Need for Speed: Most Wanted (PC) Review
In 2005 Need for Speed Most Wanted became the latest installment in the NFS series and upon release was met with positive reviews. Based primarily on street racing it offered an experience which was, as the game progressed, rather challenging and backed up decent controls and speed with some graphics and audio which were impressive for the time.
Since then the Need for Speed franchise has continued and we last saw it in NFS: The Run last year. The Run continued EA's approach to different developers taking on each game release, splitting games between the likes of EA Black Box, Slightly Mad Studios and Criterion Games (famous for their Burnout games).
Criterion Games were responsible for 2010s Need for Speed Hot Pursuit, widely regarded as the best NFS game to date. Now they are back in the NFS franchise with Most Wanted, a reboot of the 2005 original and given their track record for driving games we could be in for something rather special here.
Need for Speed Most Wanted bases us in the city of Fairhaven and it is our task to accumulate points, working our way up the leaderboard until we become the Most Wanted racer. Gameplay is essentially open world and we can drive around the city in our own time and via our own route, entering races/challenges as we progress. Controls are reasonably standard with accelerate, brake, handbrake, boost etc and best controlled via a pad on the PC version.
A wide selection of cars are available to us, from older familiar models to the latest concepts from well known manufacturers. Some cars we can switch to as we discover them and others are unlocked with progress and success with customisations and enhancements present too. As a nice touch to the new interface we can tweak our car/options while driving, using the dpad to access options while on the move and in the city of Fairhaven as well as trying to beat the other main drivers on the Most Wanted list we must also take on the Police who are out to stop our races. Adding another obstacle to the standard race mechanic which is filled with destructible objects.
Online functionality is also key to this game with online multiplayer putting us up against other racers in various races and challenges. Each placing is awarded points and our final position in the mini-tournaments enhances our speed level with unlocks available along the way. Added to this is CloudCompete which brings all game formats together, allowing us to play on PC (for example) and continue our progress on Xbox 360 should we have access to that title.
One of the first things which strikes the player when running Most Wanted for the first time is that the game is very keen to drop us right into the action. We don't go through a plethora of menus to get in and are simply dropped into a car from the title screen and intro video. From there it is all about driving as a short tutorial gets us to our first event and the basic gameplay mechanics are explained. It is a fun approach to the initial gameplay session and from there the game never really lets up.
We move from event to event in our own time, almost always blasting round the city at high speed, racking up points for our driving, destruction and law breaking activities. This free roaming approach with the ability to go almost anywhere really does keep the player engaged in the game when not competing and while it can occasionally be inconvenient to get involved in a police chase that wastes a bit of time when we had a goal in mind the concept works incredibly well.
When racing the gameplay is packed with action, almost always at an exceptionally high speed and the difficulty is balanced very well provided we choose the right vehicle for each event. It was also noticeable that the highly arcade nature of crashes helps keep things ticking along as crashes and damage are essentially there for Hollywood thrills. Try to take out another car for points or position, miss time it and hit a wall destroying our vehicle... no problem, we are dropped back into the game within a few seconds with minimal distance to catch the other players. It doesn't make the races easy but it does mean we are always in the action rather than mistakes being impossible to recover from.
In terms of presentation there is a lot to love about Most Wanted. The view distance is great and while there is the occasional stutter, even on the fastest system, as the game loads an upcoming area into memory the overall view distance and performance is very impressive. Lighting effects and day to night transitions are handled well, crash cinematics add impact and though there are some low res effects in places, such as large sections of water on the scenery being a bit disappointing, the main cars and road surfaces all look good. Audio is decent too with plenty of growling engine noise and impressive crash noises. The soundtrack is ok, filled with tracks that are designed to appeal to a wide audience without being intrusive. We can of course mute the in-game music and use our own tunes while driving by running a media player in the background.
If there is any overall criticism of the game which can be levelled at Criterion or EA by fans of the franchise it would be that the game does move away a little too far from the core NFS concept due to the low impact of police capture along with no bounty, black list and the like. Though knowing this does set expectations and we can't say that any of these aspects being missing reduced our enjoyment.
Back to the gameplay we have the online section which contains our own least favourite aspect of the game. As an idea it seems perfect, throw a bunch of drivers into the open world and have them meet at set points to compete in various races and challenges (race, skills, destruction etc) but everything can be a bit manic and disorganised with players trying to take each other out, ALL THE TIME, with no let-up. That said, when not being randomly taken out by other players even when it isn't required by the challenge the tasks that focus on racing and skill are fantastic with plenty of challenge and more importantly fun.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted is one of the best NFS games to date. Packed with challenges, action and great gameplay. With impressive presentation it is always fun but more importantly the cars drive great and always fast... one of our favourite arcade based racers in recent times.