This is one of the more controversial titles in the franchise lately that seems to be a title fans either love or hate. This installment was developed by the British developer studio Criterion, known for their Burnout racing titles. Perhaps the reason that I was able to go into this game with an open mind is because I am not that familiar with the Burnout titles myself, but this game has drawn heavy comparisons to Burnout Paradise. While I honestly cannot comment on the comparisons because I have not played Paradise, I can say that if the comparisons are true, then it is now on my list of racers to pick up because I enjoy the hell out of Need For Speed: Most Wanted.
The story is typical street racing game fare. You're the new kid on the block, and your goal is to become the most notorious player on the underground street racing circuit. To do that, you will have to speed your way through an array of challenges that range from winning races, to outrunning a horde of cops. Or doing both at the same time. Completing challenges unlocks Most Wanted races, which are essentially boss battles. In Most Wanted races, you and the Most Wanted driver are racing from one end of the map to another while being pursued vigorously by the boys in blue. But of course just beating the driver isn't enough, for if you defeat him in the race, your reward is having to ram him into submission to shut him down and earn his ride. All while running from the cops.
One can't really talk about this game without talking about the police in the game, because they are just about always on your tail. A good portion of races involve you having to dodge and weave around them whilst trying to win the race. There are even "Ambush" challenges where you begin surrounded by police and the goal is to outrun them. And these are the most persistent video game cops I have ever seen. I don't know if the Fairhaven PD patrol unit consists entirely of an army of Robo Cops, but once they get on your ass, shaking them is no easy task.
Throughout the chase you can hear them communicating to each other, which adds a level of enthusiam and novelty, and it also serves as a heads up for obstacles that they're setting up like road blocks and spike strips (they have a hard on for spike trips so you will want the Reinflating Tire Pro mod ASAP). On one hand, having cops chasing you and the other drivers during racing missions adds another layer of challenge and ups the ante to help keep you on your toes. On the other hand, nothing is more frustrating than having a solid lead on the pack, only to be knocked down to 4th place because the cops rammed you into a wall or another car (and if you thought Lakitu took forever to put you back on the course in Mario Kart, just wait until you see the respawn time in this game).
The cops are there to be more of an annoyance than anything though, because you don't really lose anything by being captured (unless of course you are playing a challenge in which you have to get away to win). I kid you not, some pursuits took me as long as half an hour (or more) to get away. And the longer it lasts, the more the "Heat Level" increases. The Heat Level basically determines how much effort they put in and how many cars they dispatch to go after you.
Graphically, the game is nothing short of breathtaking. Most Wanted is an open world game that has you driving around a very large sandbox. I could not help but be impressed at how I was able to drive around at breakneck speeds, with alot of traffic, around such a huge map, and not experience any framerate drops and little to no pop-ups. The texture and lighting effects are incredibly well done, and little effects such as cars in front of you kicking up dust and dirt that makes it hard to see when driving in an off-road area, add a layer of realism to the game's environment.
My only gripe in this department is that sometimes during races it was unclear as to where I was supposed to go next, like if I was supposed to merge off the freeway or not, etc. You do have a minimap at the bottom corner of the screen with the path you're supposed to travel highlighted for you but trying to glance at it to decipher the path in the middle of a heated race with alot of traffic to dodge is even harder to do than it looks. Occasionally in some races, a wall of arrows will direct you but not all the time. You have to go from one Checkpoint to another, but sometimes the next Checkpoint is so far away in the distance you are unsure of which road leads to it. So I feel the game could have done a little better job designating the race path's boundaries, but this didn't happen nearly often enough to where it became something that hindered my enjoyment of the game at all.
And now, to talk about the substance. That is, what keeps me coming back to this game. For starters, the speed. The game is fast and I mean very fast. Next, the physics. The physics in this game are perfect to me as a lover of arcade racers. Each car has a real sense of weight to it. The sense of weight not only increases the sense of speed, but it makes turning and drifting just that more satisfying. Which brings me to the another highlight of the game, the controls. The car is controlled using the back shoulder buttons and the left joystick, and on top of me being a fan of that control scheme, the controls in this game are so tight and responsive, yet not too sensitive to where moving the stick a hundreth of a centimeter will send you screeching in that direction. The controls are what I would say perfect and very seldom did I make a mistake that I felt was more the game's fault than mine.So in regards to physics and controls, if Gran Turismo 5 wasn't your thing, I think this title would be more up your alley.
