Criterion is pretty much known as the king of arcade racers these days. Having delivered two excellent racers in the past few years in Burnout Paradise and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, not to mention the likes of Burnout 3: Takedown and Burnout Revenge before them, if you find out an arcade racer is being developed by Criterion, as a rule, you get excited.
A lot of people were excited about Most Wanted too. Not because it was being developed by Criterion- well, that too- but because it bore the name of the excellent 2005 title, which has to be one of the best racers to have ever been created. But does the all new Most Wanted impress as much as the 2005 classic did, or does it crash and burn?
Well, it’s not exactly the thrilling joyride that 2005’s Most Wanted was, but Criterion’s Most Wanted is a damn good game, one of the best racers to have been released in the past few years, and the most enjoyable game you will play all year. It’s just pure, unadulterated fun.
While it shares a few features with its namesake, Need for Speed: Most Wanted is actually more of a mixture of Burnout Paradise and the 2010’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Using the free-roaming, open world mechanics of Burnout Paradise and the speed and chases of Hot Pursuit, Most Wanted delivers an excellent experience that, surprisingly, manages to have its own identity rather than just being a rehash.
The game begins with a brief tutorial, and after that, everything is open to you. No part of Fair Haven, the city of Most Wanted, is inaccessible, no car is locked, no types of races you’re restricted from entering. Right from the very first minute, you’re free to do whatever you want. And this is where Most Wanted’s strength lies.
The city of Fair Haven is marvelously developed. It’s no Liberty City or San Andreas, but no one expects it to be. It’s the perfect setting for a game like Most Wanted, which is all about speed. Ramps and shortcuts are scattered throughout the city for you to make crazy stunt jumps and enter slipways and alleys as you turn around a corner at 140 miles per hour. Billboards shadow the skyline of the city, so you can smash through them given you get enough air and speed. The police has blocked away several areas of the city, so you can drive through the barricades. Or you can just rush past speed cameras throughout the city and record your highest speed at those points and try to beat those scores later.
People who played Paradise will be familiar with this. But one thing that Most Wanted has that Paradise didn’t is an incredible sense of speed. Driving your cars is a pleasure in itself, and turning around corners at perfectly high speeds with just a tap of the breaks will leave you gasping with giddy joy. And as you zip through a highway at 150 miles per hour, break through a police barricade and jump off a ramp at the end of an alleyway to crash through a billboard to land 200 yards away, back on the highway below, all without breaking your speed, you won’t be able to help but marvel at the heart-in-your-throat thrills that this game hits you with time and time again.
As you drive around Fair Haven, you will also come across a number of vehicles. It’s a fairly small number- a little over 40- especially when you compare it with the likes of Forza, or even Most Wanted’s own predecessors. But the cars themselves are awesome. There’s all manners of autos in Most Wanted. Right from boxy, everyday cars you might see at the signal on the street next to your apartment to the flashy, gorgeous in-your-face Bugatti Veyron. 11 of those vehicles are locked away, as they belong to the “most wanted” drivers of the city, who you must take down so you can become the new most wanted racer of Fair Haven, but other than those, all cars are available and drive-able from the get go. And this is where Most Wanted strikes gold.
For people who just want to focus on driving awesome cars and not worry about going through a series of races in relatively boring cars to unlock them, Most Wanted is a must-buy. You just find a car in the city, hit a button, and switch- you’re driving the new car. No, you don’t have to complete races or tasks to unlock the big guns. You can drive a Land Rover or a Lamborghini right from the moment the game kicks off.
But that doesn’t mean the racing part isn’t fun. No, sir. Racing in Most Wanted is joyous and thrilling. Each car in the game has a specific number of events you can tackle. Each event unlocks parts that you can fit into the car depending on which position you finished the race. This is actually a bit of a letdown, since after five or six races, a car basically becomes redundant. It’s been maxed out, it’s been upgraded to its fullest, and there’s no new races for you to drive in. Having to use cars that haven’t been upgraded time and again feels like the game is resetting all your hard work, even though you can jump back into your fully customized cars whenever you want. Unlocking the same parts again and again also gets a little repetitive.
