Review by _Zephyre_

"A successor to 2005's Most Wanted in nothing but name"

Need for Speed: Most Wanted represents what is probably the 17th entry in the main Need for Speed series and is developed by Criterion Games, the developers behind the critically acclaimed Burnout franchise. The game doesn't really have much of a story - it just drops you into the city of Fairhaven and tells you that your goal is to top the list of 10 Most Wanted racers and off you go. Unfortunately, following a trend set by Need for Speed titles in recent years, Most Wanted showed great promise in the months leading up to its release only to shatter your expectations in the end.

Graphics - 6/10

Most Wanted is a good-looking game, no doubt. The cars are rendered beautifully, the city of Fairhaven looks very polished and you have the standard slew of lighting and particle effects you'd find in most contemporary games today. My main grouses here are with the game's art direction - or rather, its lack of a consistent one.

The game opens with a powerful and dramatic introduction to the city of Fairhaven set against Muse's Butterflies & Hurricanes, which is probably one of the few good songs in Most Wanted's soundtrack, but more on that later. Players are allowed access to the entirety of Fairhaven from the beginning, but that's not necessarily a good thing. The city has its share of industrial zones, urban areas, sweeping highways and winding mountain roads, but none of these really stand out and become as memorable as the unlockable zones of 2005's Most Wanted, the different but distinct sections of the city in 2009's Undercover or the geographically varied zones in 2010's Hot Pursuit. In fact, the arguably most memorable thing about Fairhaven is this monument consisting of these slanted, ring-like structures you can drive on in the city.

It also seems like some lessons weren't learnt very well from Undercover - bloom and other lighting effects can sometimes be blinding and obstruct your view. Perhaps in a nod to the game's red-and-white colour scheme in all the promotional material, sometimes lens flares and soft light reflections on rainy nights come in those colours - they're pretty, but they just get in the way.

Next, we have the extremely bizarre intro cinematics to race or pursuit events in the game - as much as I appreciate the effort that went into creating unique introductory cutscenes to every event in the game (which aren't very many, actually), most of them involve crazy shots of the city with the camera doing acrobatics coupled with psychedelic colours that fade to normal as the event begins. Sure, the developers may have intended it to be artistic and abstract, but it feels completely out of place in a game with very straightforward but gorgeous visuals. If it's not city shots, then it's bizarre occurrences like debris floating in the air, a rolling tornado of police cruisers, cop cars creeping around on the walls and ceilings like insects and other kinds of insanity that completely challenges your perceptions of the tone and style of the game established earlier.

Gone are the choreographed vehicular action from intro cinematics that we saw in Undercover or Hot Pursuit, which is a real shame, because in the trailers and the intro and ending cinematics of this game, it looks really good. Even your crashes in Most Wanted look unspectacular after the dramatic, masterfully cinematographed carnage from Hot Pursuit. You aren't even treated to satisfying shots of your opponents getting wrecked as you total them.

Players on the PC will have to suffer from another problem - poor optimisation. This is surprising, given how Criterion has had a solid track record of its Burnout games running really well. I've read many accounts of poor performance even on systems with pretty good hardware. Many users also seem to be experiencing annoying micro-stuttering problems that can currently only be solved by manually capping your frame rate at 30. A patch for this is supposed to be on the way, but I've heard nothing of this in a long time.

Sound - 7/10

The Need for Speed franchise has always done well in terms of sound effects - each car has its own unique engine noise and they all feel like they have adequate grunt. Smashing your car against walls, traffic and random objects on the sidewalks sound as they should and for the first time in a while, you can sound you car's horn though it's the same sound across all cars, it seems. Police chatter seems limited and repetitive - certainly not up to the standards set by 2005's Most Wanted and 2010's Hot Pursuit. Meanwhile, while music may be a very subjective matter, I personally feel that Most Wanted probably has one of the worst soundtracks in the series, with Butterflies & Hurricanes being what is probably the only decent song in the list. Bear in mind, though, that while I may not have really liked the soundtracks of previous games all that much, I could bear to leave them on until this game.

