers, and if they can support this like they did with Burnout’s extra content, it could eventually turn out to be the phenomenal title it very nearly became.
Reviewed on PS3