Need for Speed Most Wanted
Need for Speed: Most Wanted is about the driving. Following a short cutscene, we are fastened snugly behind the wheel of a car and are let loose in the open world of Fairhaven. Then there is only driving.
The street racing circuits of Fairhaven flow together brilliantly and prompt aggressive, high-speed driving. The city is a fusion of popular American destinations mixed together in the most mechanically viable way. It’s a resounding example of good track design and is as good of a setting as Criterion have made. Fairhaven is altogether tighter and more efficiently designed than any prior open world racing title and this razor sharp focus excuses the dreary industrial feel.
The biggest new change in Most Wanted is the ability to jump into other cars from jack spots. Every car – apart from the Most Wanted ten which are earned in street races – is available to drive once found in the environment. This provides a simple way for players to switch vehicles on-the-fly without breaking the always-in-car immersion. There is no apologetic story in Most Wanted. There are only thin premises for driving and none involve Razor Callahan.
There is a new slide-in menu called ‘easy drive’, allowing menu information to be accessed while driving. This is a very tidy and accessible solution that makes it painless to swap between found cars, trigger new races, and so on. Accompanying this are the popular Autolog features first introduced in Hot Pursuit, which are arguably the single most innovative feature in racing games this generation. Autolog 2.0 expands on the original promise and brings in further persistent stat tracking and on-the-fly comparisons. It’s all very smart.
The single player races are lacking the same attention to detail. Each car has five available races and corresponding rewards based on placing. These allow some moderate customization (track or off-road tires, nitro, etc.) After winning enough of them, you’ll rise up the ranks and be able to take on the ten Most Wanted cars. This quickly gives way to a dull grind; in large part because every car’s available from the start and it doesn’t feel like there’s any gradual progression. Instead it’s a repetition of the same tiered progression. Single player is also rife with cops breathing down your neck and like most open world games, Most Wanted never entirely figures out how to make evading the cops interesting. It produces the feeling of a more active city but that’s the only thing that really happens in a dynamic way and it feels like a cop-out.
Multiplayer’s a different beast. It’s freeform and makes for a good casual time. There are a variety of objectives that really highlight the environment’s best traits and there’s a sense of spontaneity about it. Because you’re always empowered to drive, there’s no stopping someone from darting ahead at the starting line or never showing up at the meet up and holding everyone else back till their spawned in. Most Wanted doesn’t take itself so seriously and understands racing games of its ilk aren’t targeting the competitive scene. Nevertheless, it sports hugely replayable multiplayer for all of the same reasons as Burnout Paradise and also takes some choice influences from Battlefield with squad races and other online elements.
Most Wanted succeeds because it is all about the driving and the driving is excellent. It’s Burnout with a name that will sell. And that’s a pretty good thing.