There are very few game franchises that I’ve owned and played (at least a few hours) since the very first release. The Need for Speed franchise is one of the few. The franchise has seen at least one release every year for the last decade, since 2002. Over the years, the franchise has seen a decline in sales and buy-in, mostly after the 2005 release of the first Need for Speed: Most Wanted, developed by EA Canada. Surprisingly, in 2010, EA admitted that the decrease in sales and quality was largely their own fault, as they overworked one of its developer studios, Black Box. The decision was thus made to alternate between 2 studios when releasing upcoming titles.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2012) is the 19th title in the Need for Speed franchise. The game is an open-world, racing video game, developed by British games developer, Criterion Games, who have a second crack at developing for the franchise. Not surprisingly then, the game is based heavily on previous Criterion titles, and doesn’t follow the standard EA formula for previous titles. There isn’t much time wasted on strange customisations players know little about, and there are no real menus to speak of, which means that the player spends almost 100% of his time driving around or racing.
In terms of the storyline for Need for Speed: Most Wanted, the idea is simple: There are 10 “Wanted” drivers on a police list, which you have to compete against to be the Most Wanted driver in Fairhaven. To get to compete against each of these drivers, however, you have to accumulate a set amount of Speed Points. This means that there are no drawn out plots between races; most of which in recent years does nothing more that question your intelligence. Once you’ve beaten a Most Wanted driver, you then have to take out the driver (by means of getting the driver to crash their car) in order to gain access to the car they drive.
The game is based on an open world environment, which the player has to traverse in order to unlock race events and cars. Criterion has removed the practice of racing for money. If you can find it, you can drive it… nothing more. In order to unlock modifications, such as NOS and tyres, you have to complete the 4-5 races allocated to the individual car. There are a total of 65 different cars to unlock (ranging from every day cars, to street and F1 racers), which roughly equates to 200 separate races. One or two of the races are duplicated across the different cars, which may have been monotonous, but for the different conditions under which the race takes place. In addition to finding the 150+ different car locations in Fairhaven, there are also numerous billboards and security gates to crash through, and speed cameras to fly past, to compare your high speeds with the online community.
EA has never lagged in the graphics department when it came to their game releases. Need for Speed: The Run had pretty impressive graphics when it was released last year, and Need for Speed: Most Wanted is no different. The biggest difference this time around is that the game is not as resource intensive as its predecessor. The visuals are nothing short of stunning. Taking a drive around the scenic Fairhaven landscapes takes on a new meaning; something I found myself doing on a few occasions without the intent of looking for new cars to unlock. The scenes at sunrise and sunset are realistic, resembling the true driving experience of driving with the sun in your eyes. A negative aspect, if really picky, is that these sun shots tend to obscure your view while driving, and can be a bit of a challenge while racing.
Although EA have introduced a few simulation-based racing games in its past, we always knew that Most Wanted would not fit this mould; even more so once expert arcade racing developers, Criterion, were thrown into the mix. Need for Speed: Most Wanted is one of Criterion’s best works, mostly due to the fine-tuned, driver-centric game that produces high levels of speed, even when drifting around corners. Moreover, each of the 65 cars available to race produce a unique behaviour when taking off, high-speed control, right down to how it handles when you lose control and perform jumps. Previous arcade races released by EA didn’t have the same level of detail in every car; although these sorts of tweaks were never a crucial aspect of such titles.
Fairhaven provides many different racing environments, from straight line street racing, off-road terrain, many twists and turns, and increases and decreases in elevation. A great deal of emphasis was placed on speed in this title, as you tend to lose control easier the higher the car’s speed, even on straight roads. In many racing games, the perception of speed isn’t always relayed to gamers, even when reaching speeds of over 300. The risk is throwing a race is further increased as almost all head-on collisions cause a crash that will reset your position and cost valuable time during a race. Cutting corners and riding the curbs also add to the variable handling of the cars, as you can easily slide into barriers and flip when hitting any of these elements at speed.
As mentioned previously, the game has no real Main Menu. Players, instead, have to make use of the new Easy Drive feature from which you can choose racing destinations, connect to multiplayer challenges, change cars and add unlocked upgrades to cars, all without switching to another menu or pausing the game (and even while driving). Easy Drive can be easily accessed by means of the numeric keypad on PC, D-pad on consoles.
During exploring or racing you may encounter cops along the way. If you’re busted by the cops while involved in a race, you will then simply lose the race. If, however, you’re just roaming, you are merely busted without any obvious consequence. Although the cops are a hindrance during races, there seems to be very little that they add to the story, especially since they aren’t as well equipped as in previous Need for Speed titles. The presence of cops isn’t something to fear while driving, as the only crimes they react to are driving at excessive speeds (above 150km/h) or actually smashing into one. Driving on the wrong side of the road, damaging property and even driving into traffic doesn’t have a bearing on nearby cops.
The online and multiplayer aspect of the game offers the same types of racing as in single player modes. The difference being that the host has the ability to select five challenges for players to join in, known as the Speedlist. The great thing about the Speedlist is that the host can offer a mixed bag of racing types so that no one player can dominate if particular good in one aspect of racing. These races consist of the standard sprints and circuit-based races, takedown events (demolition derby type racing), team races, drift challenges, and mission-based events (such as performing the longest jumps off ramps, etc.).
To gain entry to these five events, players have to race across the map to find the marked locations. The race starts when the last racer arrives, which is known to cause some confusion as players may be facing different directions upon starting. This is something you will get used to after a few attempts, especially since you are able to judge based on the orientation of other racers.
Sound and Music:
As with the graphics, Need for Speed titles have never been lacking in regards to its sound quality and the accompanying music. The sound effects from the game add to the realistic driving experience – the rumbling of engines and the bangs from crashes cannot be ignored. It’s difficult to compare these sounds effects to The Run, as I am sure there are only slight improvements; something I cannot distinguish myself. What has improved, though, is the official soundtrack. With music from artists/bands such as The Who, Muse, The Chemical Brothers and Green Day, there is definitely something there for music lovers to enjoy while taking to the virtual streets.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a significant improvement over The Run, mostly in that it doesn’t attempt to provide the gamer with a drawn out and clichéd story. The developers have also removed many of the features found in most of the Need for Speed titles, such as purchasing cars and upgrades with the money you’ve saved, and opts instead for a ‘find-and-drive’ approach. This feature makes it compulsory for players to explore the open-world environment in search of the (more than) 150 different locations for the 65 cars available. The main menu is essentially removed from the game, and allows the player to immediately start driving, even from start-up. Instead, players will have to get used to the Easy Drive component to access races and equip their cars.
These new features add something new to the game and may be something of a hit and miss with fans. Judging by the amount of media attention and pre-sales the game received, it should be one of the more popular titles in the franchise to date. The game has great replay value, some of which may only be an attempt to find hidden cars. Either way, fans of the franchise will spend a good few hours working their way up the Most Wanted rankings, and a few extra hours completing all the races, after finding the individual cars.
If you’re one of the many fans who were left disappointed after the releases in previous years, this new title will reignite the passion of the early years. Although the damage from poor fan reception [and releasing too many titles too soon] may not be entirely wiped from our memories, Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a step in the right direction.