The Follow-Up To One Of Racing's Biggest Franchises Is A Thrill-A-Minute Hit



Need For Speed is one of the longest-running and most popular franchises in the history of arcade-style racing titles – actually, you can ditch the qualifier, it's simply one of the biggest automotive video games, period. So, when the newest iteration of the game, Need For Speed: Most Wanted was announced, we knew immediately that we'd have to give it a run.

The new game arrives in the wake of critical praise for Forza Horizon, a challenger for racing-gamer dollars that shares quite a lot with Most Wanted. Both games offer open-world, sandbox-style driving environments for players to explore, both boast a seriously good-looking selection of vehicles, and both offer the ability to casually top 200 miles per hour while looking for stuff to crash into and/or jump over. In other words: The emphasis in both games is on driving fun, rather than a true-to-life racing experience.

Of course, Most Wanted is far more "arcade" in its style of gameplay than even the newly released Forza title. While the team at Criterion has actually done a rather nice job with the driving physics that power this new Need For Speed – steering, braking, acceleration and the like all feel nicely sorted (if not as realistic as can be found in Gran Turismo, for instance), the best parts of the experience all involve crazily acrobatic maneuvers, and reality-defying racing.


The goal of this loosely plotted game is to become the "most wanted" badboy racer in the mythical city of Fairhaven. Aiding you in this quest are some 41 vehicles, all of which can be modified to become more capable handlers and faster overall. None of the cars are particularly difficult to get ahold of, as the Need For Speed team has done away with the longstanding driving game convention of starting off in something slow and earning your way into faster and more expensive metal. Instead, Most Wanted drops you right into the action with a Porsche 911 Carrera S, then asks only that you drive by other available cars (marked on your screen with a giant brand logo hovering above them), stop and then get in the driver's seat. Once you've driven a car, it is accessible to you at any point during play.

Most Wanted is a bit bipolar when it comes to graphical presentation. The details of the cars have been artfully crafted, with each vehicle looking utterly faithful to its real-world counterpart, in just about every state of being that it can achieve throughout play (basically minty new through horribly crashed). Transitions through lightscapes, ambient debris like falling leaves, gravel and water on the road, and other layers of graphical detail around ones speeding vehicle are rendered really nicely. The backgrounds in the game – landscapes, buildings, skies, etc – are less thoughtfully illustrated, however. Especially coming from the sharp and pristine world of Forza Horizon, some of the Need For Speed surroundings just feel thin and two-dimensional, too often.




The tradeoff for this less-than-pristinely-realized environment is that just about every last pixel of it is interactive. Now, "interaction" here often times means a sort of physically impossible punting of sturdy objects by your meteoric vehicle – light poles and mailboxes careen up and over your hood following a high-speed impact – but it also means that there are shortcuts, jumps, and switchbacks to find, just about everywhere you roam. Most Wanted truly is a lot more open than other "open world" games that we've seen before, which leads to some spectacularly addictive racing as well as for evading the ever present law enforcement. Finding a new fence to blow through, or a jump that leads you onto a new highway, can be the difference between winning and losing, or escaping and getting busted.

Finding a new fence to blow through, or a jump that leads you onto a new highway, can be the difference between winning and losing.

The flow and fast pace that is the result of such an open play arena, makes this Need For Speed a game that feels as well-suited to online play with human opponents, as it is a satisfying off-line/solo experience. Integration with Xbox Live seamless; our online sessions were smooth-running and never marred by the glitchiness sometimes associated with fast moving online gaming.

Everything is a race when playing online; even before the actual race begins there's a mad scramble to be the first car to the starting position. Once there, wheel-to-wheel racing (in point-to-point form as well as lap-based) is hugely augmented by challenges of all flavor – hugest jump, longest drift, etc. Better still, one's efforts in online play are integrated into the solo game, too, with billboards announcing new records and challenges from your set of friends on Xbox Live. Frankly, Most Wanted blurs the boundary between the on- and off-line play more than just about any title we've tested.




It is noteworthy, too, that the menu design in the game seems to support both the fast-pace overall, and online gaming. All of the primary game functions are accessible via a menu brought up with you controller's D-pad, and you needn't "back out" of the single-player game to get online. Every race and style of competition in Most Wanted is available by way of one thumb, which makes moving through the action rapid and fuss-free.

We'd be remiss if we didn't call out just how much fun the involvement of Johnny Law adds to the goings on.

