Need For Speed: Most Wanted Preview
Of all the video game franchises in existence Need For Speed has to be one of the most varied in history, in terms of style and sadly quality. For every Hot Pursuit there was a Pro Street, and while those weaker games in the series may not have been a critical success they still had something about them that made you want to carry on playing. So when it was announced that one of my guilty pleasures, Most Wanted, was getting the remake/re-imagining treatment my initial gut reaction was something along the lines of “Oh god why?” only to be turned instantly around into a little happy dance as Criterion were announced as the developer.
There are a small handful of developers in the world that can nail a racing game and Criterion are at the top of that list; their take on Hot Pursuit is undoubtedly one of my favourite racing games of all time and I have the Autolog times to prove it. With Hot Pursuit Criterion had put the Need For Speed franchise back on top, only for it be taken down a few pegs with last year’s The Run.
It’s probably best to not think of Most Wanted as being a remake or a re-imagining, just take everything you remember about the first one, and to a point the Need For Speed series as a whole, and put it on the shelf for the moment. One of the first things replaced is that ‘underground’ street racing look and feel. I know that it sounds a little odd but the new Most Wanted feels much cleaner and lighter than any of its predecessors, the city feels much more open and more like a playground than any racing game before it.
…the city feels much more open and more like a playground than any racing game before it.
Thankfully that need to tell a ‘story’ has remained on the shelf too; it doesn’t fit the game or Criterion, and I’m glad they’ve recognised that. Most Wanted will instead focus on enabling you and your friends to have those kind of experiences that become stories and anecdotes, be it when you are playing online with each other or passively via the latest version of Autolog.
As you play the game pretty much everything you do will earn you ‘Speed Points’ (think exp). These points determine your level and as you earn more of them you’ll gain access to mods and upgrades for your cars. What’s interesting though is that these speed points don’t unlock new cars… nothing does – all of Most Wanted’s cars are available from the start and to anybody. All you need to do is find them hidden around the city, push a button to get in and it’s yours to drive around as you wish so there’s no need for that 40 hour grind to unlock the box cover car. As far as events go we’re spoilt for choice; an early glimpse of the game’s map that I got to see was littered with starting points – add to those the car specific events and the game’s many online modes and Most Wanted should be keeping even the most dedicated fan busy for a long time.
…all of Most Wanted’s cars are available from the start and to anybody. All you need to do is find them hidden around the city, push a button to get in and it’s yours to drive around as you wish.
Hopping online, Criterion fans will be glad to hear that Most Wanted sees the return of the free roam social co-op challenges last seen in Burnout Paradise, which for me is one of the most exciting features and one missed from Hot Pursuit. As for the more traditional online modes you’d expect there will be a few twists that you might not. A team race for example comprises of getting to the start line from your location, taking out your competitors along the way, the race itself, and after crossing the finish line you’re actually encouraged to pull a 180 and head back the opposite way to add to the carnage and ensure that your team takes home some extra points.
Powering it all and tying it together is Autolog, now in its 2.0 version. Autolog now tracks everything in the game, not just your event times… I mean everything – the number of collectables found, time spent in a certain car, distance off a particular jump, security gates smashed, billboards collected – everything! So if you’re not quick enough to beat my times, you can probably catch more air off a jump or own a road that I can’t. It’ll even track how many times you try and beat my times, leading to that great competitiveness you have between your online friends that Hot Pursuit’s Autolog fuelled a few years ago. Autolog is now much more integrated with the game as a whole too; your feed is no longer relegated to a separate option in the menu and has now become your event hub/map screen. In here you’ll find a news ticker showcasing everything your friends have done and offer you the ability to take on challenges set by your buddies, comment on photos taken and view who holds that ‘Most Wanted’ title.
Most Wanted has that something special that Criterion inject into anything they touch; they make you feel like a child again playing on the car mat with your Die-cast toys, whizzing and screeching around corners. Anybody with a driving licence knows that this isn’t how cars drive in the real world but it lets that ten year old inside you play again and it all just feels right.
Most Wanted looks, sounds and drives exactly like you want it to. Criterion have put their love of cars and everything they have learnt over the last decade into this game and it shows. The version of Most Wanted I got my hands on, while early, left me really excited for launch and it’s already a shoe-in for racing game of the year. Most Wanted is going to be the game that puts Need for Speed back on the top of that racing pile and raises that bar for everybody else at the same time.