It’s not often we see a complete remake like this instead of a sequel to continue a series, but since car racing doesn’t exactly focus on story, perhaps Criterion Games had the the right idea just calling it Need For Speed: Most Wanted, the same as the original 2005 game, though what’s under the hood couldn’t be more different.
It is a world that presents itself as a contemporary city where car racers rule the roost and the police try to stop them. The most infamous of these racers populate the top 10 most wanted list, which you intend to climb by winning races, doing challenges, and finally taking on these racers themselves. The world can feel like a precursor to the world of Wall-E at times though, with so many EA billboards, the other generic ones seem to blend together, and you’re left with the company’s logo everywhere you look.
The good news there is your goal is to smash them. Billboards and security gates often go hand in hand, leading to a hidden area with a ramp to get enough air, and they both add to your score total which puts you ever closer to the most wanted list. Running speed cameras and avoiding police will also help bump that score up when you’re not racing. I have to admit the world looks beautiful though.
The graphics are top notch but the details leave something to be desired. Specifically, I want my car to show some damage when I slam into another racer. Unless you slam hard enough to set off a “crash” screen though, don’t hold your breath as that’s the only time the game will add damage to your car in a race. I would’ve loved to slam into my opponent’s rear and break his tail lights. With graphics this good, the lack of real time damage seems like an oversight.
This is a game about cars though, and Need For Speed: Most Wanted carries an impressive roster of them, as would be expected. Perhaps the most interesting development is Criterion’s “open” design where you can drive any car you want, right away, you just have to find them in the open world at “jack spots” to hop in and drive away. There is a downside to this though, upgrades are not shared between cars though, so every time you switch cars you’ll find yourself redoing some easy starter races to unlock the parts needed for higher level competition.
I have to stop here on cars a moment though on a more sour note, because of a loss of something dear to me. Car customization, for some reason, has been forsaken in this title. Yes you can swap out different kinds of parts inside your car, but gone are the days when players could customize the aesthetics of their rides. Even picking a color is a hassle, and more random luck than anything when you ride through a mechanic for repairs, the game just picks one for you.
Speaking of customization and choice, all of what players do have is contained within the new EasyDrive system. It’s a system of quick menus that allows drivers to swap parts, find friends and races with just a few clicks. Personally I enjoyed the recommend feature which suggests races and challenges, and tempts you to go after beating your friends by displaying their scores as well, if you’re connected to the console’s network and actually have friends.
The social aspect is important because like most games, there’s only so much driving and running from the cops you can do before things start to get a bit dull. EasyDrive does a good job of helping set up multiplayer races and keeping things going. If a friend got clocked by a speed camera at a higher speed than you, go try and beat it. You’ll get some points, and bragging rights because Need For Speed: Most Wanted will help make sure they see you’re better.
Keeping the game interesting is good, because for all but the most hardened race fans or those with a lot of racing friends, the luster will begin to fade quickly. Most people do enjoy a story to tie the races together, a protagonist that has a reason to be climbing the ladder of the most wanted. Sadly, Need For Speed: Most Wanted has none of these things. The game casually dumps you on the highway in your first car, gives a short driving tutorial, and then lets you out to play in the sandbox.
Don’t get me wrong, the sandbox is nice, but soon an even more eerie realization set in. I was cruising around in my BMW M3 Coupe, because I loved the looks of it, winning races, and my score was going up steadily. At every loading screen the game would remind me of how far I was from most wanted though, and that’s when it hit me. I would have to use other cars. To get the points you need to make it to the top, drivers will have to set aside those favorite cars, and drive every one they find, repeating the less exciting easy races to get the basic gear, then tackling the real challenges.
The AI doesn’t make things too easy on you though, and I found it to be one of the unsung heroes of this title. The other racers can nearly match human skill, or at least mine, and will not only react to the course and what you’re doing differently each time, but actively work to hinder you as well. The police AI are determined and won’t give you up easily, which is one of the few times in this game where you’ll actually feel like the title has something to do with the gameplay.
It’s worth mentioning as well that in my playtime in the game I couldn’t find one single bug. In these days when console games can get patches too, the bar has been lowered, and games these days so often are released with bugs left. Criterion did a good job of testing the game before shipping. I really shouldn’t have to even mention that, much less compliment it, but hey that’s the world we live in right now.
Overall Need For Speed: Most Wanted offers a very concise and usually entertaining racing package. The game feels like it was trimmed down though, without a driving campaign story or in-depth car customization. I can’t help but wonder if the desire to put it on the PlayStation Vita handheld and it’s limitations had anything to do with it, or if the game was intentionally kept small to focus on the core gameplay elements. What’s present is certainly good, but it leaves you wanting for more, and not in a good way.
I would recommend this game only for the hardcore racing fan who seeks a challenge, or someone with a core of friends that enjoy racing games and can take full advantage of the social aspects. For the casual race fan or someone who prefers singleplayer, there probably just isn’t enough original content and story to keep a player invested in the game over time. That being said, if you get a kick out of racing challenges with your friends, Need For Speed: Most Wanted may be just the thing for you, though I can’t help but wish the Most Wanted meant a little more.