However, the fact that the racing you have to do in order to unlock those upgrades is so much fun more than makes up for that. Right from chase missions where you have to escape the police in as little time as you can to the normal races, Most Wanted will always be providing you with speedy thrills. The track design is excellent, and the fact that the police often tries to stop you from finishing your races (or finishing them in one piece, at least) adds even more to the intensity. Trying to outrun an opponent driving at almost 200 miles per hour in a narrow alleyway with a huge ramp at the end of it while the police tries to take you down and sets up road blocks up ahead is the most exciting action you will get in a racing game all year.
And yes, the police chases are great too. They never exceed the quality of the chases in Hot Pursuit, or even get close to them. There’s no EMP blasts for any of the two parties, you can’t deploy your own spike strips, the police doesn’t call in helicopters and it just isn’t as intense as it was in the 2010 game. But, well, Hot Pursuit focused on the chases more than anything. Most Wanted doesn’t and still does them damn well.
But all of this would fall apart if the open world of Most Wanted wasn’t well designed. And Fair Haven, as mentioned a little while ago, is impeccably designed. While at first it might just seem like normal roads and highways in different locales, later on you discover other parts of the city- the railway tracks, the sewers, the wreckage yards, the mountains, the storage areas and so much more. And all of them are as much fun to drive on/in as the bridges and expressways are.
Not to mention the fact that the world of Most Wanted brings in more replay value to the game than any customization or intense story ever would. Trying to beat your high speed recorded in the speed cameras throughout the city, or trying to break through all the barriers and fences, or trying to find all jackspots are things that you will actually feel like doing. Jumping through billboards is strangely addictive, and the fact that every time one of your Xbox Live/PlayStation Network friends breaks your record of covering the most distance in air after smashing through the billboards gets his face stuck on the most wanted billboards that take their place makes it even more so. This also adds a twinge of competitiveness to the proceedings, which is always better.
Not just that, you will find yourself simply roaming around Fair Haven for most of the part, either messing with the cops, or finding places or areas you haven’t visited, or trying to perform crazy stunt jumps. It’s just too addictive, too enjoyable, and you’ll spend more time just roaming around than trying to actually get things done. Hell, I found myself actually driving to the beginning of races than just warping there. Because driving in Fair Haven is just that awesome.
The online aspect of the game, however, is just a big mess. Sure, driving with or against your friends online is a blast, but the catch is that you cannot perform in individual races. You have to participate in “speedlists” which are collections of five events each, and you have to play through all five of them. This makes playing online more of a chore. Thankfully, you don’t have to sit through this chore, it’s entirely skip-able.
The challenges are also a hit and miss. Some are fun and innovative, like trying to time near misses with the traffic with your buddies, and some are just plain weird, like trying to get up to the top of a roof and parking your car there. In a game that is all about speed and velocity, carefully driving around edges and getting to a roof just so you can stand there and wait for the other players to do the same feels a bit off. Not to mention dull.
The technical side of Most Wanted, however, is more or less spotless. The visuals are beautiful, the cars are wonderfully constructed and so is the city. Neat effects like tires popping if you drift too much or clouds of dust suspended around you while you drive in the dirt add to the immersion and make you feel as if you truly are in a world that revolves around nothing but cars. Effects such as blinding sunlight illuminating the screen right as you come out of a tunnel, or specks of water or dirt on your screen as you drive on different terrains or the damage your car takes will certainly leave you awed.
There are a few technical glitches, though- often, the game doesn’t read your impact for a few seconds, and you just sit in your car, crashed against the wall, unable to move, until seconds later the game realizes you’ve crashed and shows you the customary scene. The police chatter often gets interrupted in the middle or overlaid with some other chatter. There are a few other instances where the technical side of the game falters, but all of that is very minor and doesn’t mar the overall experience.
The soundtrack and sound design are almost equally as good. The roar of the engines of the thuds of your vehicle against the road as you crash are spot on, and the tracklist consists of some pretty good songs.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted is an incredible game. It has some minor flaws that all come together to stop it from being the perfect game it has the potential to be, but it’s still a damn good racer, and the best you will play all year- maybe even the entire generation.
Don’t miss this one.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Sense of speed is amazing; Great visuals; Thrilling, exciting racing; Police chases are a blast; Jumping through billboards is far too addictive; Performing stunts is very enjoyable; Driving is a joy; Excellent world design
A few technical glitches here and there; Multiplayer is a mess; Not enough cars; A little repetitive at times