Confession time. Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2005) is, in my humble opinion, the best Need for Speed ever made, so naturally, when I heard Criterion was about to reboot it, I soiled my pants. On paper, it’s a winning combination as Criterion really knows the racing genre, and so far, their track record with the Need for Speed franchise has been solid. However, things don’t work out so well with Most Wanted.
I think a large part of that stems from the fact that because of the name, people are expecting a direct sequel to Most Wanted, whereas Criterion has explicitly stated that this is its take on Black Box’s epic game. But besides that, Most Wanted does feel like a bit of a letdown because for everything it does right, it smacks you over the head with annoying issues that prevent it from becoming a worthy (spiritual) successor.
All the vehicles in the game are pretty much unlocked for the get go. You have to find them, drive up to them and hit one button to move from your car to the newly discovered one. I for one did not care for this mechanic as it made the whole act of acquiring exotic cars a tad redundant. My entire car collection held little-to-no value as I could acquire the hottest rides in the game by simply exploring the city.
The cars you discover are vanilla in nature, which means they have no upgrades and control like complete ass. This is another aspect in which the game really let me down as I was hoping Criterion would bring the uber-responsive controls from Burnout Paradise, allowing me to swerve in and out of traffic with ease. Instead, I get cars that control like tanks, making the whole act of driving painful. Car control can be improved by performing races to unlock upgrades, but this just ends up getting repetitive as you’ll be taking part in the same races over and over again, only with different cars. There were umpteen times when I found myself unlocking certain upgrades for my car, only to drop it like a hot potato when I spotted a better one. Then I had to repeat the whole process of unlocking upgrades for my new car.
Even if you don’t wish to upgrade your acquired ride, you still have to indulge in these repetitive races so you can earn Speed Points that will eventually allow you to access the Most Wanted Blacklist. Where the last Most Wanted game had some semblance of a story, this has none. I know, it’s a racing game after all, but it would have been nice to have some sort of narrative tying it all together instead of ‘here’s the city, and here are the faceless drivers you have to defeat’. Besides races, you can do other stuff to earn points as well like smash through billboards, drive through fences, set speed records, etc, which is fun, but it’s all been done in Burnout Paradise so there’s nothing new to see here. All your in-game activity in Most Wanted is tracked by Autolog, which then compares your stats to those of your friends. As stupid as I thought this whole social aspect was initially, I really got into it after seeing some (ok fine, most) of my friends best me on Autolog.
A huge draw for most people in Most Wanted was the inclusion of cops and they return in the 2012 iteration as well, only this time, they’re aggressive to the point where it can actually make the game frustrating to play. They latch onto you like leeches for the smallest of offences, so even exploring the city can become a pain unless you’re willing to indulge in one-sided pursuits every few minutes. Cops were present in Hot Pursuit too, but in Most Wanted, they seem overpowered because they have spike strips and the ability to call in road blocks while all you can do is try and outrun them. What’s even funnier is that Level 1 cops can catch up to you in a matter of seconds even if you’re driving one of the fastest cars on the planet. Races can also get a bit frustrating because of the aggressive cops and the fact that the city has way too much traffic. Combine this with the heavy controls (even after upgrades), and you’ll be crashing quite often. If that wasn’t bad enough, there’s the suicidal traffic that just loves driving straight into the path of a speeding car.
Frustrated at times with the single player, I had a lot more fun in multiplayer, which will seem familiar to anyone who’s played Burnout Paradise. You create a lobby, invite a bunch of your friends, chose in-game challenges (or create your own) and basically have a good time. These could include regular races or driving to certain parts of the map to see who can jump the farthest or who can drift the most. Familiar territory to those who’ve played Burnout Paradise, but it is fun nevertheless. Multiplayer handles car unlocks a lot better than single player, whereby it gives you better cars as you level up. Once unlocked, racing well in that particular car will unlock upgrades for it.
Visuals in Most Wanted are a mixed bag as well. While the game looks pretty good overall, it does have an excessive amount of visual effects than can prove distracting. The worst culprit has to be the lens flare from hell that blinds you as you leave a tunnel. The UI seems pretty cluttered as well and can prove distracting at high speeds, especially when it throws all these stats at you as you speed past a friend’s milestone. The PC version isn’t very well optimised and I had to go back and forth between settings to achieve good framerates. Eventually, I had to edit one of the game’s config files just so it would become playable. If you’re a car person, you’ll have a field day with the way different cars sound, but then again, the game’s OST is quite limited and dull. There’s the usual mix of Pop, Rock, Dubstep and Techno, but none of the tracks particularly stood out for me.
At this point, you’re probably thinking I hate Most Wanted, but that’s not the case. It’s just that for everything the game does right, it has some annoyance that stops you from having an all out blast. You go into a game like Most Wanted with high expectations so it’s easier to get disappointed. That being said, the game definitely has its moments and when it clicks, it’s like a perfect marriage of Burnout Paradise and 2005’s Most Wanted, offering heart pounding races and nail biting police chases. Just be prepared for a frustrating experience when that falls apart though.