Need For Speed: Most Wanted Review
It might sound weird, but booting up Need For Speed: Most Wanted manages to evoke a surprising amount of excitement: the glare of the sun, the crescendo of sound effects, the clean, empty UI and, best of all, the roar of a supercar bursting into action.
It’s a celebration, a welcome home party for one as you get ready to tear up Fairhaven in what could well be the best racer of this generation. And that isn’t a claim we make lightly.
But considering that Criterion’s Burnout Paradise still remains one of the best arcade racers out there, it’s hardly surprising that the same team – now in control of EA’s behemoth Need For Speed franchise – has managed to craft such a superlative racer.
It is the culmination of everything the team has worked towards this generation, fine-tuning every element it knows so well to make something very special indeed.
Take the open world, for example. Criterion has learnt from its mistakes with Burnout Paradise – most notably the initial lack of a retry function – and built upon it.
Fairhaven isn’t a grid-based template like Paradise City, with roads that feel like roads and make for far more interesting races.
Frostbite 2.0 is better than ever. This is one of the best looking game’s this year.
The result is something more akin to Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit: a selection of winding streets, fast-paced highways and carefully situated crossroads.
Fairhaven is much more detailed however, and though many of the areas share similarities with Burnout Paradise – the abandoned airfield, the industrial district, the docks – the level of fidelity means you can instantly tell when one area blends into the next.
The distinct flavours of Need For Speed: Most Wanted’s open world helps craft your racing, too, mind-mapping the best cornering techniques for each section or intuitively identifying the right jump or shortcut to shave off a few seconds.
The driving mechanics themselves are considerably improved, too. Gone are the ‘slippy’ controls of Burnout Paradise in favour of something more like Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit.
There’s a resistance to the vehicle at first but you soon learn when to use this to your advantage, helping to recognise when to simply drift around a long corner or when the handbrake needs to be applied.
Each car you use comes with its own style, too. A heavier muscle car – like the Corvette – will need to be coaxed around bends, while quicker and nimbler vehicles like the TVR Tesla can dominate corners but are likely to get crushed just by looking at a passing car.
Finding new vehicles dotted around is an excellent reward for exploration.
This doesn’t mean there’s a ‘best’ car, however. Need For Speed: Most Wanted enables you to pick any car you want from the very start of the game, providing you can find it.
Jack Spots litter the city of Fairhaven and once found that car is forever yours. Initially each vehicle lacks anything in the way of options, but beat the first race and you’ll unlock nitrous boost.
Additional unlocks can be acquired by completing and winning later races, with each car having five possible events to take part in.
It might seem limiting at first, but this is actually a clever decision on Criterion’s part: though you may encounter the same race with a different vehicle, you’ll never be completely overwhelmed and nor will you find yourself unnecessarily over equipped for any particular event.
There’s more to it, as well. As you explore the city in between race events and new cars are found, the temptation to switch out for something new is impossible to resist.
Even more difficult is the allure of other collectables in the form of billboards, security gates and speed cameras.
The former two most will remember from Burnout Paradise, and are as moreish as ever; each new billboard or gate you destroy leads to a search for more, adamant that where there’s one there must be others. You’ll likely spend as much of your time exploring the city as you will racing.
Dirt tyres can be equipped for more off-road based racing, though admittedly these events are rarer.
It’s just as well that exploration isn’t hampered in any way, then: everything from car swapping, race events or even vehicle customisation is accessible from a single button press.
The EasyDrive menu is the evolution of AutoLog, tracking friends’ achievements as well as ensuring every option you might need is quickly and easily accessible without ever leaving the game.
Which leaves the cops as the only criticism to be found in Need For Speed: Most Wanted. During events their inclusion matters as they work to put both you and your fellow street racers out of commission.
Roadblocks, PIT manoeuvres and spike strips are dangers you’ll often need to overcome in certain events – and that’s fine, fun even – but it’s in the open world exploration where this becomes something of a nuisance.
Sometimes you just want to get on with it, and the police hounding your every move while you try to escape can become bothersome.
Honestly, though, that’s a minor concern in the grand scheme of things. Need For Speed: Most Wanted is Criterion’s magnum opus, blending the absorbing sense of speed from Burnout Paradise with some utterly fantastic visuals, super slick racing mechanics and a better-than-ever AutoLog system.
Version Tested: PS3