On top of that, EA has managed to give the game a real sense of competition. Everything you do in the game is compared to your friends, and I mean everything. For example, if a friend beats your time on a challenge, you are notified the next time you play that challenge. There are speed cameras all over the city which compares your top speeds to your friends. If a friend goes off a ramp and smashes through a billboard, his avatar will be on the billboard when you approach it in your game if he gets more air on the jump than you did. Little things like that help give the game a sense of community and it is always fun to beat your friends' records.
The car selection also does not disappoint. The game features a variety of licensed, real-world cars. What is interesting though is how you unlock cars. In this game, the cars are all scattered throughout the map. When you find one, you simply drive up to it, "jack it", and it will be unlocked for you to select at anytime through the nifty Autolog feature. Although it is a decidedly bizarre way to unlock cars, it encourages exploration and is easier in the long run. Each car has around 5-7 challenges assigned to it. So basically, the way to find more challenges is to find more cars, though my feelings about this are mixed, since it would be nice if you were able to use your favorite car all the time (but you are allowed to use whatever car you wish that you have unlocked to challenge Most Wanted racers). The only thing players myself included will find a bit disappointing is a lack of customization options for your rides. There are various mods you can equip your cars with to improve performance, but that's pretty much where it ends. There are not really any customizations you can make to the designs of the car, not even the paintjob (instead the color of your car changes randomly everytime you drive through a Garage).
The last thing to discuss is the online mode, which I find doesn't seem to work as well in execution as it may have on paper. The online is open world just as the single player campaign is. You get into a lobby, and after the intermission is over, every player in the lobby must drive to the designated Meet Up point for the match. The match types range from races to team races, to takedown challenges. But it seems like most playlists people make up consist of takedown challenges. However the racing online is fun. Although as weird as it may sound, I think the presence of police who are completely absent in online play, would have made things more interesting. I have not spent a huge amount of time online because I personally just can't seem to get into it, but there are plenty of players who get a kick out of it. Which is ironic because online was my reason for wanting the game as that's what arcade style games like racers and fighters thrive on these days, yet I actually spend the majority of my time with the game in the single player campaign.
Available for PS3, 360, Vita, and more recently Wii U, I think Need For Speed: Most Wanted (2012) should prove to be a real treat for arcade racing fans that will keep you busy for a while with its abundance of content and the online mode, if that's your thing. I eagerly await next month's Rivals.
The Vita Version:
For those who are pondering picking this up for Vita, either because that's your platform of choice or because you would like a portable version to supplement the console version, I got you covered. Having recently picked up the Vita version of the game for the latter reason, I can tell you that you are not getting a severely watered down experience for the handheld version. When it was announced that this game would be on Vita, many had concerns that it would not quite be the same game given the track record of handheld versions of console games. But rest assured, the Vita version is virtually the console version in the palm of your hands. It has the entire open world, as well as every car and every challenge in the console games.
The only thing it does not have available is the DLC content, but all of the in-game content available out of the box for the console version is there. That is primarily why I just decided to edit in this paragraph for the Vita version instead of creating a separate review, because they are identical, and helps prove the Vita's point that handhelds have come a long way and are now capable of providing full console experiences on the go. There has been an ever so slight graphical sacrifice but of course you can't literally expect PS3/360 textures on a handheld, and even with that said the graphics are still amazing on Vita and the game still manages to run at a great framerate throughout. There is significantly less civilian traffic on the streets in the Vita version though, but whether that is good or bad depends on you. Some players say it makes the city feel kind of lifeless but at the same time it makes races much easier to not crash into civilian cars every ten seconds, and there is still enough traffic to dodge and weave around for added fun and challenge.
Also, the multiplayer only supports 4 players per game in this version, but it is still pretty fun. The Vita version's community is abundant enough to where finding matches should be easy because I have had no problem finding matches so far and I usually am in full games. So if you are looking into the Vita version then fear not, it has successfully been ported to the handheld with little compromise.