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May 2013

Need for Speed: Most Wanted - Review


I don't review a lot of racing games. This is mostly due to the fact that I don't play a lot of racing games. But back in the PS2 and Gamcube eras there were a few key racing titles that really drew my attention. These were Gran Turismo 3, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2, and Need for Speed: Most Wanted. In 2011 Criterion Games brought back Hot Pursuit, much to my enjoyment. In 2012 they rolled out a new entry under the guise of the 2005 hit Most Wanted, and now this entry has made its way onto the Wii U in 2013. However, while sharing the same name and premise, many of the features defining the the 2005 original are absent in the 2012 version and only a few mechanics from that original carry over. But if you're willing to look past that, I can honestly say this entry in the Need for Speed franchise is tons of fun.

The premise is, however, almost exactly the same, albeit wi

thout the all the funny live action cutscenes and story of the original. You complete races and challenges, and now smash billboards and speed past traffic cams, to earn Speed Points that represent your notoriety and allow access to each of the 10 Most Wanted racers. Besting each of them will grant you top honors as the Most Wanted racer in the new locale of Fairhaven City. It's a simple premise that lacks even the narrative of the original, but there's also never any pressure on it or you to really focus on it.

While the overall goal of the original Most Wanted remains, almost nothing else from it does. You can't customize your cars, there's no paint or mechanic editing involved. What little customization there is in the form of things like body and tire upgrades that aren't visible on whatever car you've chosen to drive. These upgrades must also be unlocked for each individual car by completing a series of races; no more buying a car and souping it up right away. Cars themselves also have to be found throughout the city in places designated as "Jack Spots", where you can switch cars on the spot. But don't worry, once you've discovered a car, you can switch to it any time using the menus as well.

So if all these things from the original are gone, what's left? Well, a few things. First and foremost is the city of Fairhaven itself. Where most open world racing games focus on designing realistic cities to try and create a perfect street racing experience, Most Wanted's city is designed to be more of a playground for the cars you'll be driving. The courses you'll be racing on almost feel like actual racing courses, hidden beneath sky scrapers and painted over to look like city streets. Long, wide turns on city streets for drifts as well as tight narrow straightaways through alleys and single lane roads definitely remind you that you ARE street racing, but no doubt each section of the city was designed to be a racetrack; especially when you consider the auto-repair stations that dot the city streets, perfectly positioned for players to speed through them during a race. It's also worth nothing that there doesn't seem to be all that many "tracks" to begin with. A few standouts, sure, and there are plenty overall but you'll be racing enough to notice a select few of them over and over.

More than cleverly hidden tracks are the structures of Fairhaven, buildings and public areas designed to fit a car perfectly. Places like this litter the entirety of the city, making exploration a joy as well as the thing that kept me coming back. Driving deep into the city and finding what at first glance looks like a piece of modern art only to discover that it can be driven upon and used as a ramp to get access to a secret Jack Spot is what makes this Need for Speed so refreshing. It's not about the minutia of street racing, it's a calculated, well designed, and almost perfected system of discovery that makes you look at the city with your head titled and ask "Can I use that archway as a ramp?" It's this major change in focus that made me almost entirely forget about the Most Wanted list and just spend hours scouring Fairhaven for Jack Spots in whatever car I liked.

And what about those cars? While it's certainly not the largest selection of vehicles I've ever seen, it might be one of the most diverse. Most Wanted doesn't waste time with what would be treated as D and E rank cars in most other games, instead opting to throw you into an Aston Martin V12 Vantage as your first vehicle and giving you free reign to build from there. Players like myself that enjoyed the progression of unlocking new and better cars in the original might find themselves disappointed when they find out they can get a Ford GT or a Nissan GTR right off the bat. Still, Criterion has managed to make each of the cars on the roster feel and handle unique, so each car you discover will be a new experience. The Lamborghini Countach handles, sounds, and drives much differently than the bewilderingly silent Tesla Roadster.

As far as racing itself goes, it is intact from the original. Races start like any other, full speed down a traffic ridden roadway when, whadya know the cops show up and try to wreck your fun. As the race continues the intensity of the police chase increases, eventually calling in stronger chase vehicles and spike traps. You can also smash into police and other drives to try and disable their car, earning you Speed Points and the lead on them. It encourages you to play a little more aggressively, a nice break from the more simulation focused titles of late.

There is one new feature I did find incredibly helpful and convenient, though, and that's Easy Drive. Easy Drive is a system of menus you can access at any time by hitting right on the directional pad, even while driving at 120 miles an hour. These menus allow you to do everything from change tire types, change cars, find races, and even teleport you straight to them without wasting time driving to them. Of course, Easy Drive will still let you set GPS destinations to races and custom waypoints if you prefer, but if you're just trying to retry a race or going for a perfect time on one you've already completed then these menus come in handy. It streamlines the experience of playing an open world racer so that you can play the game for 15 minutes and still actually accomplish something rather than needing that time just to travel to a race. If its on the map, there's a good chance Easy Drive will help you find it and get to it,

What really hammers all these new design choices home are the Wii U specific features that make use of the Gamepad. The standard features are here, sure, using the Gamepad screen as a map or playing the whole game on it chief among them. Past that, though, are some cheat code like effects that really lend credence to the idea that Fairhaven is a playground more than it is a city. At any time outside of a race you can disable traffic, switch from day to night, have a real time map displayed showing nearby cops and even some undiscovered Jack Spots and traffic cams; and, eventually, you'll be able to turn off cops completely. It's just another way of streamlining the fun and making the world feel even more like your personal automobile playground.

The real question you should be asking here is "How do I get to the billboard"?
All said and done, though, you won't be missing out on a whole lot else by not playing the Wii U version of Most Wanted. Aside from the Gamepad features (Did I mention you can use the motion sensors to drive with the Gamepad itself as your steering wheel?) the Wii U version's only other offering is a small batch of cars previously only available as DLC as well as an early nitro upgrade.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted was designed for the gamer, not the racing fan specifically. I found this dramatic change in focus refreshing and interesting, enough to immerse me in a genre I'm not typically interested in. It's much more focused on exploration and discovery than it is kitting out a car and taking it for a spin. I imagine most fans of the previous entries in the franchise will be dissatisfied with this and will no doubt be disappointed. However, if you're the kind of person that either doesn't care about that aspect of racing games or the kind of person that likes to spend hours wondering around virtual cities looking for secrets, this is the game for you. I, Leslie Kivett, giving Need for Speed: Most Wanted U a 7.5 out of 10.

Too long, didn't read? Pros and cons!

A fresh take on a old series staple.
City exploration is fun and addicting.
Cars feel unique.
Soundtrack is nice, too.
Easy Drive!

Fans of previous entries will undoubtedly be disappointed.
Barely any car customization.
Samey tracks.