We'd be remiss if we didn't call out just how much fun the involvement of Johnny Law adds to the goings on. A Need For Speed calling card for a while now (and notably absent form Forza Horizon), the interspersed chases with the cops, by themselves, almost make the new game a must play. Faster, more clever, and quicker than ever with roadblocks, the police are pretty damned hard to get away from at the mid-tier Heat Level 3, and downright impossible (for your author anyway) at levels higher than that. Playing Smokey and the Bandit on you Xbox just doesn't get old easily.

There are two big downsides to this frenetic, thrill-seeking style of racing, as we see it. One is that the gamer who loves Need For Speed: Most Wanted is really required to be self-directed in the fun. There are no set races to work up to (all cars come complete with a series of events to compete in, per model), and no goals pressing enough that they feel to be driving the action forward. (Again, not having to "win" new cars is part of the culprit here.) The second is simply the relative paucity of vehicles to be found overall. Yes, it's nice that we can drive something like the Koenigsegg Agera R without having to save up our credits for months, but with other heavyweight driving games boasting hundreds of new cars to choose from, less than 50 feels like weak sauce here.



Hardcore racing-simulation gamers will dismiss Need For Speed: Most Wanted out of hand, for too few cars and ridiculously unrealistic play. That's hardly the point. Most everyone else, especially that wide swath of gamers that like the occasional racing title, but aren't huge car geeks, is likely to find Most Wanted to be a riot to pick up and play, with a very easy learning curve and action to spare. It's less of a hybrid than is Forza Horizon, its main competitor, and more accessible to a larger audience because of that. (Even if folks like your author prefer the Forza formula, hands down.) This is arcade racing at its finest and a new high point for the best franchise going in the genre.


