Review by Zak X

"Warning: Contains critical flaw"

I'm hardly new to the NFS series. I couldn't say I'm a devoted fan either. I've picked up a few here and there to fulfill my basic racing entertainment needs. In the rather thin racing collection I have, this is by far the worst.

Not to say the game isn't good.

Most Wanted sports a good attempt at a plot. You actually feel like you're racing for a goal, for a reason. Not just the fastest time or the cash. You have a rival who's rigged a race, practically stolen your favorite ride and left you alone in the middle of a big city. What's a guy to do? Get even, of course.

And in this case, that means racing everyone and everything in the city. Your rival has used your car to race to the top of the local “Blacklist” – a list of the most wanted drivers in Rockport city. In order to challenge him for your car and pride, you'll have to beat the other 14 blacklist racers under him. More technicalities, of course. You can't just challenge the blacklist racers. You have to fulfill certain requirements before they'll agree to race you.

The first requirement is a number of race wins. You'll be given a list of races, usually with four or five more races than required to fulfill the requirement, giving you a choice of what races and what types of races you want to participate in, to a degree. NFS:MW has a multitude of race types, including: Circuit, a traditional race through the laps; Lap knockout, each lap last place is kicked out of the race; Tollbooth, a time challenge from point A to point B with checkpoints for extra time; Sprint, a race from point A to point B against 1 to 3 other racers; Speed Trap, speeding through photo ticket checkpoints as fast as possible while racing 1 to 3 other racers; and Drag, a race requiring manual shifting while the game mostly handles your steering.

The second requirement is a number of ‘milestones' met. NFS:MW sports an open, active, thriving world. Not unlike Grand Theft Auto. You can cruise the world at your leisure, but if you're spotted by the authorities, expect to enter a pursuit. A majority of milestones are pursuit parameter requirements, such as: Bounty, how much you're worth to the police; Cost to State, how much money you've cost the state to pursue you; Police vehicles damaged; Roadblocks evaded; Spike stripes evaded; Evasion time limits, losing the pursuit under a certain time; Pursuit duration, engaging the pursuit for a minimum amount of a time; and Infractions, breaking a certain number of laws in a single pursuit. There is one other kind of milestone, called a “Photo Ticket”, which requires speeding past a photo ticket camera with a minimum speed. Every milestone carries a heavy bounty which will be added to your total bounty upon completion.

The final requirement is bounty, your value to the Rockport police. This is racked up by forcing the police to deploy countermeasures, destroying their vehicles, incurring infractions and reaching milestones.

Once you've fulfilled the blacklist racer's requirements, you can finally challenge them. Each blacklist racer will put you through two or three races, usually sporting their strong suit. When you defeat a blacklist racer, you are given the opportunity to select two markers from your opponent. The markers can be anything from extra cash, unique parts, or your opponent's car.

This is recycled fourteen times over, until you finally race your rival. With increasing requirements each time. Yikes.

Fortunately, a lot of entertainment is found in pursuit. Getting the police to chase you is an adrenaline pumping experience, dodging roadblocks and disabling pursuit vehicles. The intensity of the pursuit is decided by your heat level. While in pursuit, your heat will increase up to the maximum level for your point in the game. The first two levels are only local police involvement. By heat level 3, state police are involved, and roadblocks become common. By heat 4, spike strips are deployed and helicopters begin watching you. Hit a spike strip will, of course, blow out your tires. If you happen to lose two or more tires, the pursuit is over. Your maximum speed is reduced to roughly 10 MPH. If you happen to lose only a single tire, your performance is seriously hindered, but escape is possible with clever maneuvers and some luck. As long as the helicopter is in pursuit, you can't escape. Even with no police vehicles in sight, a helicopter can keep you in sight long enough for backup to arrive. Of course, a helicopter can't see through a tunnel, and must refuel often. Hiding in tunnels and moving quickly will shake it. Finally, by heat 5, the pursuit has escalated to federal involvement. The fastest police Corvettes are deployed, roadblocks with spike strips are around every corner, backup arrives all too soon in massive numbers, and even the helicopters will swoop down to push you off the road. Frustratingly difficult, but entertaining.

Speaking of difficult, this game generally isn't when it comes to the races. NFSMW uses a ‘catch up' AI that adjusts to your skill. I've lost races by finishing in less than two minutes and won the same race, with the same car, with the same settings just by driving slowly and taking my time until the home stretch, finishing in over four minutes. Essentially, all the races come down to the last fifteen to thirty seconds, mostly dependent on dumb luck, such as traffic or racer positions. It might make for some ‘close' races, but it's certainly boring once you realize it. This is the single factor that completely ruins the game. There's barely a point to improving your car if the computer is going try and ‘match' your time. There's hardly a point to trying to win a race, when it comes down to dumb luck in the final stretch.

And by the time you finally get to race your rival, you hate him even more for putting you through the nightmare of having to race again and again and again. What an absolutely horrible design choice.

Besides gameplay, NFSMW has your usual next-gen graphics, shiny, realistic, and fast. Including motion blur and ‘live' action cut scenes.

Sound is realistic and on cue. Very crisp. The soundtrack consists of hip-hop and rap. Not exactly my taste, but fits the style of the game quite nicely.

Control varies. It's responsive, but very dependent on your vehicle. Certain vehicles are absolutely impossible to drive without constant drifting and swerving, even with good performance tweaking.

All in all, it's not a bad racing game at all. It's a blast to play with friends, the single player is detailed, the pursuits are enthralling, but unfortunately, absolutely horrid gameplay design and decision to include such over-sensitive ‘catch up' AI make the races dull and lifeless. You'll be glad to do any race that doesn't involve racing NPCs. Be sure you've got friends to play with before you get this title, you may get bored very quickly with single player.

6/10


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 02/13/06


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