The long-running Need for Speed series races into new territory with this cross-platform, cross-generational release. Most Wanted is built upon many of the fan-favorite features and modes from previous games in the series, including a forgiving yet credible physics engine, vehicles of real-life makes and models, and state-of-the-art graphics. As with the previous Need for Speed: Underground, much of the game is styled around the illicit street racing scene, and as in earlier games such as Need for Speed III and Hot Pursuit 2, many of the Most Wanted's challenges involve not only getting from one place to another in the fastest time, but avoiding ambitious law enforcement officers (in souped-up vehicles of their own) all along the way.
Need for Speed Most Wanted is yet another illegal street racing game. Yes, it's filled with embarrassing attempts to be hip and trendy. But don't let that steer you away. You'd miss exciting races, thrilling chases, and a big, beautiful world to explore.
You play as a newcomer to the metropolis of Rockport, driving a seriously tricked-out car and ready to take on the locals in some street races. You quickly meet up with the mysterious Mia, a hot, slinky babe eager to help you out -- how convenient! You then run up against the arrogant jerk of the local scene, Razor Callahan. Just when you're about to put him in his place in a race, your car falls victim to his sabotage. You lose the race and your car, too, when he gets your pink slip. Razor then uses your car to rise to the top of the Blacklist, the fifteen most daring and defiant street racers of the city.
So a smug jerk cheats you out of your car and wins the prestige that should have been yours. Time to get even. There's only one problem: parts of the story are told with silly full-motion video composite into computer graphics. We can only assume this was done to feature the eye candy of model Josie Maran as Mia. Along with her, you're treated to a parade of wannabe hipsters mugging for the camera and uttering one silly line after another. Based on the FMV storytelling, this game should have been rated "C" for cheesy. Thankfully, Most Wanted largely ditches these sequences and switches to simple text and audio messages once the career mode really gets underway.
When your career does get underway, don't be in too much of a hurry to get down to business. One of the best parts of Most Wanted is the option for free-form gameplay. Imagine something a little bit like Grand Theft Auto without the hookers and handguns. You can roar around town to see the sights, head to an auto dealer, look for shortcuts you can use in upcoming races, dodge traffic, evade cops, or just enjoy driving outrageously fast.
As you roam around -- if you can call blasting through a neighborhood at 175mph "roaming" -- you see that the real star of Most Wanted is the city itself. The developers did a beautiful job crafting an extensive and believable greater metropolitan area. You'll rocket through tollbooths out onto the turnpike, passing woods awash with autumn colors, and then exit onto a busy four-lane highway, barely dodging a semi laden with huge logs. From there, you might zip through the suburbs, pass a commercial area on the way to the towering skyscrapers that mark the busy city center, and then head down to an ocean-side boardwalk.
What's doubly impressive is that all these areas flow together smoothly and realistically, reminding you of real-world places you might have traveled through. The size and detail needed for this illusion come at a cost, though: the game often chugs as it is loading new data.
The structured career play gets as much attention as the free roaming. Before you can even face off with Blacklist racers, you'll need to prove your worth. You do that by winning races, achieving milestones, and amassing bounty.
Races come in six flavors. You get multi-lap circuits and circuits where the last-place driver is eliminated after each lap until only one racer remains. Then there are point-to-point sprints, as well as drag races that test your shifting skills. You also get speedtrap and tollbooth races, which boil down to blasting through checkpoints as quickly as possible. The courses themselves are reasonably varied and well planned, with smooth flows between open highways and series of tight turns. You'll find plenty of shortcuts and elevation changes -- and even get airborne off of some of them.
The racing is a blast because Most Wanted again captures the dizzying sense of speed the series has become known for. It's a thrill to roar into a tunnel at over 150 mph, with the scene starting to blur, knowing you might only have a fraction of a second to dodge an oncoming taxi. Actually, Most Wanted includes a feature that helps you with those sticky situations: a rechargeable kind of "bullet-time" called "Speedbreaker." Just hit a button, and time slows for a little while to help you through dicey moments.
As exciting as races can be, they're not all rosy. They start to blur together after a while, creating a strong and unpleasant sense of d¿j¿ vu. "rubber-band" A.I. means it's rare for anyone to achieve a significant lead: slower cars magically catch up while lead cars mysteriously start to drive worse so you can make up time. That sort of cheating really hurts the illusion of real racing and makes performance upgrades feel somewhat irrelevant. A.I. drivers also tend to play bumper cars with you. Because of the minimal damage modeling, they can get away with it. The physics, if you're wondering, can sometimes be downright silly: rubbing against a wall often slows you down more than a head-on collision with a truck.
Happily, there's more to advancement than just plain races. You also need to achieve milestones to take on "Blacklist" drivers. These are special goals like getting clocked driving above a certain speed at a speed trap. The best milestones involve police chases. To earn respect, you need to amass bounty by luring cops into the wildest, most hazardous chases. You try to commit as many infractions as possible and cost the state as much money as you can.
These chases play like over-the-top action films where you're the star. Hordes of black-and-whites roar down the streets after you and try to box you in or ram you. You listen to their radio transmissions and hear them getting more and more frantic, deploying more units, setting up roadblocks, and generally causing way more danger and damage than you. That escalation is just what you want since the goal is to get chased and then keep it going as long as possible without getting busted. The great thing about these chases is not just their speed and cinematic mayhem, but that you get to drive wherever you want over the whole city. No more sticking to a predetermined course; you lead the way.
After the adrenaline rushes of the cop chases, the actual races to beat Blacklist drivers feel like nothing special. To keep you interested in career advancement, the game lets you buy and sell cars and upgrade them with performance and visual mods as you rise up the ranks. You'll find a fair range of cars: from Volkswagen Golf GTI's and Fiat Punto's up to Mercedes, Porsches, and Lamborghinis. You get only basic tuning options for them, but hey, this is an arcade racer, so you can't complain too much. (The Black Edition of the game adds a few specially tuned cars and races and some behind-the-scenes material, but it's nothing to get excited about.)
Along with the career mode, Most Wanted also features the predictable array of quick race options, though many things need to be unlocked in the career mode first. You also get online multiplayer, but it's a bore: just plain circuit, sprint, and drag races. The glaringly obvious question is, why not some team-based cops-versus-racers modes? EA blew a chance to take one of the best parts of the single-player game and devise some innovative online modes from it.
With a couple notable exceptions, Most Wanted's audio is a thing of beauty. The exceptions are the cheesy acting and the second-rate rap songs and rock tunes that make up most of the soundtrack. (Happily, you can turn the tunes off.) Thank goodness the game switches to high-quality orchestral music for the cop chases; it sounds like something right out of your typical action movie blockbuster and really adds to the tension. The cop and dispatcher voiceovers are much better than those of the racers, too. Best of all are the engine sounds: it's a joy to hear these beauties purr and roar. The cars look almost as good as they sound, and Rockport's elaborate visuals are clearly a labor a love.
It's sad when someone tries to be hip and trendy; you simply are or you aren't. Need for Speed Most Wanted tries its best to evince street cred and attitude but looks silly in the process. Thank goodness that doesn't get in the way of the pulse-pounding car chases, lighting-fast races, and a beautifully crafted game world. We most want more of that.
People who downloaded Need for Speed: Most Wanted have also downloaded:
Need for Speed Underground 2, Need for Speed: Carbon, Need for Speed: Underground, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2, Need for Speed 3: Hot Pursuit, Need for Speed: High Stakes, Need for Speed 5: Porsche Unleashed, Need For Speed 2 Special Edition
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