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Need for Speed: Most Wanted review

Criterion’s Need for Speed: Most Wanted has taught me very valuable life lesson: I should never be allowed behind the wheel of a supercar.

I spent the first 30 minutes of Need For Speed: Most Wanted committing war crimes against beautiful pieces of machine art. I’m not really a driving game kind of person, so concepts like the mythical “drifting” aren’t in my wheelhouse. I can certainly appreciate good game design, though, and after about an hour of my failed attempt to remake Twisted Metal, I finally got the hang of the controls.

Once you get your feet under you, Most Wanted becomes a lesson in one thing: speed. Go fast, or go home. There really is no room for anything else.

NFSMW Porsche 610x342 Need for Speed: Most Wanted review

Find a car, drive the car, keep the car. It’s that simple.

The Most Wanted

The first thing you learn about Need for Speed: Most Wanted is that there’s hardly any story behind the action (or getting in the way of it, depending on your point of view). You’re a driver in the sprawling city of Fairvhaven, racing to take on and take down the top 10 Most Wanted drivers in the city. To do this, you need to earn enough Speed Points to prove you’re fast enough to face them. There are dozens of ways to earn Speed Points: find new cars hidden throughout the city, complete races to unlock custom mods, blow past speed cameras at higher and higher MPH, crash through billboards, and face down the cops that are an ever-present threat to illegal racers in Fairhaven.

The freedom to rack up Speed Points in the open world of Fairhaven is also a great way for drivers to figure out how to take on the Most Wanted list and get the mods to aid in fulfilling that task. I quickly discovered the Tesla Roadster was the most nimble and easy-to-control car for me, so I set about beating all its races to unlock every mod available, such as better transmissions, tires, body styles and chassis, and the all-important nitrous boost. By the time I started tracking down the Most Wanted drivers, I had a mean, fast machine and I knew how to use it.

A handy feature is the Autolog, which can be accessed through the D-pad at any time to switch out mods on the fly, find races , or even swap between cars you’ve found. While it’s nice to not have to hit pause every time you wanted to change tires, it’s also very dangerous, because you’re still driving while the menu’s open. Take your eyes off the road for too long, and you’ll likely wreck out. It is, however, also designed to work with Kinect audio commands, if you really want to memorize all the necessary commands to access it without using your hands.

NFSMW chase 610x342 Need for Speed: Most Wanted review

Construction sites, abandoned airfields and the docks all make great places for a police chase.

The Gang’s All Here

Autolog also has another, more insidious purpose: to let you know when anyone on your Friends list beats your time on a race, speed on a camera, or distance on a jump. Every event you compete in is compared to your Friends list, and you can earn more Speed Points by knocking your friends down a peg and beating their best time. Their Autolog will ping, letting them know they’ve been bested and will have to dethrone you in order to get more Speed Points.

All this emphasis on friendly competition in the single-player game isn’t bad, but what happens when you move things over to multiplayer? From my experience: get ready to crash. A lot.

Multiplayer sessions require a host to set up races for a group of random or invited participants. Once they do, the drivers all hustle to the meetup point (you earn Speed Points for being the first there), and once everyone’s in position the race will start to count down. It’s a bit jarring, because it’s a rolling start with no setup – if you’re facing the wrong direction or just wrecked out when the race is about to start, you better whip around and get moving because the leaders already have a huge head start. Once the event is finished, players can try to wreck others in order to boost their Speed Point totals.

What that means is that most multiplayer sessions devolve into everyone crashing into each other in a high-priced demolition derby, with short breaks in between to race against each other, before the crashing begins again. Once you’ve played a bit of multiplayer you’ll get the hang of the rolling starts and be able to keep up, but it can seem unfair at first.

NFSMW roadblock 610x342 Need for Speed: Most Wanted review

Roadblocks aren’t invincible; many have gaps, or you can try to plow through where their bumpers meet.

The Fuzz

The biggest threat to drivers in Fairhaven isn’t illegal racers, though; it’s the cops. Get on the wrong side of the Fairhaven PD, and they will throw out all sorts of resources to bust you such as tank-like SUVs, ultra-fast highway units that drop spike strips, and tons of pursuit vehicles. The game advises you to “change direction, break line-of-sight” and other maneuvers, but I found it annoyingly difficult to shake even a handful of cops by any means other than just outrunning them.

Even more annoying are Ambush races, where the cops start right on top of you and you have to lose them as soon as possible. The trouble here is that if even a single cop comes across you after you’ve lost pursuit and start cooling off “wanted levels,” the chase is back on and the timer keeps going. More than once I’ve been a few seconds away from ending a pursuit with a first-place time only to have a cop pop up around a corner.

Dealing with the cops during other races isn’t as bad, as they mostly act as a form of interference while you chase down the other drivers. You can restart the race at any time without having to lose them, unlike any other time outside of a race when you have to lose them before doing something like jumping to another vehicle or jumping to another race location.

NFSMW airtime 610x342 Need for Speed: Most Wanted review

Wiiiiiiiild blue yonder time…

The Bottom Line

Despite “not being a driving person,” I’ve worked my way up half the Most Wanted list, spent more time playing this than any of the other games on my list for this week, and recently spent several minutes just non-stop drifting in one big circle around a monument in the Fairhaven Park to unlock Pro Track Tires on several cars.

While the multiplayer could use some work to make the races a little easier to “get” for new drivers, the single player experience is certainly fun, varied, shiny, and above all… fast.

Unless you’re trying to do Most Wanted races in the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor. Then you’re just doing it wrong.

  • Release Date: October 30th (North America), November 2nd (EU), November 1 (AUS)
  • Genre: Racing
  • Platform: Xbox 360 , PS3, PC
  • Developers: Criterion Studios
  • Publisher: EA
  • ESRB Rating: T for Teen
  • MSRP: $59.99

Our Score: 4/5

Reviewer’s note: An Xbox 360 copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review

About Russell Jones

By day, Russell works in local TV news. By night, he plays and writes about video games for VGW and his personal blog, The Gentleman Gamer. An avid RPG fan, Russell can also be found plotting the demise of adventurers from behind a Dungeon Master's screen. He can be heard weekly on the "Geek In Review" podcast (GiRPodcast.podomatic.com).

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