|System: Xbox 360, PS3*, PC, PS Vita, Wii U|
|Dev: Criterion Games|
|Release: October 30, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Alcohol Reference, Comic Mischief, Violence|
by Josh Wirtanen
Open world street racing is certainly nothing new in the world of video games, and Need for Speed has long been one the genre’s most beloved franchises. With Need for Speed Most Wanted (not to be confused with the game of the same title that came out back in 2005), the series continues to tweak the formula ever so slightly in an attempt to deliver that perfect street racing flavor.
This time, Criterion Games was clear that they wanted this to be an experience players will have almost complete control over, rather than one that will guide players through a predetermined series of objectives. There is a barely-there story that will attempt to motivate you to collect the ten Most Wanted vehicles scattered across the beautiful Fairhaven City, and you could argue that this is the central focus of the game. You’ll earn a set amount of Speed Points, which allows you to race against a Most Wanted car. If you manage to beat that car in a race, you’ll have to take it down by ramming it off the road, and then you’ll be granted access to it any time you wish to drive it. Rinse, repeat, until all ten Most Wanted cars are yours.
Needless to say, if you spend all your time focusing only on this particular aspect of the game, you’re in for a repetitive experience.
But here’s the thing: There’s so much other stuff to do that to play the game in such a way would be selling it short. You see, there are challenges scattered across the world that you can take on at your leisure. For example, there are speed cameras set up all around town, and passing by one will record whatever speed you were moving at when you passed it. This posts to a leaderboard so all your friends can see who among you is the fastest little rapscallion on the road.
All of this happens through the game’s Autolog feature. Pretty much everything you do in the game world—whether it’s placing in a race, “jacking” a new car, passing a speed camera, smashing through security fences, or destroying a billboard—is tracked via Autolog, and you’ll be given a list of randomly selected objectives based around what your friends are doing. This adds a competitive element that paints itself over pretty much every aspect of the game. You’ll be constantly reminded that your friends are better than you, and if you value your self esteem at all, you’ll find the motivation you need to embarrass them in turn by knocking them down a peg on Autolog’s leaderboards.
Of course, Autolog isn’t the only way you can interact with your friends. There’s also full-on multiplayer, which allows you to invite your friends to hang out with you on the streets of Fairhaven City. You have the option to start a Speedlist, which is essentially a list of races and challenges you’ll be competing in with whoever else is in your game with you. There are standard race types here, yes, but there are some other challenges that are pretty bizarre. For example, one challenge I took part in had my opponent and me doing jumps over a stretch of highway. Whoever managed to jump the greatest collective distance by the end of the round was declared the winner.
Oh, and there’s also a game type that allows you to wreck each other’s cars in a demolition derby of sorts. Ever want to humiliate your friends while destroying hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of automobile? Go for it.
Of course, if you just want to drive around and explore on your own, you can do that too. The multiplayer world comes with its own set of challenges, and the cars you earn in single-player won’t carry over. However, any Speed Points you earn in multiplayer will carry over to single-player and vice versa. You’ll need to earn 1,000,000 Speed Points to take on the final Most Wanted car, so it’s awesome that Criterion gave us the option to score those points in whichever manner we prefer.
And that’s really Most Wanted’s greatest strength: It allows you to play the game however you want to. While in multiplayer, I talked to another player who decided to skip the Most Wanted races for the most part in favor of building his repertoire of cars, exploring the world to find speed cameras and billboards, and wiping the smirks off his friends’ faces by toppling their records on the leaderboards. I took the opposite approach and tried to collect the Most Wanted cars as fast as possible. While both playstyles are incredibly different, the game is set up in a way that encourages both of them equally.
Of course, as the Most Wanted subtitle suggests, there is also a focus on illegal activities. While this isn’t Grand Theft Auto, you will be stealing cars and racing them at insane speeds down city streets. Prepare to be chased by the cops. A lot.
The world in which you’ll be doing all this is gorgeous. From the reflections in the puddles on the pavement to the smudges that show up on your car when you scrape the edge of an embankment, this game looks insanely good. Yes, Criterion has crafted a world with so much detail that it simply feels like a real place. But that doesn’t mean it’s without a sense of style. The checkpoint system is especially neat, with gigantic white text that hovers in the air to let you know where you’re going during any race. Also, before each race you’ll be treated to a CG cutscene of sorts (more of a stylish intro than anything with any real story element), and the Most Wanted intros in particular have some absolutely stunning visuals.