After the disappointment of Need for Speed: The Run, Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a brilliant and ballistic return for EA’s flagship racing series. You’d expect nothing less coming from Criterium, the studio behind Hot Pursuit and the Burnout games.
In fact, Most Wanted is a racing game for people who don’t usually buy racing games. You aren’t punished for deviating from a perfect racetrack or for missing any of the crucial markers.
Most Wanted actually encourages deviation. You’ll explore backroads and rooftops, beaches and factories. You’ll break the speed limit, ram police cars into oncoming traffic, and jump over unfinished bridges and you’ll be rewarded for it too!
Need for Speed: Most Wanted is an impeccably well-made game. Its detail is quite extraordinary and the production values are frequently astonishing. It’s the accumulation of these little touches that makes Most Wanted such a stunning and accomplished game. But time and care have also been invested in planning the streets of Fairhaven.
At first, the city seems limited, a little seedy and urban, but over the course of the game you’ll explore its hidden depths and see sights you never knew existed, from underground tunnels to power plants and airplane graveyards. The whole experience is wonderfully continuous.
When the race ends, it doesn’t reset the world; the action seamlessly continues on. If you are being chased by the police at the end of your last race, they’ll still be on your tail when it’s over. This experience is further enhanced by EasyDrive, which enables you to access every aspect of the game, from races to cars, without ever taking you away from the tarmac.
The aim of the game is to become the city’s best street racer. To achieve this, you need to rack up speed points by winning races, setting up speed cameras, and evading the cops. Crucially, speed points give you an edge by allowing you to modify your cars. The same mods are available to each car, but you have to start from scratch every time. While this is slightly repetitive, the varieties of the races make up for it.
One of the best things about Most Wanted is that its 41 cars are available to drive from the start, from the mundane to the highly-desirable. You just have to find them. Each car has five races of varying difficulty open to it, and they are fairly varied, too: From straight-forward circuit races to speed runs, which require you to maintain a ludicrously high speed while avoiding traffic.
Most races are complicated by the presence of Fairhaven’s cops. They’ll do everything they can to stop the race by ramming you off the road, dropping spike strips in your path, and blocking entire intersections. Over time, you’ll come to know the streets of Fairhaven, along with its back alleys--a big part of this is antagonizing and losing the boys in blue, whether that’s by venturing into one of the city’s more restricted areas or by waiting patiently in the shadows like Ryan Gosling in “Drive”.
Once you’ve acquired a respectable amount of speed points, you’ll be able to take on the city’s toughest racers one by one. Ten racers stand between you and your ultimate goal of becoming Fairhaven’s Most Wanted. These racers drive the most desirable cars in the game, from concept designs to the absurdly fast authentic autos. If you can beat them, you can take their wheels. Game play is really accessible. The car’s handling is wonderfully realistic.
Once you have mastered drifting around corners and how to use assets effectively, you’ll find yourself competitive in most races. It’s incredibly fast and frantic; you’ll crash into other cars in order to engineer the misfortune of those around you; you’ll discover shortcuts on the fly that help you take the lead, and when it all comes together, as it frequently does, it’s genuinely exciting.
Although EasyDrive theoretically allows you to modify your car on the fly, when traveling at such high speeds, it’s really not all that practical. If you know an off-road section is coming up, switching to EasyDrive just isn’t worth the risk of crashing into a wall. It’s also a shame that certain cars are restricted to certain races. These are minor gripes that don’t take the sheen away from what is an otherwise flawless game.
In multiplayer, Fairhaven will be populated by your friends. You can choose to drive together or take part in set lists, which combine events in different ways, from team races to seeing who can make the biggest jump.
It’s all underpinned by the game’s same free-flowing nature. Even if multiplayer isn’t your thing, you’ll constantly be compared with your friends to see who is currently the Most Wanted. You’ll be judged on so many different aspects. It’s all done subtly and effectively, and it introduces a really smart and unobtrusive concept into the landscape around you.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted is one of the sport games that create speed and rewards aggression and risk-taking. Equally, it has a healthy disregard for reality and laws of physics. You’ll jump improbable distances, drift around corners with shredded tires, and drive away from the most spectacular crashes free from harm. But the execution of Most Wanted is so good, you’ll find quality in almost every aspect; the visuals, the gameplay, the design. It’s all combined to make Most Wanted one of this year’s most exhilarating experiences.