Most Wanted is back and soon you’ll be climbing the ladders to become the most wanted among your friends. But first, let’s break things down. Yes, there was another Need for Speed: Most Wanted released back in 2005. Criterion considers this a reboot of the original — Criterion style. They’ve brought the best of Burnout to the Need for Speed universe and it is mesmerizingly wonderful.
I’m not alone when I say that the original Need for Speed: Most Wanted is one of my favourite games. There’s so much to like and very little not to. There was the brilliant Blacklist –climb to the top– structure that has become commonplace in racing games since. Razor Callahan is one of the greatest villains in racing history — he’s just so easy to hate. Every win got you one step closer to becoming the most wanted racer, which had an extreme sense of accomplishment with it, something that most racing games fall short on.
Criterion are obviously fans of the series. They loved it enough to do a tribute instead of an original Need for Speed game, that says something about their dedication to making a great game that is true to the original. While there are similarities to the original, there is a very big difference: the reboot is open-world. This is a good thing though. There is nothing to be worried about, especially if you played Burnout Paradise. Criterion does open-world games well, it’s their thing.
We were shown a bit of what else is new in Most Wanted as a member of the Criterion staff drove around the game world. Technology has advanced in the last seven years, as have the cars themselves, so the cars are amazingly beautiful. This is true in any state though, as was demonstrated by the driver running into everything he could to show how the car destructs and falls apart piece by piece. They are every bit as beautiful when they are destroyed, utilizing a damage system that really shows the cosmetic damage in a unique way — broken parts slide around as the car bumps around corners and goes over jumps.
Finally, we were given hands-on time with the game. As I started to drive around in my BMW M3, a beacon beckoned for us to rally at a meet-up spot. We all drove there as fast as we could. Once there, we had to wait for the last few people to get there and took the available time as an opportunity to test the damage system that had just been shown to us; crashing into each other over and over again. Once the final driver arrived, we were given a race objective. The countdown timer started, with all of us in our random positions at the meet up spot, and hit zero. Those who had started to drive off before the timer hit zero had their engine disabled for five seconds — a potentially devastation consequence when every second counts.
This counter-measure is a good way to handle the situation of everyone being in a different position in a small area. Sure, someone might a few feet closer to the objective, but it doesn’t really matter; just don’t drive off before it hits zero. We took off and I bumped my way through my opponents and random street traffic toward the finish line. The open world presents a tricky situation of making the players all take the same route and not taking their own way that they think is a shortcut. It shouldn’t seem forced or else it’s no different than a closed-circuit race. They handle this situation in the easiest way possible; simple white lines are used as checkpoints that guide you on the quickest path toward the finish line. This gives players the fastest line regardless, so they won’t attempt to take alternate paths. It takes away all the uncertainty from the situation and provides players with pure racing without the need to navigate an open world.
As we finished the race, nothing happened. Our time was recorded, but our cars didn’t stop, there was no finishing cinematic; we were just done. It was at this point that my inner demon took over, I immediately pulled the handbrake and swung around back toward the finish line. I flew past it at full speed, heading right toward the other racers still racing. I took aim and smashed head-on into one of the drivers contending for fourth place. Once he was finally able to respawn, it was too late and he was in last place; only a turn from the finish line. I had successfully ruined this man’s race and it was totally legal — encouraged, in fact.
Once we had all finished, we were immediately given another meet up point to drive to. We raced there, bumping and trying to take out as many other people as we could on the way there, just for fun. As we all pulled in and the timer started, a list of events rotated to the new game type. As we looked out from the front of our cars, we saw a giant dirt ramp to the side of the freeway. That was our cue to see who could get the longest jump. There’s a catch though, if you wrecked, you were disqualified.
This brought a whole new level of strategy to the gameplay. Should I attempt to go for the longest jump hoping that no one hits me afterwards or should I take out as many people as I can, narrowing down the competition before I take my shot. I chose the former, jumping straight away, which turned out to be the wrong choice in this instance as I was t-boned and eliminated directly after securing first place. I then did everything in my power to eliminate everyone else, adopting a “If I can’t have it, no one can!” mentality. It was too late, the event ended and we moved on to the next meet up.
This time, we had to see who could record the highest speed on a specific speed camera in a busy intersection. We all gained as much boost as we could in a typical burnout style –through takedowns and other dangerous manoeuvres– and prepared for a runway toward the light. I bore through the light with ferocious speed trying to nab the top spot. My time came in and I had done well, but someone else had done better, so I made it my mission to take them out and take the top spot. I did so — but got myself taken out in the process. This mechanic gives you the chance to fight your way to the top, but it comes with equal risk. It might just be best to wait in the corner and let everyone else take each other out until you’re the only one left, but where’s the fun in that.
If I was to look through the talented group of developers making racing games right now, I’m not sure that I would have anyone but Criterion reboot Most Wanted. Everything is there; fast cars, great destruction, a compelling competitive mechanic, solid online multiplayer, and an open-world to destroy. It is so insanely satisfying to know that someone is riding high on their victory, only to have you take it away from them in the worst manner possible – total destruction. Need for Speed: Most Wanted is looking to be a proper and fitting tribute to one of the best entries in the Need for Speed series and I can’t wait to play more of it.
You can pre-order Need for Speed: Most Wanted on PS3, PS Vita and Xbox 360 from ShopTo.