I’ll be frank with you: this is the Need For Speed game that everybody has really been waiting for. After Criterion’s nearly flawless first entry into the series with a Hot Pursuit reboot, every entry since has just been lacking – especially the rather terrible The Run that released last year – and now Criterion have set out again to rework a classic Need For Speed entry with Most Wanted I feel confident in saying that this is exactly what people want from the Need for Speed franchise.
Most Wanted isn’t just a reboot of a classic game, it’s also a spiritual sequel to the rather fantastic Burnout Paradise. This open world racer places more of a GTA ‘wanted’ level around the action, but the high-octane races, arcade-style controls and big crashes throw this break-neck ride into a mould that really feels like a Burnout title rather than that of a NFS one. This is far from a bad thing; Burnout is one sorely missed title, and now Criterion have licenced cars they can throw around it all seems so much more believable.
After having called Fairhaven City home for around roughly thirty seconds, I was thrust into a race during my hands on demo at Eurogamer Expo. This point-to-point race was similar to those found in Hot Pursuit: you’ve got to win, and outrun the cops at the same time. Pleasingly I used other cars as weapons by taking them down into pursuing police cars or roadblocks, allowing me to slip right on by and storm to the finish. As before, there are your off-the-map shortcuts that, if hit correctly, will see you shave precious seconds off times and knock that leaderboard time up even higher – something that’ll be all important when the improved Autolog is rolled out into your livingroom.
The second section of the demo then saw me being pursued by the cops. I had to use all my wit and cunning to outrun the blighters and stay inconspicuous long enough for them to give up the chase – clearly I mustn’t have committed the most heinous of crimes for it to be that easy. As every car in Fairhaven City is unlocked from the start, you can just jump into a new vehicle whenever the chance comes up; this is key to escaping the cops when your wanted level gets very high. You’ll switch cars, hit side roads and shortcuts, and when you’ve finally outrun them you’ll be on the lookout for a bodyshop so you and get the car re-sprayed and get the hell out of there. Think of it in a similar way to escaping the cops in GTA, except the car physics actually work.
In comparison to Hot Pursuit, Criterion have done a really good job with car handling and planting them within this vast world. Having not been tempted to make cars run faster so traversing the world isn’t an absurdly huge undertaking, Criterion have improved handling vastly and now it no longer feels like you’re trying to steer a tank around bends. All the cars still play rather nicely though; it’s a pleasant middle ground between the arcade handling of Burnout and the more simulatory handling of Hot Pursuit – and yes I am aware that HP wasn’t a simulator before you all go up in arms about that.
Beyond Autolog, the multiplayer element of Most Wanted is also quite interesting and really not exactly what I expected to find. In a best-of-three event, I was tasked with beating my opponents across three different gametypes: Speed Test, Race and Skill Jump. Race is exactly what it says it is, a race; Speed Test sees you driving as fast as you can past a speed camera in an attempt to rack up the highest speed possible; and Skill Jump had us driving up a dirt ramp and jumping over a motorway – or freeway if you’re American – in an effort to see who could jump the furthest. This was probably the most interesting of the three modes demoed just because it also had the potential to turn into a horrifically addictive crash junction.
As you’d expect from a Criterion title this is one beautiful game. The car crashes are automotive torture porn and the entire world is a beauty to behold, it’s a wonder how EA really let anyone else make Need For Speed games after seeing what Criterion can do. For all the work the British developer has put in to Need For Speed: Most Wanted it’s clear that Burnout Paradise has influenced their designs quite a lot. It’s going to be a sure fire winner for EA this year and with the peculiar inclusion of PS Move and “Better with Kinect” features – that we still don’t know about – this could well be a bigger package than people are expecting.