The original Most Wanted was my favorite Need for Speed so there were some pretty high expectations from me when EA gave the keys to Criterion for a reboot of the series. Criterion has a great track record with arcade style racers, notable for the Burnout series and most recently Need for Speed Hot Pursuit. With their latest endeavor Criterion have created a beautiful game. Set in fictional Fairhaven, the city is realized in breath taking detail through the Frostbite 2 engine. Water pools realistically into small puddles on cracked asphalt and the spray off the tires impacts the screen. Going into a tunnel will lower the music and the GPS will get some static noise on the display. Exiting the tunnel results in a blinding bloom effect that quickly fades. The cars are also given lots of love with pretty models. All the minute details, down to the lettering on the brake calipers are rendered. A pretty game is nothing if it doesn’t play well and with Need for Speed Most Wanted I think it is safe to say the folks at Criterion have the formula of fun locked in. What they’ve done is strip the concept of Most Wanted down to its very core and infused it with the essence of Burnout Paradise. There’s no cumbersome story or elaborate customization menus to get in the way of what is most important, being the most wanted.
The single player is simple, explore Fairhaven, run from the police and rack up “speed points” to unlock races against Fairhaven’s most wanted street racers. In order to accrue these speed points, there are races to win, billboards to smash, security gates to break and speed cameras to trigger. Practically everything you do in Fairhaven is tracked via the “Autolog” to compare your accomplishments against your friends. Every billboard, every speed camera has a leaderboard or “Speed Wall” for jump distance and speed recorded respectively. Race events unlock mods to customize your car. Mods will alter and enhance the vehicle’s stats. Off-road tires will boost off-road performance but lower the amount of grip on the road. A reinforced chassis will strengthen the car making it tougher to take down and wreck but hinder acceleration due to the added weight. There are five events featured for each vehicle and each event has two mods available. The cars themselves are acquired quite simply as well. You want to be the most wanted driver? You’re probably going to boost some cars. “Jackspots” are littered throughout Fairhaven. If there’s a car you want, find it, drive up to it and take it. All of the cars in the game are available from the jump except for the cars used by the most wanted drivers. Once a most wanted driver is defeated they have to be taken down in order to unlock their car. Those jackspots are then immediately added to the game map so they can be easily referenced while driving around the city.
Since Most Wanted is completely open-world, Fairhaven is fully accessible so a lot of time can be spent just driving around exploring and evading the police. There are jackspots tucked away in parking structures and all sorts of fun things scattered throughout Fairhaven. If this sounds very familiar, you’re not wrong. I mentioned earlier that the game was very much like Burnout Paradise and that is even more evident in the “Easy Drive” user interface, accessed by pressing right on the D-pad. With Easy Drive there is no safe-house or garage that has to be visited; cars can be switched and customized on the fly. Autolog recommendations and race events can all be activated from Easy Drive and although each race event has to be driven to, once completed they can be relaunched and retried via the Easy Drive menu. Easy Drive provides access to all of the game’s features including multiplayer.
Public and private games are initiated with the push of just a few buttons and entering players into online “Freedrive.” Freedrive provides free roaming access to Fairhaven just like single player and provides access to “Speedlists”. Speedlists are a mix of cooperative challenges, objective based competitions and races. Players are ranked on a live leaderboard tracking all speedpoints accrued through each event. Custom speedlists can be created to play with friends so you can compile favorite events to share and compete in. My biggest problem with multiplayer is the obvious lack of police units. Although Most Wanted’s single player predicates itself on interaction with the police it is curiously missing in multiplayer. One of the things I was most looking forward to was engaging the police with friends and running from them as we tore up the city. It’s entirely possible something like this will be added via DLC but it’s a major disappointment that this was not included in the game from the start.
Along with my multiplayer misgivings, there are other small problems that I’ve experienced playing on PlayStation 3. There are issues sometimes with the system streaming information off the disc to keep up with the action on screen. I’ve had the game freeze while the PS3 tries to load and render the world after making a random turn. Mind you, this doesn’t happen often but it does happen. I’ve also heard of reports of the game freezing during multiplayer after speedlists for “concours” players which is the game’s “prestige” mode. It’s possible that these issues can be ironed out with patches as the developers sort out the various bugs reported and they don’t take away much from the overall experience. Most Wanted is a blast to play. I recommend it to any fan of racing games. The hot pursuits are some of the most thrilling parts of the game once the police start throwing special units like SUV or SWAT vehicle road blocks. The interceptor units will also throw out spike strips to try and slow you down. There’s also so much to do in Fairhaven that it is easy to drop over 30 hours into it. There are single player and multiplayer milestones that will grant access to customized license plates to show off to your friends online when you take them down.