Author: Heath Flor
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Wednesday, November 7th, 2012
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/Reviews/need_for_speed_most_wanted/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.
The Need For Speed arcade racing franchise has a history littered with high and low points. Being one of the EA's workhorses for nearly 20 years, the series has garnered quite a bit of criticism in recent years as sales rapidly began declining in mid 2000. EA decided it was time for a new developer to step in and take the reigns, and invited Criterion to the party.
Criterion was still floating on cloud 9 from their successful Burnout Paradise game when they did a reboot of the classic Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit. It was an instant hit, and went on to become the highest rated game in the entire series. Despite, or perhaps because of their success, nothing could save Need For Speed: The Run (developed by Black Box) from becoming a commercial and critical flop. EA has since removed Black Box from the franchise and has made Criterion and EA Gothenburg the primary developers of the NFS series, with each studio set to release a new entry bi-annually.
As soon as you jump into the game, you realize it exudes Criterion craftsmanship. Anyone familiar with the Burnout series is going to question whether or not they put in the wrong game disc -- there are subtle differences between the two, such as highly polished graphics, and tighter controls, but there's no doubt Criterion has left a distinguishable mark on the game.
For starters, there is no long ass tutorial where you waste an hour to figure out the basic gameplay. The narrator tells you to hit the gas, then she tells you how to hit the brakes. From there, it's a few simple hints to assist you in navigating through the streets, what "Jack Spots" are good for (hopping into cars while on the run), and some basic info about the collectibles in the game. All-in-all if it was condensed into a solid block it wouldn't run longer than ten minutes.
Some may argue the tutorial length is too short, but I appreciate the fact Criterion doesn't think I need an hours worth of instruction on how to hit a gas button on a controller, because let's face it, who the hell needs the brakes anyway?
The open world environment is neither intimidating, nor constricting. The entire city is open for you to explore right off the bat, which is a great way to familiarize yourself with your new home. I spent the first few hours just cruising the streets looking for trouble, and it wasn't too long before I found it.
Flying past a cop at 150 miles per hour, or "accidentally" smashing into one really pisses them off, and they immediately set out to chase and ultimately catch you -- if they can. Starting off with a wanted level of 1, it quickly escalates the longer you outrun the cops and cause general havoc. Outlast them long enough, and you'll eventually have swat teams taking out civilians and racers alike.
Of course it wouldn't be a racing game without some actual racing. There are 41 cars to drive in the game, each with their own set of five races. Every race unlocks a new upgrade for your car, and earns you "Speed Points" which allow you to take on the "Most Wanted Racers". These are the top ten racers in the city, and it's up to you to battle them all and become number one. The races do a decent job of not becoming too dull or overused, but there is still some overlap here and there.
Unlocking car upgrades is only part of the fun, as you can earn "Pro mods" by performing certain tasks such as drifting or jumping a certain distance with specific upgrades on the car . The pro mods are automatically changed, and instantly give you a nice little boost to your car and your Speed Points. Each mod is designed to give you some sort of performance enhancement, whether it's running from the cops like a pro, or trying to get the most out of your top speed.
Autolog is your connection to other players, and it's always at the ready. Anytime one of your records has been broken, Autolog automatically informs you of this insult to your racing skills, and immediately populates the map with the information. These vital stats are recorded on what is called the "Speedwall", and pops up over the object in question as you're driving by.
Criterion didn't go out and try to reinvent the wheel with Autolog, and instead have used their history with Hot Pursuit to refine the experience. It's an exciting feature which only enhances the overall experience. Unfortunately I was constantly being kicked off of the EA servers, and had to manually reconnect through the select menu in order to bring Autolog back up. It's not a deal breaker, but dulls what should be touted as the best feature of the game.
Regardless of my connectivity issues, I still was able to participate in a variety of street races and even broke a few of my friend's records. The ability to instantly see your records being smashed contributes to the competitive spirit which races through the veins of all red-blooded racers.
While the lead-in videos before each race are beautiful, the ones for the Most Wanted races are downright gorgeous. Here we see the cars at their sexiest; their sleek intros are expertly produced and make you drool at the thought of taking down and driving the cars exhibited in them.
The races themselves are excellent, but I did catch a few frame rate stutters and even a complete freeze for nearly 30 seconds before the game suddenly came back to life. These graphical set backs were limited, but still quite evident during my time with the game.
I thoroughly enjoyed the music found in the game. There were only two songs in the entire 40+ soundtrack I could live without, but even they had their place in the lineup. The music was clever, and fed into the thrill of drifting around corners, blazing past cops, and shutting down the Most Wanted. Whoever was the music producer deserves a raise and a hand in the next game.
Criterion has put out another outstanding entry for the Need For Speed series, but I still have a few fears. What's going to happen to Burnout Paradise? It instantly became my top racing game of choice when it was released, and I was really hoping to see another iteration. Perhaps this marriage will harmonize the two series enough it won't matter in the long run. Then again, with the heavy development cycle for the NFS franchise, we'll likely not be spoiled with rich DLC like we were with Burnout.
Despite my fears, and sorrow for lack of a new Burnout game, it's great to see Criterion breathe life back into one of my all-time favorite racing series. Let's just hope they can keep up with the demanding pace of EA.
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