Need for Speed: Most Wanted is the latest installment in the Need for Speed franchise and the second of entry from Criterion Games. With it being Criterion’s second time behind the wheel I assumed that they were confident and ambitious enough to drive the series into the next generation. I had strapped myself in and before long I found myself bracing for impact. I had high expectations from Criterion, after all they had made Burnout series and promised to bring that spark to the Need for Speed series.
The last time I was in a head on collision with a Burnout game was Paradise. I most certainly did not enjoy my trip to Paradise City and it left a bad taste in my mouth. But Criterion had taken a step back. It had been years since the big Burnout crash. I had hoped they had taken a step back and assessed just what went wrong. It was their shot at redemption in my eyes. The reckoning was here, or so I thought.
Most Wanted starts strong, the game drops you right in. Muse – Butterflies and Hurricanes greets you as you look down upon the new city presented in front of you, a sandbox to lose yourself in under the glistening light of a sunset. It was a big entry for an ambitious game. After all it had only been just over 6 years since the last game was released. These kind of intros became common place for the majority of events in the game. With sixty one different races you better get busy. One of the intros plays out in a location that looks suspiciously like the fortress of solitude while a car forms from the jagged ice. Yeah I know it sounds cool, but what is it doing in a racing game? I sure as hell didn’t drive the fortress and Superman isn’t driving the car, so why the theatrics?
Then it hit me. Maybe the intro was not a stroke of genius but the start of a mash-up of different intros in to a loosely tied together story. Many of the intros make no reference to where you find the race or to the type of race that followed. They reminded me of a video made by somebody who had just discovered transitions in Windows Movie Maker. They had crammed in as many of these as possible and we are left to try and make something of it. So colour me unimpressed.
Once you get past the dodgy intros there isn’t much in the way of story. You are presented with a list of 10 cards to beat. Unlike the previous Most Wanted game these numbers are simply that. The owners no longer had a personality and you had no reason to beat them than to simply acquire their cars. Even the cars lack flare, which is very uncharacteristic of the NFS series. They are all presented in a very monotone black and white paint job with little discernible difference between them aside from model and their number. Sure, they were different cars, but I cared so little for the order I just went for whichever was closest. The numbers held absolutely no merit for me. I missed the tweaked cars and tweaked out drivers.
Beyond the races there are Burnout Paradise’s collectibles. There are gates to crash through, billboards to smash, and speed cameras to…. eh…. speed by. Even the cars are scattered to the wind. You can find them abandoned by the side of the road or under some bridge. It was closer to GTA without the leisure of getting out of your car. These so called “jack spots” are available for every car in the game and have to be found and activated before you can even use the car. It was no longer as simple as picking a car and paying for it. No. You must journey forth and find your car like every other normal person does in the world. You don’t even get to switch out cars. You need to fast travel to the position you found the car. With 123 possible spots to find your car you might get a bit confused which one is best and it can take some time to drive between races. There isn’t even a way to customise them.
Constantly feeling that I was held at arms length from the experience I tried to immerse myself in the game but it was just so hard. Even the soundtrack was very lackluster. I am very aware of how subjective an EA games soundtrack can be but I felt there was genuinely nothing for me at all. The few songs I did like were few and far between. Many of which did not even suit the game. Sure, I love Dizzee Rascal as much as the next person, but why was I having to stomach two of the worst remixes of “The Who” I have ever had the displeasure of hearing? Far too much dance and not enough of the old Burnout soundtracks feeling.
Autolog is the one saving grace of Need for Speed. It encourages you to go out and beat every one of your friends scores. It’s something that perpetuates itself, even suggesting more friends to add to top their scores. It adds an awful lot of replayability to many of the games races. It won’t be long until you start working on the statistics of what car you use and the best mods to equip. Eventually you will develop the perfect line to maximise your run and remain king of the racing ring. It took me no more than about 30/40 races to reach the first place in game. There was no need for all the races or multiple playthroughs in different cars. The Autlogo can only capture your attention for so long until you realise you have just done the same race 20 times.
In contrast to the Autolog the online multiplayer seems to tear down everything beautiful Criterion have tried to create. It is disorganised from the start. It’s closer to a GTA/Burnout Paradise hybrid than it is a racing game. I made several attempts to play online with others but the theory behind the matchmaking itself is flawed. First, you are placed in the open world and given a meeting point. Before the race even starts you have to make your way to a place a good few miles away on the map. Once there you have to hope everyone else has made their way to the point too. If, like me, you get stuck waiting for one player to even consider heading over you will be waiting for days.
So other players slowly grow impatient and start to utilise the takedowns, smashing cars left, right and centre. There is more metal dragged across the road than a Lars Ulrich and Napster punch up. When everyone finally arrives you have to play in a rather gimmicky set of events, ambiguous in name and nature, until you finally get to race. But even when you get to burn rubber it feels odd, unfair even. Nobody uses the same car or even cars within a similar range of power. If you are lucky enough to escape the maelstrom of carnage to start the race you might find that another competitor will breeze by you in their Bugatti Veyron as you plod along in the your Ford Focus. It all feels a little off. After several attempts at even trying to get a race I realised that I had wasted a good hour just trying to race between two points. Dragging my loose tailpipe across the map to predetermined destination just wasn’t what I had in mind, no matter how ironic it sounds.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Need for Speed. In fact it was a great time filler until Halo 4 arrived. But the glaring flaws outweigh the thrill of playing such a great looking game. It’s like being given the opportunity to sleep with a prized model with the intelligence of a brain dead parrot. Sure you will take them out for the weekend and break a few rules but when Monday morning hits you there is nothing to talk about. You stare blankly at her as she drowns in her cereal making gurgling noises. There is just no reason for me to go back
6 mutilated drivers at the wheels of 10 crumpled super-cars