Review by horror_spooky
"Not 2 fast and not 2 furious"
Two of the biggest racing franchises of all time are Need for Speed and Burnout. When EA purchased Burnout developer Criterion, many expected Criterion to continue working on their Burnout franchise, so that EA could have two strong racing products on the market at a time. However, Criterion was handed the reigns of the Need for Speed franchise and told to reboot Most Wanted, one of the most popular entries in the franchise. This has resulted in a strange Frankenstein game that attempts to stitch together elements of the Burnout and Need for Speed franchises, but never really does either series justice.
Need for Speed games are known for having a storyline reason why the racing is happening. This has been met with mixed results. EA has toyed with live action scenes to move the story forward, as well as having a more narrative-focused driving experience with last year's Need for Speed: The Run. This reboot of Need for Speed: Most Wanted drops any idea of a story. The player is given 10 of the "Most Wanted" racers that have to be defeated, and then are thrust into the city to freely drive around and do whatever. Strangely, there are still cut-scenes preceding events, but they depict random things (such as a car splitting into 50 cars and then combining all the copies back into itself) and serve more as a commercial for the vehicles featured in the game.
These odd, but stylish cut-scenes serve little to no purpose. They're fun to look at for a while, but they soon get old, and I found myself skipping through them at any opportunity. A racing game doesn't necessarily need a story, and the goal of taking down the 10 Most Wanted racers is honestly enough justification for me. The races against these guys can be fun, and the goal of destroying their car after the race is a good element from Burnout that Criterion brought over to the NFS franchise.
Another defining element of the Most Wanted sub-series in NFS are the cops. Police will chase after players and try to "bust" them. Contained in races, these police chases are great. They add an unpredictable aspect to the equation. Furthermore, the police in this game actually go after the other racers as well, so it doesn't feel like a cheap way to up the challenge. It causes a lot of chaos and mayhem. But when one is just trying to drive around the city to reach the next mission or just to complete the side-objectives, cops can become a huge nuisance. They will chase after you for no reason at all. Most of the time it's better to just let the cops catch you and then start driving back to wherever you were going. Losing on purpose to make the game better is definitely not good.
This remake of Most Wanted uses a unique progression structure that has left me with mixed feelings. Every single car in the game has its own set of events. Some of these events repeat, and their difficulty rating changes based on the car, but there are many events unique to specific cars. These events are not very varied, and mostly consist of regular racing challenges. Completing these events earn the player Speed Points, which in turn makes them eligible to challenge a Most Wanted driver when enough points are accumulated.
At the beginning of the game, this progression structure is very restricting. Players start with one car, a Porsche, and are forced to either drive around the city looking for new cars to drive at "Jack Spots", or earn enough Speed Points to challenge for a new car. This creates a sort of glass ceiling for the beginning hours of the game that can become quite frustrating. Once the game opens up a bit and the player has access to other cars, the game becomes less stressful, and in fact, leaves a lot of room for players to climb up the ladder how they wish. I can imagine many people starting this game and becoming too annoyed with the first few hours, though, and putting it down for good.
Driving in the game is done well, with a couple of hiccups. The controls are great, but to drive any good takes a lot of practice. Corners are especially tricky in this game, and require the utmost precision. The "arrow walls" that have kept the tracks feeling enclosed and uniform appear at seemingly random intervals, but the checkpoint system helps alleviate the dangers of removing the arrow walls after a bit of a learning curve.
Unfortunately, the driving can also be incredibly annoying due to a mechanic that was lifted from Burnout which simply does not belong in the Need for Speed universe. In Burnout, whenever a crash happens, the game shows the crash in a replay in slow-motion, showing just how brutal the crash was with the car parts flying all over the road. This is attempted in Need for Speed, but can occur at such a frequent rate due to how busy the roads are that it just becomes a drag on the pace. Not only that, but the cars are never destroyed in any spectacular fashion. I believe this is due to the actual car manufacturers not wanting their vehicles to be depicted as being easily destroyed, so even the most bombastic crashes in Most Wanted look like nothing more than a fender bender, completely robbing the entire "crash" system of its impact in the process.
Autolog is EA's buzzword for their social networking features they have installed in the game. Honestly, Autolog was one of the better features in the game. It tracks the high scores of friends for all the different events and players are rewarded for besting their buddies. It makes connecting with friends online incredibly simple without having to deal with the Xbox Guide, which seems to run slower and slower with every update Microsoft bogs down their system with.
Easyride is a mechanic that was also done very well in Most Wanted. Easyride allows players to access all the information they normally would through pause menus in a much more dynamic fashion. By using the d-pad, players can open up a menu that allows them to automatically jump to a new car, retry an event, add mods to their car, or more. Granted, it's annoying when trying to scroll through Easyride only to have a cop come after you because, gasp, you're parked, but the idea behind the system is great. I hope that it is implemented in future racing titles from EA as it really streamlines the entire experience.
Speaking of streamlining the experience, Most Wanted takes away almost all the customization elements that made the previous games popular with the hardcore racing franchise in favor of a much more simplistic approach to customization. I feel like this will not sit well with a lot of fans, but I thought it made the game feel much less bogged down by numbers and the like. Mods are earned by doing well in races, and then these mods can be applied to the cars. By completing "milestones", which are just mini-challenges, the mods can be upgraded.
I wish that there was a bit more freedom in terms of choosing the color of the car and such, but this has been removed as well in favor of Bodyshops that are dotted throughout the city. Bodyshops can be driven through to automatically fix the vehicle. It will also change the color of your car, so it sucks if you're stuck with a color you don't like. I do appreciate the streamlining in terms of upgrading the vehicle, as screwing around in the garages bored me to death in previous installments, but taking away the other customization elements was a bummer. The mod system is also hit and miss. For me, my feelings about it fall somewhere in the middle.
Releasing near the end of the seventh generation of video gaming, there is a lot of pressure for this entry in the franchise to be a graphics powerhouse. In the end, it's merely okay. The game runs with a smooth framerate, but there is nothing special about the city at all. There are no defining characteristics or anything that makes the environment memorable. Cars are bright and shiny, but with the destruction physics toned down, I feel other and older games have done a much better job.
A trademark of these annual release games have always been to provide a high quality licensed soundtrack. Most Wanted doesn't really deliver on this, but there are a few tracks worth mentioning. Police chatter on the radio as the player speeds through the streets is a nice touch, but without an overarching story, there's not that much intensity to the entire thing. In fact, players are rewarded points for being busted.
One thing I can't deny about this new Need for Speed is that it certainly has a lot to do. With every single car having its own set of events, there is a lot of replayability here. The free roaming elements tend to hurt the game more than it helps, unfortunately, but the Autolog functionality can create a competitive atmosphere with friends online. The online multiplayer is okay, but hampered by EA's dreaded Online Pass. If there is offline multiplayer, I couldn't find it, which is a real shame as the previous Need for Speed game had great offline multiplayer racing.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2012) fails to live up to the expectations set by the original, and it also fails to successfully blend the mechanics of Need for Speed with Burnout. Criterion has proved that they are capable due to their past work, but this latest game is a major disappointment, and there are quite simply much better racers on the market.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 01/22/13
Game Release: Need for Speed: Most Wanted (US, 10/30/12)
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