Need For Speed Most Wanted is a shallow arcade racer that looks fantastic. The fact that there is no story to speak of is sure to put off fans
Criterion Games did a fantastic job with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit; a game that was wonderfully realised and exquisitely re-imagined. Its successful reboot meant that EA put them in charge of doing the same with Most Wanted — no easy task given the fan investment in the original. But tough decisions had to be made: would they stay true to the source material, or would they take ownership of the franchise and deliver something else entirely?
Criterion’s Burnout-inspired formula worked well for Hot Pursuit. The driving and handling, long, winding roads, special abilities and cop chases felt just right. They were able to step in and reinvent the franchise, but doing that with Most Wanted was not going to be easy. Fans, for starters, loved the campy story and those terribly tacky cinematic interludes in the original, and they’re simply nowhere to be found in the reboot. The new Most Wanted is a serious, no-nonsense arcade racer — it would seem that EA have decided that “The Run” will spearhead their racing game-with-narrative product line. But let’s buy the “racing games don’t need story” argument for a second and take a look at what Most Wanted brings to the table.
Cars: Most Wanted is full of real-world vehicles that range from Porsches and experimental vehicles like the Ariel Atom 500 V8 to supercars like the Pagani Huayra and Bugatti Veyron Super Sport. Just don’t expect them to drive or handle like their real-world counterparts (this is an arcade racing game, after all). This is a licensing triumph for EA once again, considering the amount of punishment each of these expensive rides will be put through during your illegal racing career in Most Wanted. Vehicles can either be found parked on the street or can be unlocked by completing Most Wanted events. Each car comes with its own set of car-specific events and rudimentary attributes such as top speed, acceleration, off-road, toughness — all of which can be altered by finishing races. But there’s a catch. None of these new boosts offers an upgrade in absolute terms (with the exception of the first nitrous unit) — there is always a trade-off. Installing off-road tires, for example, improves performance on dirt and gravel but reduces top speed and acceleration. Now, this would be acceptable in a racing simulation. In an arcade racer, I want my ride to be fully juiced up to the point of absurdness after I’ve completed the set of events associated with it.
The goal in Most Wanted is to earn “speed” points which will unlock Most Wanted events in which you have to face off against several tiers of special vehicles. These are head-to-head races where you need to first beat your rival in a race and then take them down Burnout-style to get ownership of the ride. These are probably the only set of exciting races in the whole game — regular events are boring affairs. Races are either too short or too long, and are often followed up by poorly-balanced, pointless cop chases (try outrunning the law in your Range Rover). Short hauls don’t have any margin for error as well — this means that you’ll have to keep replaying races until you either get lucky or have that perfect, flawless race. But hey, it sure looks fantastic thanks to a superb graphics engine that dishes out some of the best visual effects you’ll see in a racing game.
Behind its good looks and fantastic production values, however, lies a shallow racer that often drives off the track. The open-world is more of a counterproductive hindrance, the cop chases are a chore and the races themselves are either ludicrously short or unnecessarily long. The fact that there is no story to speak of is sure to put off fans of the original Most Wanted as well. On the other hand, this is a game that might appeal to the Burnout faithful — a re-skinned, more polished, yet less fun version of Burnout: Paradise, if you will. Need for Speed: Most Wanted is available on PC, X360 and PS3.