Need for Speed: Most Wanted Review (PS3)
You’re drifting through a corner at 200+ MPH in a Lamborghini Aventador. You’re not sure what you did to piss off the cops this time. Maybe it was the t-bone takedown of that SUV that should have looked both ways before going through that green light. Why do cops have to drive an SUV? Those things are just too hard to take out.
However you pissed them off is irrelevant at this point and the only thing that’s relevant now is those mobile spike strips they keep dropping in front of you. Why can’t they just leave you alone and let you drive? Can we all just agree that whoever invented speed limits and traffic laws needs to be taken out back and beat senseless? That goes double for the inventor of those damn spike strips. Auto re-inflatable tires are so hard to come by these days.
Welcome to a world of racing brought to you by EA and Criterion Games. Their open world style of game play in Burnout Paradise hasn’t been replicated successfully since its release, but that’s about to change.
Need for Speed Games fall into one of two general categories. There’s the Shift series for hardcore sim enthusiasts and then there’s the more arcade releases like The Run and Hot Pursuit. Most Wanted definitely falls under the arcade umbrella but don’t think of it as a Need for Speed sequel to anything.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted took an incredibly polished idea that was Burnout Paradise and added more bells and whistles than you could shake a gear stick at. Your open world takes place in and around the great city of Fairhaven, where the streets are paved with asphalt, bricks, cobblestones, wood, and sometimes aren’t paved at all. It’s a city you’ll want to get to know well. Sidewalks can be just as useful as roads, and light posts, phone booths and bus stop benches hold little resistance. The city is well detailed and looks amazing even at 200+ MPH. All pedestrians have left the city apparently, or are smart enough to stay indoors. That’s a good thing because vehicular homicides would be waaaaay up if they were out walking around.
The environments includes places like a little league baseball field and a beautiful (and fun to drive through and destroy) park. There’s an industrial district with plenty of warehouses waiting to be explored. You can go downtown, uptown, across town and even out of town (a little ways). One thing you won’t want to do is leave town anytime soon. Fairhaven isn’t as diverse as Paradise, however, even though it is beautifully rendered.
Upon your first visit into this great city, you will be bombarded with so many new car opportunities you’ll feel like James Woods: Ooh, a piece of candy. Ooh, a piece of candy. Ooh, a piece of candy. You initial ride isn’t bad. The Ford Focus RSR is a nifty little machine that handles well, but turn a corner and spot a Porsche Carrera or a Bentley Supersport ISR, and that Focus pales in comparison instantly. Jackspots are spread out all across the area and any car found at one of these spots is instantly in your stable of available cars. You read that right. Find the Jackspot for the Aventador and it’s yours.
‘Find it. Drive it.’ is a new feature unlike anything found in other driving games. No need to grind out races to earn cash and XP in order to get faster and more exotic cars. Just drive around the city and keep a keen eye out. Once you have a car in your stable, you can then start using it and earn upgrades to make it faster, tougher, and better.
Upgrades are earned by completing and winning a variety of types of events that includes heads up racing, battling the speedometer in a Speed Run and outrunning the police in an Ambush. Each car has its own set of upgrades, so you’ll have to complete races with each car. Upgrades can be earned for engines, tires, body kits, suspension kits and chassis kits. While the visible damage to the cars can be pretty intense, only spike strips seem to have any real affect on the cars. Your car may be beat to hell, but your top speed won’t change much unless you couldn’t avoid those strips. Upgrading to reinflates can remedy that, but it will still cost you a couple seconds on the Speedwall as it’s always best to avoid the spikes whenever you can.
Once you have your favorite car upgraded, and feel like you are ready for a serious challenge, it’s time to take on the Most Wanted drivers in Fairhaven. These are the top ten elite drivers on record at the local PD and can be challenged once you’ve learned the skills and earned the needed Speed Points. Speed Points are earned by doing what the game was intended for. Winning races, finding cars, smashing billboards, finding and owning speed cameras, and taking down other drivers and cops. Once you’ve unlocked a Most Wanted challenge, you can head over to their challenge spot and do a burnout to start the race. Win the one-on-one challenge for the chance to take the other driver down. Shut him down and the car is yours. Work your way through the list to earn the title of Most Wanted.
The Fairhaven PD will be a major pain in your backside. Just accept that now. Races are given a difficulty rating from Easy to Hard. The harder races will have the cops coming after you in droves and they will do whatever it takes to take you down. Lucky for us we have a police scanner that let’s us know what the police are seeing and where they think we are heading. It is a nifty little tool that can be used to drive around road blocks, avoid spike strips, or to evade by redirection.
The PD has access to some of the fastest, and toughest, police vehicles known to man. Standard issue Crown Vics are joined by Vettes and Vipers for those high speed chases, while Ford Interceptor SUVs like to man road blocks and ram you into buildings, mountains, or anything solid enough to take you out. Listening to the scanner is key to knowing what lies in store for you and exactly where the next road block is waiting.
Each PD division has their own call sign and those damn Rhinos are a pain in the butt. Stay in a pursuit long enough (your Heat Meter goes from 1-6) and you’ll eventually have to face the Tactical Units. Think armored cars. They line roads and can force you onto their given path. These vehicles are the ultimate answer to the ultimate street racer. Evading them isn’t impossible, but it is highly unlikely. I’m not sure how fast SUVs and armored cars can go in real life, but 180+ seems highly unlikely. This is an arcade racer so somethings are to be expected. Police vehicles can be a little unbalanced at times and seem to have an upper hand even if you are in a top tier car.
Returning to the NFS series is Autolog. A nifty little way to keep track of how you’re online friends are doing in challenges, where you stand on the Speed Wall in challenges, as well as events recommended by your friends. It also tracks your overall speed points and shows you where you stand amongst your friends. Autolog updates in real-time, so finding your friends, and finding out what they are up to is pretty easy. The Easy Drive menu is situated with the Autolog menu and it is your access point to all things Most Wanted. Here you can jump from car to car, access individual events for each car, apply modification and upgrades, or go online.
With real time online integration, getting a group of friends together is pretty simple. Once connected, you can create a playlist with whatever variety of game types you like, or just try to take each other out. Working together to piss of the PD can be fun as well. The online features are vast and should keep you busy for quite some time. Not all cars can be used online from the start. You’ll need to earn online Speed Points to get to those faster cars, but the cars you start with should be good enough to get you going.
Criterion Games stepping back from open world gaming was probably a step in the wrong direction. With Need for Speed: Most Wanted, they have stepped up and put out what may very well be the arcade driving game of the year.