Criterion has one of the finest racing game pedigrees around, from the massive runaway success of the Burnout series, to the developer's work on the Need for Speed franchise with Hot Pursuit in 2010. The UK studio has almost always produced racing games of inimitable quality, which explains why Criterion is back for a second crack at EA's Need for Speed.
After the disappointment that was Black Box's Need for Speed: The Run last year, this year's Need for Speed offering really only has Criterion's past racing efforts to live up to, which means that expectations have been high for its reimagining of Need for Speed: Most Wanted.
Can it measure up to Criterion's past glories though, or is the racing giant all out of ideas and running on empty?
Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2012) Review
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit was a fantastic game. Tearing across the winding desert roads of Seacrest County was always an adrenaline-fuelled treat, and having races laid out for you at your fingertips made the whole thing straightforward, intuitive and low on frustration. Hot Pursuit is a tough act to follow then, and although Need for Speed: Most Wanted is on paper a more ambitious game than its forebear, the reality is something that simply fails to scratch the same racing itch that Hot Pursuit so deftly managed. It's also an immensely frustrating racing game to boot.
Structurally, Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a lot like Burnout Paradise, Criterion's previous open-world racing effort, but bizarrely it doesn't seem to have benefitted from the same sort of clarity and range of events that game had. Did you enjoy the cop events in Hot Pursuit? They're gone. Did you enjoy Burnout Paradise's seat-of-the-pants, heart-in-mouth Marked Man and Road Rage events? You won't find anything nearly as exciting in Most Wanted. Criterion has built an undeniably brilliant open-world, but forgot to fill it with exciting activities to tackle.
Sure, there are speed cameras to activate, Jack Spots to locate with new cars awarded once you find them, and like Burnout Paradise there's billboards to smash through and desirable cars to takedown. It's this latter aspect that provides the crux of what Most Wanted has to offer, as you earn Speed Points for performing various tasks such as completing races, beating Autolog requests, racing past speed cameras, smashing billboards, busting through security gates, evading the cops and so on. Once you've earned the requisite amount of Speed Points, you gain the opportunity to race against a most wanted car, which are among the most exclusive and desirable in the game.
To give you an idea, by the time you reach the top 5 most wanted rides, you'll be taking on the likes of the Porsche 918 Spyder Concept, Lamborghini Aventador, Bugatti Veyron, Pagani Huayra and Koenigsegg Agera R, exceeding speeds of 200mph around the city of Fairhaven. As a result you can expect to get into plenty of scrapes with the local law enforcement, which is when Most Wanted is at its most enjoyable and exciting. As you'd expect from any Criterion racer, the visuals are spectacular and the handling model itself is exceptionally fun. It's just missing that overall factor that made Hot Pursuit and Burnout Paradise such a joy.
Each of the game's 41 cars have five of their own races to work through to unlock mods, meaning that you'll need to earn things like nitrous, lightweight body mods, track tyres, off-road tyres, long or short gears, reinforced chassis mods and so forth, before unlocking the better pro mods through progression-based tasks. There's a bit of overlap with the races between vehicles, so you'll be repeating the odd event here and there, and soon completing each race becomes something of a chore, especially as you have to drive to each before competing. You're never more then 4 or 5 miles from a race, but a fast travel option would have been welcome nonetheless.
You're able to change car at any time via the so-called 'EasyDrive' menu, accessible by pressing the d-pad to cycle through options, but apart from that, you'll be putting in a lot of mileage around Fairhaven. Driving around can be enjoyable, and beating your friends' Autolog records in races, on speed cameras, billboard jumps and in police chases can be a blast. Autolog really makes the game, constantly tracking your progress in practically every facet of Most Wanted. Without it, the game wouldn't be nearly as interesting to play and the city wouldn't be as enjoyable to explore.
Kinect integration also rears its head in Most Wanted, enabling you to navigate through the game's EasyDrive menu with simple voice commands. Saying “EasyDrive” brings up the menu, while barking “next”, “previous”, “yes”, and “no” enables you to change options. Frankly, you can cycle through options far quicker using the d-pad, and you won't have the game inadvertently paused by friends who are having a casual chat in the same room while you're playing. Better with Kinect then? Hardly. It works fine, but it's a fairly pointless gimmick and makes you look like a nutter as you struggle through the menu choices and invariably smash into a wall.
Multiplayer slots seamlessly into Need for Speed: Most Wanted, and is accessed through the same d-pad or Kinect-powered EasyDrive menu, offering the same type of race events as the single-player mode. Circuit races, speed runs and sprint races are the order of the day, and that's about it. You drive to the meet up point, wait for players to assemble and then race. If you're facing in the wrong direction, tough luck, you're screwed. If you grow impatient waiting for everyone to arrive at the meet up and drive away, you're out of luck. It all feels far too slapdash and disorganised, leading to some anarchic scuffles that are often won through sheer dumb luck rather than pure skill.
While there's plenty to do solo and in multiplayer, there's a dearth of variety that renders things rather tiresome after a few solid hours of play. Perhaps you'll be motivated to smash through the more than 150 billboards, more than 150 security gates and 66 speed cameras, but it'll be shutting down all 10 most wanted cars that'll keep you playing more than anything else. That and beating your mates wherever possible that is. Most Wanted is slow to reward your achievements however, lingering on crashes and failures, while largely ignoring your takedowns and offering none of the feeling of constant progression and sense of reward that Hot Pursuit constantly granted after each race.
There are some quite workmanlike achievements to snaffle up as well, most of which are mercifully quite easy, aside from completing every race in first place with every car. That's 205 races to defeat in all, not including the ten head to heads against the most wanted list. You'll be doing that one for a while, but it pales in comparison next to the task of smashing every billboard and security gate, activating every speed camera and locating every Jack Point. Prepare for a lot of grinding to grab all 1000 Gamerscore, or you can bag yourself a solid few hundred playing casually for a few hours.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted is still a superb racing game, but it's lacking in variety and has a whole litany of tiny niggles that mar the overall experience. Where Criterion's previous racing efforts have been more neatly presented, there's something intrinsically irritating about the EasyDrive menu, which has to be used while you're driving, with no option to pause and fiddle with certain options like car customisation. In the middle of a race, restarting for instance is a clunky and fiddly affair, when you'd expect this kind of basic thing to be streamlined and intuitive.
Most Wanted simply doesn't feel as refined or as accomplished as either Burnout Paradise or Hot Pursuit, and we mention them numerous times as they're examples of better racing games that Criterion has made in the past. Need for Speed: Most Wanted is good, but we know that Criterion is capable of so much more. And it's for that reason that this latest Need for Speed is a bit of a disappointment, even if it is still a relatively enjoyable ride. It's not nearly as bad as Need for Speed: The Run at least, which is faint praise.
Source - xbox360ach