After last year’s Need for Speed: The Run misstep it’s good to see the widely respected Criterion Studios at the helm for this year’s outing. The last title from the developer, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, was considered one of the finest racing videogames not only of recent years, but that the hugely popular franchise had ever given rise to; in Need for Speed: Most Wanted, the plan is to push this level of success even further.
From the very beginning of Need for Speed: Most Wanted it’s easy to see that the videogame has been developed from a position of confidence. Sleek and unwavering in it’s cool, Need for Speed: Most Wanted begins with Muse thumping to a hazy orange skyline as the player is placed in a vehicle and tasked with driving: no more, no less. Upon reaching your destination you’re taught how to pick-up a new car, select races and plot destinations. From here on out, it’s all up to you.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted has been designed with a freeform gameplay ideal. There is a structure to the videogame for those who need such artificial barometers for success – ten ‘most wanted’ racers that the player can face after acquiring a set amount of Speed Points – but the essence of Need for Speed: Most Wanted lies in being able to do what you want whenever you wan to do it. Much has been made of the ability to simply hunt down vehicles to claim them for your garage as opposed to working your way through a scaled system to reach the better cars, but this open nature is evident across all aspects of the videogame: there’s rarely been such an open world in any videogame, let alone the racing genre.
In terms of driving mechanics, Need for Speed: Most Wanted is definitely on the ‘fun’ side of the arcade versus simulation debate. It will take the majority of players mere seconds to establish the degree to which they can push their vehicle; that’s not to say it’s an easy videogame, but it is a videogame in which it’s easy to swing a car around a tight bend with the weight firmly secured in its rear end. Players will accrue points on their nitrous meter through daring driving – racing in oncoming traffic, near misses and drifting etc. – and the crash system allows for near-instant respawn at pace. The whole feeling of Criterion Studio’s latest racing experience is one of a high octane adrenaline rush: Need for Speed: Most Wanted does a better job of bringing the Burnout formula to the open world than Burnout Paradise ever managed throughout the original release and its extensive library of downloadable content.
Speaking of Burnout Paradise, it’s from this original open world creation that Need for Speed: Most Wanted has taken its online cues. Autolog 2 integrated in a much more seamless manner than the original version was in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, but this is only one small part of the experience. The multiplayer gameplay is divided into both public and friends varieties – a division that runs much deeper than your typical Ranked and Player Matches – matches which are open to everyone automatically provide a selection of preset races and players are pulled to the starting point when joining. Players can work their way through the Speed Levels experience system (which works in conjunction with the single-player mode’s Speed Points) and earn further mods and accessories as they go. Matches against friends are far more open however, allowing the host to create their own tracks on the world map, customise the music, available vehicles and much more.
While racing videogames remain one of the most commonly exercised genres, Criterion Studios is really the only challenge that Criterion Studios faces. As such a huge franchise, Need for Speed stands apart from the racing genre as a title that can sell in remarkable quantities regardless of the competition it faces. The likes of Forza Horizon and WRC 3 may be gracing store shelves within a small timeframe of Need for Speed: Most Wanted’s launch, but ahead of sales the bigger issue is consumer opinion, and in this regard it’s only Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit that stands in it’s way.