Stop me if you’ve heard this before: “Need for Speed: Most Wanted is Burnout Paradise 2.”
While a quick glance even at this very website infers this, it bears repeating with the appropriate emphasis. There is no doubt about it: Need for Speed: Most Wanted is Burnout Paradise 2. By taking the police-chase and Blacklist elements from 2005′s seminal NFS-title and mixing in their own racing wizardry, Criterion definitely haven’t made a sequel to someone else’s game. But once the similarities sink in, could the loss of DJ Atomica and a number of staple Burnout game modes stall two franchises at once?
Accessible isn’t always a dirty word
Easyride is the main and most immediately noticeable addition to Criterion’s formula, and it admirably performs the functions of an Autolog and an on-the-go activity list. A quick push on the D-pad during free-roam opens up a long list of activities from changing cars to challenging friends. Every vehicle in the game, barring the Most Wanted, is available as soon as you find it in the world. They’re parked on the side of roads, rooftops, alleyways and off-road; it’s an unusual level of accessibility to begin with but it quickly becomes apparent why it’s set up in this way. Each vehicle has 3 locations it can be found in and once unlocked you’re able to transfer to any location via Easyride — so with Garages done away with, you immediately have access to any vehicle and any race at any time and this makes the action nearly instantaneous, which is exactly how an open-world arcade-racer should be.
This ability to switch between cars is essential to your progression through the Most Wanted list. Completing races, multiplayer events, cop chases and various open-world challenges rewards you with Speed Points and these are your XP (they even oddly change to be called Experience Points when you’re offline), used to unlock drivers on the Blacklist.
Each vehicle comes with its own list of five races, and while some of the track variations repeat a little too frequently, you’ll so often be clenching your buttocks around corners that you won’t really care.
Winning races unlocks various upgrades for each vehicle that you will need if you’re to meet some of the harder challenges, although these upgrade choices are fairly one-sided as ‘more speed’ is basically always the better option, rather than slowing the car down with off-road tyres and a heavier chassis. Thanks to the excellent balance with the number of points awarded, you’ll need to become familiar with a large number of vehicles in order to make your way to the number one slot.
Criterion’s Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit engendered in me a deep and abiding love of driving supercars sideways, and Most Wanted has tweaked this model to perfection. As with Hot Pursuit drifting comes easily with a tap of the brakes, and navigating corners at high speed is still about that joyously simple left-right mechanic but its the tyre-physics that gives Most Wanted its own style. In a straight line there is a palpable point of grip that lets you flick your car in the opposite direction quite dramatically and this feeling of rubber-to-road is superbly communicated to the player allowing an intuitive level of control at high speed. You’re going to need it too because whether it’s your Lexus LFA, your Marussia B2 or your Pagani Huayra (hoo-ra, hwa-i-ra, hi-ara, whatever), making steering decisions under such face-melting conditions is a thrilling challenge and never has threading a needle been so much fun.
But will it run Crysis?
Fairhaven is a stunning environment to race through, but only if you can meet the demand of a supercharged Frostbite 2.0. Road surfaces, particularly when wet, are photo-realistic, the cityscape makes for amazingly blurry eye-candy at high speed and the number of destructible objects and particle physics firing off make this is a kaleidoscopic treat for high-end PC users. The bottleneck appears to be the CPU as it makes thousands of physics decisions at 350 kilometers an hour and even on dual 580′s (admittedly no longer anywhere near top-of-the-line) there was occasionally noticeable slowdowns that often resulted in collisions. On any settings, the car models are lovingly detailed and the shortlist of 41 available vehicles contains a Who’s Who of car porn, further amped by the fantastically over-the-top introduction sequence for each Most Wanted race. If you can get it running in top gear, Most Wanted is a simply gorgeous PC title.
Some of Burnout Paradise‘s more annoying traits have survived into this not-sequel, starting with crash sequences that are just too long and act like an airbag on the pace of the game. Often dropping you from first to last, they’re simply a cutscene of your vehicle slowly disintegrating that rudely pulls you out of race-pace.
This is a frustratingly incongruent element and given how the AI seems scaled, crashing anywhere up to the last kilometre is easily forgiven anyway. Instead of artificially knackering the AI drivers, it would make more sense to let the pace continue unabated and allow instant respawns (which exist in multiplayer).
Cop chases, particularly in the Ambush race-mode, are equally annoying thanks to the incredible foresight and availability of the motorised constabulary. Escaping a cordon of cop cars and busting out on the freeway usually ends up with more police coming at your from in front, which means the best way to lose heat is to drive very slowly, keeping ahead of those searching behind you and giving you enough time to react to the ones spawning in-front. This is pretty suboptimial: I want to outrun, not outpark Fairhaven’s finest. Compounding this further is the fact that if your race involves the police, their hunt will persist after you complete the event. While a long police chase can net massive amounts of Speed Points, it can also get quite wearing. Perhaps if there were still structures you could drop onto pursuing cop-cars it might be more enjoyable.
Just leave me alone, I know what I’m doing
Where Most Wanted really steps away from Burnout Paradise is in the paucity of game modes. Gone are Burning Routes where a win offered you a variant of your current vehicle. No more will you Road Rage or take a Midnight Ride, and you’ll never be a Marked Man. You can’t Stunt-Roll, beat Road Rules or Showtime your ruined vehicle into oncoming traffic. Shutdowns do make an appearance at least, but are solely confined to the Most Wanted vehicles as a compulsory activity if you want their car after beating them. It seems unlikely that Criterion are planning an actual Burnout Paradise 2 given how thematically entwined it now is with Most Wanted and while I can understand how Showtime, for instance, doesn’t fit the theme on offer, the lack of such extraneous activities leave the game somewhat poorer for their absence.
After 9 hours, I became the number one Most Wanted driver and was told that “the adventure begins now” …only it didn’t. Multiplayer with randoms is the typical lagfest expected of a PC title that isn’t a triple-A shooter, although the gameplay it promises is a lot of fun. A race might be called for by the host, with bonus speed points awarded to the driver who gets to the start-line first, and once all drivers are in the start zone the race begins no matter which way you’re facing. There’s a chaotic free-form feeling to multiplayer and co-op that makes the lack of a solid connection all the more frustrating. With all vehicles unlocked there’s little incentive to finish modding your remaining cars or working through the (oddly small) list of collectibles ,although there is some lure in beating the times of friends. A feature that kept me coming back to Burnout Paradise was some of the massive cliff-drops you could do out in the mountains that made my stomach tense up and my testes retract in fear but sadly, these too are absent.
Criterion’s vision for Most Wanted mixes broad outlines from the 2005 original with only the very core elements of their 2008 title. It seems to be a deliberate design decision that strips so many options away from both games and, while we’re certainly justified in pining for that content, with a driving model that’s just that good in a graphically stunning package, what has been knocked-out here is a white-knuckle thrill ride that doesn’t just take first-place for its genre, it Schumachers the entire field and takes all three podium places for itself.
Until Criterion inevitably go on to add in the content that raises the bar they’ve just now set, Need for Speed: Most Wanted will menacingly smoke-up its tyres at the very pinnacle of the open-world racing genre.
- Perfect driving physics enable intuitive, high-speed gameplay
- Gorgeous environments
- Hugely impressive array of beautifully-rendered vehicles
- You’re never more than a few presses away from the action
- Framerate struggles on mid-range hardware, seemingly bottlenecked at the CPU
- Crash sequences and cop chases frustratingly interfere with the pace of play
- Customisation and game-modes heavily pared back from previous titles