I have always been a big fan of Need for Speed games and was extremely excited for the latest installment; Most Wanted. There have been a lot of NFS games of late, even a previous Most Wanted game, so what makes this game special?

Simple, the involvement of Criteron. They were involved in NFS Hot Pursuit to good effect but this time they were given the reigns to the Most Wanted franchise. Criteron are famous for the Burnout series which focused on arcade style racing with spectacular explosions and crashes.I love the idea of the two styles of play combining in a whole new NFS experience and that is what you get with Need for Speed Most Wanted.

Story

The game takes the traditional NFS approach with 10 Most Wanted drivers in the city of Fairhaven  and you need to build up street cred (Speed Points) and take them down one at a time to become the Most Wanted. Granted, it’s pretty straight forward but an effective way to structure a game like this. What is new is the way you earn Speed Points. Rather than slowly unlocking cars as you progress, NFSMW has all cars unlocked from the beginning; only thing is that they are hidden all over the city. Find a car, jump in and take it for a spin and from then on it’s accessible through your in-game drop down menu. With each car comes a series of races of varying difficulty which unlock various car upgrades from NOS and drive trains through to off-road tires.

need for speed most wanted screenshot

The nice part about this approach is that you can drive whichever cars you prefer, building up street cred and upgrades as you go and tackling the Most Wanted list with any of the cars you have found. I found that certain cars were better for certain races, depending on who your opponent is. This means that you have a full arsenal of vehicular weapons at your disposal and can pick and choose at will, a nice change of gears for the NFS franchise (Apologies, I couldn’t resist the pun).

Presentation

As you boot up the game you are presented with gorgeous intro screens and menus, the design across all aspects of this game is incredible and goes a long way to setting the scene for the actual gameplay. When it comes to the actual in-game graphics prepare to be surprised again. The graphics are beautiful. It boggles the mind that developers are still able to produce games that continue to push the envelope on aging systems like Xbox 360 & PS3, but this is exactly what EA and Criterion have done. The reflections on the wet roads and the dynamic time of day functionality really push the consoles capabilities, delivering a great visual experience all-round.

NFSMW screenshot

One thing that you will notice with NFSMW is the removal of traditional menus. Rather than having to stop playing and navigate through complex menus, NFSMW has a simple drop down style overlay (EasyDrive) that you can access with the D-pad or through Kinect voice while in-game. This is a bit tricky while driving but makes switching cars, races and upgrades super quick and easy. Less time fiddling and more time driving – win.

Need for Speed Most Wanted is definitely a visual treat but you had best keep your eyes on the road because the racing action is furious.

Gameplay

NFSMW is a furious racer with the impact of the Criterion guys becoming very apparent when you get behind the wheel. The cars all handle very differently which gives them each a unique flavor and the ability for you to pick the ones that work for you. Throughout the game (freeride and in races) you will have to content with traffic. As always traffic provides a real test of your reflexes and challenges the player, however it can also be very frustrating when you are in the last part of a race and you end up crashing into someone at the last intersection. One thing that EA has done is not to penalize you too much after you have crashed – you get a running reset and essentially just lose a couple of seconds. The crashes are pretty cool, but not as spectacular as those of Burnout Paradise although the damage your car shows can be pretty cool.

need for speed most wanted menus

As you would expect the city is crawling with cops and you will often find yourself being chased by the fuzz while you are trying to take a leisurely cruise through the city (at 280 km/h…) and as per previous games the more you avoid them the higher your wanted level becomes and the more stops they pull out (4×4 cops, roadblocks, spike strips etc). The spike strips are really cool, one you go over one your tires are shredded and you have to drive on your rims, which glow bright red as you go. At least until you drive through one of the repair shops dotted around the city.

NFS most wanted crash screenshot

Beyond the standard Most Wanted framework there are loads of Autolog milestones to complete, beating your friend’s times, speeds (speed cameras are all over the city) and a range of other metrics. It adds a nice organic aspect to the game, as your friends achieve things Autolog updates and informs you. The multiplayer gives the game some serious legs and will provide hours of entertainment.

Need For Speed Most Wanted was developed by Criterion Games and published Electronic Arts. Our review is based on the Xbox 360 version. It is also available for the PC & PlayStation 3.