Gameplay - 6/10

If you're expecting this game to be anything at all like 2005's Most Wanted, prepare to be disappointed. What we have here is more of a spiritual successor to Burnout: Paradise than anything. The cues are all there - big jumps to crash through billboards, the driving engine, how easy the game makes it to crash or total your opponents. While that isn't necessarily a bad thing, it feels like the game is trying to be too many things at once. Police pursuits don't play nearly as significant a role as they used to in the original Most Wanted. If anything, they feel like a tacked-on addition to a Burnout game. Remember Pursuit Breakers - environmental hazards that could be triggered to disable cops - from the original Most Wanted? Those are gone, too. The same goes for cooldown spots you park in to end pursuits quickly. To quicken your cooldowns, you either drive through a paint shop to change the colour of your car or stay still for a long period of time to turn the car off. Picking the colour of your vehicle itself is pretty annoying since you'll have to drive through the paint shop several times to get the colour you want. As far as driving mechanics go, if you've played Burnout, you've played this. It's really easy to crash, but it's also reasonably easy to recover since the game drops you right back into the action. However, this is sometimes frustrating - crashing can sometimes cost you the race and so far I haven't seen much in terms of rubberbanding AI that was present in previous games.

Some cues are also obviously taken from the MMO entry Need for Speed World, which I personally feel cheapens the overall experience - single lane spike stripes, reinflating tyres and the general lightness and flightiness of the vehicles. Bump into another vehicle - cop or racer - and chances are you'll find them veering out of control, smacking into the wall and giving you credit for a takedown. It's easy for you to be sent veering off to the left or the right too from a tap from behind. Compare this with 2005's Most Wanted where everything felt more solid, the cops actually felt like a growing threat as your Heat Levels increased and you could actually have helicopters buzzing you. Yep, choppers are gone, too. Reinflating tyres feel unneccessary because having your tyres blown by spike strips doesn't completely disable your vehicle as badly as previous games since you can still travel at reduced speeds, plus the next paint shop - which will change your colour and fully repair your vehicles - is usually never too far away.

Most Wanted has a novel new menu system called Easydrive which pretty much lets you do everything while driving around the city, such as changing your tires or nitrous system, searching for your next event and whatnot. You don't have to stop and poke through menus anymore while driving through the open world. While this seems fine on paper, chances are, you probably wouldn't want to be poking through menus while barrelling down a busy highway at over 100 miles per hour. This means you can also swap out your parts in the middle of an event, but managing that while staying focused on your driving is a feat in itself. Some people I've heard from have likened Easydrive to texting while driving - I couldn't agree more.

Cars in the game are obtained by exploring the open world and finding them parked in all kinds of locations. Once you find them, you can drive up to them and swap cars or you can jump to their location in your car of choice with the Easydrive menu. There's a pretty broad selection of vehicles available, from the hardy Ford Raptor pickup to the tiny, superlight Ariel Atom to exclusive exotics like the Pagani Huayra. To unlock the Most Wanted racers' cars, you have to take them out after you beat them in a race. For every vehicle you get, you'll have to use them in a few set events in order to unlock performance customisation options for your vehicle. That sounds fine and dandy at first, but there actually aren't all that many events in the game, and after your 5th car or so you'll realise that you're doing the same events over and over again, only in different vehicles. Meanwhile, the only customisation option you'll get for the appearance of your vehicles is the paint job.

Overall - 6/10

I want to like Most Wanted, I really do. I came in expecting a solid successor to the 2005 game of the same name, but cops play such a small role in this game it's not even funny. In the end, this game's more about Autolog and the multiplayer experience than anything, but there's only going to be so much fun to be had in seeing who can jump through that billboard at the fastest speed.

So, does the latest entry in the Need for Speed franchise deserve the Most Wanted title? Definitely not.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 01/22/13

Game Release: Need for Speed: Most Wanted - A Criterion Game (US, 10/30/12)

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