Need for Speed: Most Wanted Preview (PS3)

I’m no racing buff. In fact, I’m the furthest thing from it, as fancy sports cars have never really interested me in the slightest. As such, it goes without saying that I’m hardly an expert when it comes to racing games. That said, when I was presented with the opportunity to check out EA and Criterion Games’ upcoming racer Need for Speed: Most Wanted at the Porsche Driving School in Leipzig, Germany, I simply couldn’t pass up the adventure.

I’ll admit that the allure of traveling to Europe had me more interested than I otherwise would have been, but when I got the chance to sit down and actually play the game for myself, I discovered within me a love for the genre that I never thought existed. Maybe it’s the instantaneous accessibility that Most Wanted presents the player, or perhaps it’s the groundbreaking Autolog system that keeps you connected to your friends. Whatever it is, Need for Speed: Most Wanted will undoubtedly serve up a satisfying racing experience for both the casual racer and hardcore fan.

During my first day with the game, I spent several hours exploring the single-player portion—if you can even call it that. Thanks to the inclusion of the Autolog system, you’ll hardly ever feel like you’re playing alone. This built-in mechanic tracks every race you complete, every billboard you smash and every speed camera you whiz by, updating your network of friends with your latest accomplishments. As peruse around the game’s open-world (Fairhaven) you’ll be able to see what your friends have done and try to outdo their high scores. It’s an incredibly fluid system that works amazingly well at tapping into one’s attention-craving tendencies.

While Most Wanted lacks a proper story, it does contain an overarching goal to keep you motivated to rack up as many “Speed Points” (the game’s measure of experience) as you possibly can.  As you progress throughout the game, winning various races and whatnot, you’ll be able to challenge Fairhaven’s “most wanted” drivers. The city has a total of ten super talented racers and it’s your ultimate goal to take them down one at a time. Doing so will allow you access to each car that you manage to out-drive.

Speaking of which, virtually every car is available for you to drive within the first few minutes of the game (the aforementioned “most wanted” are obviously not) should you be able to find it in the city. It’s as easy as simply driving up to the new car and hopping in. All of the cars that you’ve then discovered are added to your library of available vehicles which you can switch between with the click of a button. This was particularly appealing to someone like me, who doesn’t have the patience to start with a boring run-of-the-mill car and grind all the way up to something fancy.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t spend a bit of time touching on Fairhaven’s law enforcement. Simply put, the cops in Most Wanted are absolutely brutal. If you get caught breaking the law, you’d better lose your pursuer fast or things can escalate pretty quickly. The police in this game will hunt you down with all they’ve got, ramming you off the road, setting up roadblocks and the like. If you continue to  push your luck and aggravate them further, the difficulty continues to ramp up, with increasingly more cars hunting you down and impenetrable SUV-lined roadblocks. I had so much fun getting myself into such situations and striving to find a means of escape—evading the cops really is a game in and of itself.

Then there’s the multiplayer. Hopping into a matchmaking lobby and being paired up with other gamers was incredibly easy and smooth. Once in, I was able to drive around the city as if I was playing solo. Once the initial “intermission” ended, I was directed to the first race location, where all of us were to meet up. Once everyone arrived at the starting line, the race commenced and we were off. I was amazed at how seamless the transition into the actual race was, and how fluid I was then brought to the next competition.

The multiplayer spans a wide array of different objective-based challenges—from standard races and power parking, to close calls and drifting distances. Needless to say, there’s plenty of variety to keep things fresh for hours on end. Plus, the aforementioned couple minute intermissions give you just enough of a breather between the bouts of competition.

It goes without saying that I came away from my time with Most Wanted incredibly impressed. I didn’t go into the preview event thinking I could be won over by a racing game, but that is precisely what happened. If someone like myself could find so much to love about Criterions’ racer, I’m certain that Need for Speed: Most Wanted will put a smile on every racing fan’s face.