If you lived in Fairhaven City, chances are you would be dead. In this fictional city, just walking down to the corner diary is a risky activity. This is a place where drivers get rewarded for careening into billboards, people are trying to break land-speed records in a Ford Escort, and cops seem to sadistically thrive on hazardous pursuits.
The upside is, everyone left alive would own some really sweet rides.
This is pretty much the entire premise for Criterion’s latest high-octane racer. And it’s a barrel load of fun. In fact, it makes the previous eighteen Need for Speed titles feel as slow and boring as a cardboard box full of rocks. Every single minute is filled with eye-blistering carnage and Most Wanted ensures that you’ll never want to get out of your car.
Which is good, because you can never leave your car in Most Wanted. Criterion have blatantly streamlined the action, ensuring you are always in the driver’s seat, by introducing a feature called Easy Drive. By simply tapping on the D-Pad, players can seamlessly select missions, update their HUD and even change cars – all without even having to step on the brakes. Using Easy Drive you can even start up multiplayer races, removing the need for irritating menus and tedious lobbies. It’s a thing of beauty.
Most Wanted’s mantra of ‘let’s just get to the fun’ even carries across to the unlockable content of the game. So many racing games make obtaining new cars a chore. Usually you’d need to race fifty-eight laps, break several time records and then spend ludicrous amounts of imaginary money to get a decent ride. It’s the exact opposite in Most Wanted.
Simply driving through one of a hundred Jack Spots littered throughout Fairhaven City gifts you a brand new car. Often you’ll stumble across beautiful rides purely by accident and the only catch is you might need to evade the cops if the car triggers an alarm. Again, your new vehicle is instantly drivable at the tap of the D-Pad thanks to Easy Drive.
Most Wanted is accessible right from the first time you release the handbrake. Exploring the open-world city of Fairhaven in whatever vehicle you chose is mind-numbingly fun. Apart from downtown city streets, there is a varied assortment of environments such as wide highways, bendy mountain roads, narrow alleyways, and a treacherous Industrial area.
It's clear that Criterion have smooshed together the best aspects of their past Burnout games to deliver one of the best free-roaming locales I’ve seen in a driving game. Especially when combined with the day-night cycle and weather effects that realistically impact on your driving experience.
As you’re hooning around the streets, you’ll soon realise that the police in Fairhaven love to chase cars. In fact they’re willing to destroy the entire city just to take you off the road and it’s here that the high adrenaline pursuits take place. Apart from driving like a maniac, you’ll also have a few other tricks up your sleeve, such as using re-inflatable tyres to evade road spikes, or ducking into a petrol station where your car will be given a new lick of paint instantly.
With Criterion behind the helm, players will be expecting to see the gnarly slow-motion smashes we all know and love from the Burnout series. But again, in an effort to streamline the action, a lot of the bullet-time carnage has been reduced. It was always distracting to be pulled away from the driver’s seat to witness a car behind you get wrecked.
In Most Wanted you get notified and rewarded for takedowns, but you’ll remain driving so you can keep your eyes on the road. Instead the full impact of a slowed down crash is saved for when you take a spill, letting you soak in every shattered windscreen and piece of mangled metal on your once beautiful ride.
Over on the multiplayer side, you’ll be given a chance to drive on either side of the law and they both have their own advantages to taking down their targets or winning a race. Additionally, Most Wanted has more than just your standard race and challenge modes (including online and split-screen). It also features something called Autolog which constantly tracks your performance and compares them to other players online.
For example, you might complete a jump with a record-breaking duration and earn yourself a spot on the leaderboard. Or, zooming past a speed-camera at 180kmph might pop-up a box that taunts you with a fellow player somewhere in world who clocked in at 210kmph.
Naturally, you’d want to knock him off his perch, but Autolog even goes as far as recording how many times you attempt to beat it – and lets your rival know. There is a constant competitive streak to every facet of your driving and apart from minor anxiety-attacks, makes the experience so much richer, knowing that somewhere out there, someone is watching.
It’s hard not to recommend this game. Non-driving fans are going to love the sense of speed and destruction, while petrol-heads have got a great range of cars and a very solid driving mechanic to keep them satisfied.
As you’d expect from EA, and as every good driving game needs, the soundtrack here is faultlessly eclectic. It includes the likes of Muse, The Who, Dizzee Rascal, The Chemical Brothers, Icona Pop, Deadmau5, Last Dinosaurs, Mutemath, Green Day, Calvin Harris, and more. Sometimes it was refreshing to take a break from the fast-paced action and simply cruise the more scenic areas of Fairhaven while soaking in some phat beats.
Despite the misleading name, this game can’t be compared to the earlier Most Wanted title released back in 2005. This is a whole new, uber-improved racer that will change your view on the Need for Speed franchise for the better. Best enjoyed with eye-drops as you won’t want to blink.