Do you feel the need? The need for…Burnout? The Need for Speed series has seen some 18 titles since its beginnings in 1994, and in the last couple of years, the franchise has had its ups and downs, trying to stay relevant.
2012 hasn’t really been a bumper year for arcade racers so any title that randomly wandered into my rear view would have my attention (Ed: I see you ignored Ben 10 Intergalactic Racing, though…). As luck would have it, those veteran developers—Criterion Games (who also updated Hot Pursuit)—are once again in charge of rebooting another Need for Speed staple.
I like Need for Speed but I love Burnout. Does the latest Need for Speed: Most Wanted look to combine the best of both worlds? Let’s check under the hood. Vroom!
Most of you might remember Need for Speed for its car customizations, but in recent history only a handful of the titles actually had that feature. The original Most Wanted in 2005 was one of them, but it’s all but missing in the 2012 version. Sure, you can change the colour of your licensed car (and not some cheap impersonation with silly name like “Bulldozer Horsefeather 500 XL…Championship Edition”) and fit it with mods such as nitrous, track tyres, and reinforced suspension. But that’s where the personalization ends. The car looks exactly as it did coming out of the personalization bay as it did going in, colours notwithstanding. No layers upon layers of decals, no gaudy pearlescent paint, no outrageously camp boot spoiler, and no underfloor neons. No underseat heating, either. If you’re looking one for these flashy aesthetics, then you might just argue that the essence of Need for Speed is missing.
So is it more like Burnout then? Here’s the thing: whenever I think about Burnout I’m reminded of white-knuckle racing at eye-popping speeds. I think of rage mode where I’m happily pounding cars into walls and forcing them off cliffs. I’m reminded of crash events where a perfectly-timed smash results in a glorious orchestra of flames, explosions, mayhem, and millions upon millions of points. I don’t see any of that prominently in Most Wanted, just little flashes of brilliance that once was. Yes, some of the cars are capable of extreme high speeds, but it’s not on the same visceral level as Burnout. You can trade paint with your competitors and run them into barriers, but it’s not as crunching satisfying as before.
Like Burnout Paradise, Most Wanted takes place in the fictional open-world city. From the get go, you’re free to explore Fairhaven and its industrial inner-city, container-lined ports, scenic seaside drives, speedy highways, and rural mountains. Not only is the city unlocked, but so are all the vehicles that, in other games, you would have ordinarily earned by beating other rival racers. Simply roll up to a “jack spot” and the vehicle is yours. There are over 30 vehicles scattered throughout the city and the cars range from lightweight Caterham Superlight R500 racer to an everyday Ford Focus ST, to muscle and sports cars, to exotics such as the Marussia B2. They’re all rendered beautifully, shining in all their licensed glory.
Each vehicle has a set of races that you compete in to unlock modifications for that vehicle, be it additions to your tyres, an injection of nitrous, a reduction in weight, or a change in transmission to improve top speed. The mods are easily applied, and in a new twist, can even be changed *during* a race. It’s rather finicky though and trying to race while keeping an eye on the minimap and changing mods with several buttons presses of the d-pad proved all too disastrous for me.
The races can be simple sprints, circuit races, or speed runs, and they all add up. You’re awarded speed points (SP) for completing these races; it’s essentially your street cred, and you need a certain number of SP to be able to challenge the Most Wanted—a set of 10 elite racing champions. It’s relatively easy to reach these SP levels considering that the game showers you with SP for other trivial things like breaking through security gates and billboard, and zipping past speed cameras. Escaping the overzealous police nets SP too, but that can become quite infuriating. The end of some races signal the start of a cop chase, where your “heat” level is relatively low. But that doesn’t prevent the humble police cruisers being able to keep up with your souped-up rides. There is a slight imbalance there, and issues of rubber-banding rear up in the races. The result is closer-than-expected finishes if you’re in the lead, but also makes the lead drivers magically slow down to let you catch up. This rubber band is a double-edged sword I guess (Ed: I think you managed to get some rubber band into your metaphor there).
The music selection in Most Wanted is bog average, including a roster of rock, dance, and electronica tracks. The predictable dubstep ditty by Skrillex is in there too; luckily it’s one of the less jarring ones. Unfortunately there is no way to customize which specific tracks you’d like to hear, only the ability to skip songs. Thankfully the option to use custom soundtracks has been retained. On the PS3, you simply need to create a playlist of songs, and then select it from the game’s menu.
With the Autolog 2, Most Wanted includes an upgrade of the social interaction system first introduced in Hot Pursuit. The system not only tracks and compares your racing stats against that of your friends, but also proactively recommends races and milestones that you might be interested in. Slipping from the single-player mode into the multiplayer is easy and players need to meet up at a designated location before the “SpeedList” can begin. It’s a playlist of five random events that include standard races and speed test challenges to set the fastest speed record amongst the racers. Team Race is an event where players are divided into two teams and must take out their rivals. Challenge mode is co-operative in nature, presenting a task that *all* players need to compete. Depending on whether you have a troll in your pack or someone who just can’t understand simple instructions, Challenge mode might become a frustrating exercise.
Similar to the single-player mode, speed points are the currency in the multiplayer. They are earned from taking part in the events, and the fancier vehicles are unlocked the more SP you have. In addition to the standard mods you can also unlock paint mods, license plates, and a few perks, and combine them to suit your play style. Each vehicle has a set of milestones attached to them, and some grinding is required to complete them all. If you’re a completionist, Most Wanted’s multiplayer provides an obsessive experience that eclipses the single-player.
Be it offline or on, Most Wanted provides a great stable of cars and a big city as your playground. You’re free to roam and to race, heck you don’t have to beat the most wanted racers if you don’t want to. This might not suit players who are used to pre-determined tracks and a hierarchy of racers to beat. Most Wanted draws little from its 2005 namesake but takes a lot out of the Burnout Paradise playbook. It’s not a bad thing at all in my eyes, but fans of Need for Speed might be a little wary of the new direction this game has taken.
Final score: 7 burnt-out prawns out of 10
Developer: Criterion Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Distributor: Electronic Arts
Platforms: PS3 (reviewed), PS Vita, Xbox 360, Windows, Android, iOS
Age Rating: 7