Need for Speed Most Wanted Review
Need for Speed: Most Wanted (NFS:MW) is a familiar sounding game for the Xbox 360 because a game with the same title was released around 2005. However this 2012 version is not a sequel nor reinterpretation, but rather a new racing game from Criterion Games. Criterion Games had created several Burnout games and even a previous Need for Speed game called Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit in 2010. So what is Criterion Games bringing to the table with their newest release? Read on and find out.
OK, I'm not going to keep you in suspense for long regarding the last question. Criterion has created a solid racer that is mostly arcade with just a touch of simulation. However the two biggest additions would have to be the social integration and the open world-ness of the game, both of which I'll cover later.
NFS:MW takes place in the fictional city of Fairhaven which is a varied city with mountains, industrial complexes, narrow downtown streets, and much more. While it is a virtual combination of many cities Criterion has said that parts of the city were inspired after American cities like Boston. Regardless, it's a pretty good sized area to be racing around in and has enough variety to keep you from going over the same roads again and again. For example, I had played the game for many hours until I found an old abandoned airfield. The layout allows for times when you can just straight out gun it and others when you will need to be doing a lot of braking to avoid running off a curvy road. There are no areas that are off limits right from the start allowing you the freedom to venture anywhere you would like.
Freedom and flexibility are a common theme in NFS:MW. Besides the openness of the city you also can pretty much drive any car right from the beginning. OK, that's not 100% true and I don't want to imply that within the first five minutes of the game you have access to all 40 something, give or take a couple, cars. What it does mean is that if you can find the car you can drive the car. Cars are spread out all over the city and all you need to do is drive up next to one and you "unlock" it. The cars are usually a little hidden but they have a big spinning logo of the make of the car above it so it's not like they are very well hidden. In about eight hours of playing I had found all but one of the cars...well, that is except for the 10 Most Wanted cars. You see the basic idea of the single player game, there's not a story in the normal sense, is that Fairhaven is ruled by 10 street racers and these cars are the only cars that are actually "locked" in the game. In order to unlock one of these 10 cars you have to earn the right to race for it and then, naturally, win that race. You earn this right by gathering Speed Points (SP), which is NFS:MW speak for XP. Each of the ten Most Wanted cars has a threshold for the number of Speed Points needed in order to challenge.
SP can be gain in several different ways ranging from finishing in the top 3 in a race to causing a police car to crash to just about any and everything else. Finishing high in a race will also unlock modifications for the car you just raced in. The modifications are fairly straightforward including tires, nitrous, aerodynamic body part, and such. These mods are useful, to be sure, and you certainly will need them, but don't expect to be spending hours tweaking your ride.
I mentioned the open world of NFS:MW as something interesting. Another nice touch in the game is the amount of social interaction. I generally like single player games more than multiplayer mainly because I don't like to be bothered by others while playing. It's a bit strange, no doubt, but it's who I am. That said, Criterion has added some interesting social-like interactions to the game that I found really interesting because it wasn't very intrusive but still allowed for some competition between your friends. I'll give a couple of examples. The first is smashing through billboards. Fairhaven is littered with billboards that are just itching for you to smash through. Once you fly through one of these it records how much distance you got before landing. It then compares your distance with the distance your friends got for the exact same billboard. Whoever has the longest distance gets their faced plastered on that billboard across all their friends games. So you could be driving along and suddenly you see a billboard with your best friends face on it. That means they have the longest distance through that billboard. Naturally you will need to try and break that distance so you will replace their image with your own. It's actually a lot of fun. Another example is the speed cameras that are placed throughout Fairhaven. Each one keeps track of the fastest time recorded by you and your friends. Just trying to keep yourself at the top of these cameras speeds for bragging right can be quite addicting.
One area that I found irritating was the police chases but then again, who doesn't find the police bothersome when you're street racing? There are some races where the police chase is part of the event. While that is fine I suppose, the real thing that baked my noodle was that after the race was over the police were still chasing me. I just won a hard fought race and for my reward I get the entire Fairhaven police force tossing spike strips at me while setting up roadblocks? I just want to relax afterwards. It's not a huge deal, but it ticked me off enough times where I needed to mention it.
Graphically the game is great looking. There might be better looking racing games, but they aren't that much better. There can be a little bit of slowdown once you get a lot of the aforementioned police chasing after you but that's about the only time. Naturally a game based on speed had better give you a good sense of it and Criterion certainly does here. They also did well with creating different weather effects and a day/night cycle. There was a certain race that I was running where the sun was just in the perfect location to cause all sorts of trouble in blinding me to where it was pretty difficult to see the road ahead in one spot. I crashed several times solely because I was blinded. However, don't take that as a negative as I found it pretty neat that environmental factors could have that much of an effect. I drove around for a few minutes until the sun was lower and was then able to proceed with the race with no problem.
NFS:MW has a very good multiplayer component with a wide variety of races. For the most part I played with random people instead of friends I knew. What I learned is that randoms really just want to crash into you more than actually race. So if possible, race with friends. I should probably go into more detail on the multiplayer, but it's really nothing that hasn't happened before. It's done well and I would think that most people will enjoy the multiplayer part more than the single player. I just don't happen to be one of those but I can certainly tell that it's well done. I did like how some events were team-based instead of the traditional individual. For example, in one your team has to get the most distance through the air. I found it satisfying to pull off a huge jump that helped put my team in the lead.
Final Rating: 88%. Need for Speed: Most Wanted has every right to be on your most wanted wish list this Christmas.