Burnout Paradise was the perfect open world driving game, giving you the chance to explore a huge map, grab a near unlimited amount of cars and connect with your friends whenever you felt the need. Not since Criterion graced us with that game has there been another like it, not of the same quality anyway; well that's about to change and it'll come as no surprise that it's Paradise's developer which is once again leading the way.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted doesn't have a story as such, and in a way I am glad. Instead Criterion has concentrated its efforts on making this the most connected open world experience out there, whilst also giving you the chance to get your hands on some of the most impressive cars around. Even though there is no real story, lone players needn't worry about such things because there are still objectives, such as gaining enough speed points to climb your way into the number one Most Wanted spot and at the same time, take out anyone standing in your way and get hold of some of the rarest vehicles around.
Speed Points are the game's main currency which are gained in various ways. The most obvious way to earn Speed Points is to take part in the various events which you can enter by finding a new car. Obviously cars are very important part of Most Wanted and the beauty is that you don't need to win races or spend cash to unlock them. Instead cars are spread throughout the city, hidden or even in plain view. Should you wish to add one to your collection then it's just a case of driving up to it, giving you access to some of the most impressive vehicles around without the hassle.
Once you find your car of choice, you'll automatically unlock various events which are suited to that vehicle; this is your ticket to Speed Points. Events range from simple circuit racers, to speed runs and other challenges, such as losing the police as quickly as you can. Winning these will not only add to your Speed Points total but you will also earn upgrades for your vehicles, allowing for customisations such as Reinforced Chassis, Reinflating Tires, Impact Protection, Powershot Nitrous and more. Upgrading means more power, which of course means more chance of winning.
Circuit races and the point-to-point Sprint races are amongst the most eventful you'll take part in, mainly thanks to you and your fellow racers causing havoc all over town. This mainly comes in the form of you trashing the place as you speed through lampposts, mail boxes and anything else you knock down in your wake. You will also cause damage to your own car of course, as well as others, although at least you will gain points for takedowns while you are at it.
Another important part of the single player side of the game are Most Wanted races. When the game starts you will find yourself way down the Most Wanted leaderboard, however as you earn Speed Points you will unlock the chance to challenge those above you. Should you win this one-on-one race, you are then given the chance to take them out and steal their car. Obviously winning these races gets more difficult as you climb up the chart. It also doesn't help that the police are on your tail throughout.
One of the fun aspects of wrecking your car is fixing it. Throughout the game you will come across various body shops, a lot of the time even during your races, and not only does this fix up your car instantly, but it will also give you a new paint job. The former is obviously the most useful, especially if you have wrecked your car and ruined your tyres during the course of an event.
Of course there are plenty of other ways to earn Speed Points, for instance you can explore the city and find gates and billboards to smash through ala Burnout Paradise. You can also find huge jumps, flash past speed cameras or try evading the ever present police, who scour the street looking for anyone causing trouble, or you can show off your drifting skills, allowing you to rack up those points and get closer to the next Most Wanted on your list.
The police in Most Wanted are particularly pesky, chasing your throughout and outside of race events, trying to take you down at any opportunity. They will also throw road blocks in your way and if you build enough heat, even larger and tougher police vehicles will be on your tail, causing you all manner of problems. You can build up quite a few Speed Points while trying to avoid the police, although be warned, should they catch you then you will lose any points gained during the pursuit.
Accessing anywhere on the menu is simple thanks to the inclusion of EasyDrive. With a simple click of your controller you will gain instant access to Races; Mods; any cars you have found; Most Wanted Races and the Autolog Recommends and Multiplayer menus. What is great about the menu is that any races you have already taken part in can be instantly accessed and in a similar vein, you can jump straight into any cars you have got in your collection.
Whilst driving around on your own will bring you hours of endless fun, this is a Criterion game we are talking about and therefore it's packed with multiplayer features, none of which stand out more so than Autolog 2.0. As you would expect, the game is completely connected throughout, allowing you and your friends the chance to challenge each others times whilst also tracking your friend's achievements and progress. Any time your friend bests you on the leaderboards an Autolog alert will come up, giving you the chance to jump straight in and punish them for having the cheek to beat your time.
Another major part of the online mode is in the competitive multiplayer. In multiplayer you are given a set of pre-selected cars, with the aim being to increase your Speed Level by winning races and challenges. Your Speed Level is also linked to your Speed Points, so the more points you earn, the more cars and extras you will unlock in multiplayer.
To mix things up a little, every car you take control of in multiplayer has a milestone, should you achieve these you will unlock mods and new paint jobs for your car, which will no doubt come in handy during Speed Tests or Friends Matches. So what are Speed Tests you say? Basically these are events which see you take part in five events back to back, with the aim being to earn the most Speed Points. The player who does so then wins; quite simple really. Other multiplayer events include standard races, team races and challenges.
Multiplayer is fantastic fun and a superb addition to what is already a pretty feature packed game. There is no doubt you will spend hours upon hours exploring and challenging friends both online and using Autolog. Racing games should be about being connected and no-one seems to do this better than Criterion.
On the presentation side of things, Need for Speed: Most Wanted couldn't be better. As well as providing a fantastic soundtrack, the cars all look absolutely stunning whilst the lighting and layout of the map is a joy to behold. As with Burnout Paradise, crashes are met with spectacular cutscenes in which you watch as your car deteriorates. Car damage is a big thing and there is nothing more enjoyable than watching sparks fly from the place where your tyres used to be. If there is one problem as far as presentation goes, then it comes in the form of the occasional lag and some noticeable pop-up in the distance, although this is quite rare and certainly doesn't take away from the experience.
If you're a racing fan or petrol head of any sort then Criterion's Need for Speed really should be on your Most Wanted list. It's an incredible, feature packed game which will keep you busy until the next game in the series and beyond. Get this in your console, start your engines and prepare for another taste of paradise, albeit a slightly different one.
(Version tested: PS3)
Autolog 2.0 continues to evolve
Excellent multiplayer features
Open world, long lasting single player experience
Occasional lag and pop up
Curious about the PS Vita version? Read our review here.