Need for Speed: Most Wanted – Review

Platform | Release Date
360, PS3, Wii, PC | June 26, 2012
Developed by Criterion Games
Published by Electronic Arts

The Pitch:

To be Most Wanted, you’ll need to outrun the cops, outdrive your friends, and outsmart your rivals. With a relentless police force gunning to take you down, you’ll need to make split second decisions. Use the open world to your advantage to find hiding spots, hit jumps and earn new vehicles to keep you one step ahead. In true Criterion Games fashion, your friends are at the heart of your experience. In an open world with no menus or lobbies, you’ll be able to instantly challenge your friends and prove your driving skill in a variety of seamless multiplayer events. Your rivals will do everything they can to stop you from getting to the top. In this world, there can only be one Most Wanted.

I wanted Need for Speed: Most Wanted to be a great game. All signs pointed at a spiritual successor to Criterion’s Burnout Paradise. While the individual pieces may still exist and have been improved upon, the entire package doesn’t feel as compelling. Putting direct comparisons aside, there are several pieces that make me long for a Hot Pursuit 2 as opposed to what was released with Most Wanted.

Let’s start off with the modified Chameleon engine which has been used previously with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. While presenting some decently complex, albeit monochromatic visuals, having a Criterion game run at 30 frames per second or less is pitiful. With the added complexity, vision is often being obscured by spray from the constantly wet streets (even though it’s never raining) or a plethora of street signs getting knocked over. I would have preferred a smooth driving experience to one with a lot of debris.

Single player consists of a series of ten cars you’ve got to beat in one-on-one races. They’ve been designated as the most wanted cars in the fictional city of Fairhaven by the police… or something. There aren’t any personalities behind these cars; just a set of cars that you’ll be able to race when you get enough experience points. Experience can be earned by winning races, performing specific actions, or taking part in online events. Thank God you can earn experience online because if you’re buying for the single player… well, don’t bother. With ridiculous rubber-band AI, it’s a virtual checklist with no panache.

To gain new vehicles, you’ll have to defeat the ten most wanted or find random cars located in “Jack” locations throughout the city. As you use each vehicle in either multiplayer or single player, you’ll earn modifications to improve your ride. I spent some time getting the Porsche Carrera built up to a nice point in solo play but after finishing a handful of races, was forced to use a new car to gain more experience. There’s a definite cap in that regard, though each vehicle has their own set of challenges. If you want to switch to a previously used car, you’ll need to use the omnipresent menu system to teleport back to the same spot you originally got it.

The menu system is bound to the d-pad and also allows you to set waypoints for events, as well as recommend that you take on specific scores set by people on your friends list with Autolog. Where the introduction of Autolog felt like a revolution in Hot Pursuit, it’s inclusion here is just an expected feature with seemingly little improvement. You’re still setting scores against friends for a wide manner of things like high speed cameras, total race times, and longest jumps.

With a name like Most Wanted, you’d think there would be a rather large focus on law enforcement, but the police are garbage and add next to nothing to the experience. If you fly past them while just driving around the city, they’ll give chase until you shake them off or they arrest you. Getting arrested means you get teleported back to a “Jack” location and… that’s it. There’s no penalty, just an “oh no! you got busted, dude!”. They’ll also join in on certain events to make completion a bit more challenging. What’s worse is that cops are a single player only device and aren’t used at all in multiplayer (bullshit)!

Despite missing cops however, online is where Most Wanted truly shines. Up to eight players can get together and take part in a series of 5 events, each with their specific settings. You race to a meet-up point, perform a random event, then move onto the next in fairly quick succession. Events can range from a simple point-to-point race, to jumping over your online partners multiple times, to trying to get the longest drift around a circular dock. The randomness and constant competition – even in the cooperative events – keeps everything feeling fresh and massively entertaining.

Often when completing your part in a multiplayer event, Most Wanted will tell you to do something else while waiting for the other players. After finishing up a drift event and getting eliminated by another car, a modifier called “Instant Takedown” was enabled allowing me to simply tap into an opponent and wreck them. Similarly, when finishing a race, you’re prodded to earn more points by turning around and racing head first into the other oncoming racers. These little touches help add to the overall chaotic and enjoyable nature of Multiplayer.

Unfortunately, unless you know what the kind of event is, you’re forced to read a scrolling ticker on the bottom of the screen. Everyone who knows what’s up is racing off to do what they need to do, while you’re just reading a scroll and feeling helpless. In fact, I find HUD choices a fairly constant issue throughout. Either something obscures your vision, or a message pops up to the left of your screen that you didn’t catch, or the useful elements don’t come back on-screen quick enough.

This happens constantly in multiplayer after finishing an event. The HUD goes away, you’re told the outcome, then it feels like an eternity before coming back. You’re constantly left wondering if your system is being slower than everyone else’s or is broken. I’ve even had it not come back at all. I couldn’t pause, quit multiplayer, or get to the next event.

I could harp more about how the audio mix is kind of jacked, or how the crashes are weak, but these annoyances all just add up to disappointment in a game that forgot most of the ‘fun’ in its functionality. It all works, but Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a lifeless husk of a racing game. Don’t even think about buying for its single player.

About Jim Hunter

Jim Hunter is Editor-in-Chief of Splitkick and host of the Rocket Jump podcast. He has three kids and is constantly cranky, but also highly awesome.
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