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  • 27 Comments
      Lamborrari
      • 2 Years Ago
      Bought this game for PS3. It rocks but I wish it had more cars in single player mode. It has only 41, which is peanuts compared to Forza and Gran Turismo, who *both* include interior views. The game is also laggy and filled with little bugs that can cause my system to crash. It feels rushed in my opinion. I hope I don't have to spend $30 more over my $60 to get more than 75 cars in the game, but hey, it's Electronic Arts so they want to take every dollar they can from you for what others give for free. Multiplayer mode is supposed to include a few more cars, but I have no idea how to obtain them and scour through Need for Speed forums to find answers. Polyphony Digital and Turn 10 spend millions of dollars and many years developing their authentic driving simulators, Criterion rushes a new game in a year that feels like a Burnout game with real-world cars. They did a bang-on job with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010). This feels a little scaled down with more crazy jumps and less drifting, but no cop mode, which makes me sad. The thing that saves this game is the gameplay and the enviroment. Sure, I could have asked for an interior display or at least a dashboard view, but I know I'll spend most of the game looking at the car in 3rd-person anyway. This game goes really fast with lots of airtime and crazy nitrous boosts. It's really fun when you get over the whacked-out physics of it all. The menus are very simplified and make single player gameplay very straightforward and enjoyable. It's a pleasant surprise from the Need for Speed series considering The Run from last year was pretty bad with horrible handling and a completely inadequate single player mode.
        JayP
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Lamborrari
        Thanks for the review. I'ma gonna wait til after Christmas and get it with giftcards. I bought The Run the week of the release for half price. Still, $25 I felt stiffed.
        joe shmoe
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Lamborrari
        "Criterion rushes a new game in a year that feels like a Burnout game with real-world cars" exactly. This game feels rushed and unfinished. It's certainly not worth the 50 or 60 dollars it's selling for.
      joe shmoe
      • 2 Years Ago
      don't let the cut scenes distract you. This game gets boring fast. Repetitive racing
      JayP
      • 2 Years Ago
      I''ve not seen anyone call this Burnout Paradise 2 yet. Until I see it's worth $60 I'll wait a few months and get it on discount. I really wanted this game to be awesome but no one will give it that praise.
        Greg
        • 2 Years Ago
        @JayP
        Need For Speed hasn't been good in a long time. The last NFS I enjoyed was 10 years ago in Hot Pursuit 2.
      VIPER94
      • 2 Years Ago
      The advantages of this game over Forza Horizon: 1. The car sounds are amazing 2. the crash physics and are more accurate (hitting another car head on will not simply dull your speed by 40mph) 3. The cop chases are awesome and creates a very fun cinematic feel. Disadvantages: 1.None of the cars come in black.
        NightFlight
        • 2 Years Ago
        @VIPER94
        This game has no advantages over FH. This is purely an arcade racer for teenage children.
          VIPER94
          • 2 Years Ago
          @NightFlight
          That, my friend, is we're you are wrong. I enjoy simulator race car games very much. Forza is a good game. My biggest problem with it is there's no cops, the crashes are worse than bad, and the exhaust note of the cars are just awful. Though I do enjoy the cockpit view in an open world very much. Need for Speed is for the guy who watches specific movies for the car chases. And who doesn't mind a little bit of sarcastic exaggeration. It's not for immature teenagers, it's for the guy that that still has that hot wheels childish side in him.
          Lachmund
          • 2 Years Ago
          @NightFlight
          and FH isn't?!!!
          VIPER94
          • 2 Years Ago
          @NightFlight
          Where* Sorry, it's autocorrect. It thinks it knows English
          cimjove
          • 2 Years Ago
          @NightFlight
          how can someone whose name is a song from OUTRUN complain about arcade games? do you think 300kmh really is the top speed of every car and drifting is the only way to take turns?
      Timothy Tibbetts
      • 2 Years Ago
      Shorter review: I felt like I had played it before. 60 bucks and 60 minutes later I was bored.
      Dustin Barton
      • 2 Years Ago
      The handling is just terrible. Very clunky and the cars are extremely slow to respond. I'll stick to Burnout Paradise. Those cars reacted to every input instantly, loved it.
      zizixx89
      • 2 Years Ago
      NFSMS is ok but not better than forza horizon but i wish turn 10 would have worked on horizon alone
        Malou H
        • 2 Years Ago
        @zizixx89
        and i wish horizon didnt exist. we dont need 2 games like this.
      Andre Neves
      • 2 Years Ago
      I have no more love for EA. Their greed is unsurpassed.
      michigan
      • 2 Years Ago
      Shilling video games once again
      Peter_G
      • 2 Years Ago
      If I pre-order today, do I get that awesome sound track in the video for free!....... I still miss the destroyable items from the original Most wanted where you could literally drop a giant doughnut on a fleet of pursuing cop cars.
        Vinny68
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Peter_G
        Like all racing games, the first thing you do is go to the Options menu and turn up the sound fx to 100% and turn down the music to 0%. This game is a lot of fun.
      ygrmstr18
      • 2 Years Ago
      I'm actually enjoying this game. It's pretty mindless and just fun. You don't have to over think but is still challenging. The sound effects and graphics are worth it alone. I've never played Forza as I don't own an Xbox so I can't really compare them. Someone earlier mentioned it's like the kid in you with Matchbox cars. Bullseye. The limited car selection isn't a deal breaker for me. You have to find the cars as you progress throughout the open world. It's not like they are lined up and you can just pick one. As you are racing or running from the cops you come across new cars. The cops in this edition seem smarter and harder to evade when you get into the higher levels of heat. In my opinion NFS Under Ground 2 was one of the best. The driving physics and graphics at the time were great. It had a good selection of cars too. It was just plain fun. The Run = fail. Just my 2 cents.
      domingorobusto
      • 2 Years Ago
      NFS: The Run has me super gun shy about the whole franchise. Seriously one of the most attrociously terrible games ever created. Do the gars in this game handle ANYTHING like they did in The Run? Because if they do, run the hell away from this game. Hopefully it's a return to form though and more like the original Most Wanted, which was a great game.
        • 2 Years Ago
        @domingorobusto
        I'm not a huge fan of the arcade racer genre itself, truth be told. With that said, I think the handling in this game is decent, and certainly better than The Run. By a mile. (I'd still rather play Horizon though, or better yet, just Forza.)
        Mondrell
        • 2 Years Ago
        @domingorobusto
        The Runs also disinclined me from touching this without positive review consensus. Though I've come to prefer sim-style racers, I liked pre/millennial Need for Speeds because their vehicle handling characteristics were more forgiving, yet approximated realistic physics enough that skillful, nuanced driving was key to proficiency and victory. Yet another EA disgrace that enabled driving behaviors that had as much to do with catering to a larger audience as the fact that they're so fundamentally off, one has to become a graduate of the Brian O'Conner School of BS Racing to make the game worthwhile. I remember the moment at which I decided I was done with it; when its sad excuse of a physics engine decided that despite having deaccelerated down to 40 mph, that my 991 911 was going to plow out of a moderate hairpin like a school bus on ice. That aside, the biggest reservation I take away from this review is how little effort it seems to take to get into a higher-caliber ride. Racing games tend to stagnate for me in large part because everyone wants to race supercars all the time, even those whose skills are such that they're a lock for ruining the experience for others. Yes, it's a game, but the explicit purpose of racing isn't to win by virtue of being the guy who escapes the turn one pileup that occurred because Little Jimmy hasn't learned that the brake trigger is his friend yet.
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