When my editor passed me this game to review, it was accompanied by a twenty-one page A4 manual that EA Games had put together for reviewers. It was daunting; do I spend my hours actually playing the game, or reading this epic novella?
Naturally I tossed the manual in the bin. But thankfully, I also had a sense of deja vu. I had, after all, already reviewed Need for Speed: Most Wanted back in November last year. We reckon it was the best driving game of 2012, offering heart-pounding races, eye-watering crashes and a free-roaming city crammed pack full of activities and stunning cars to hoon around in. I’m not going to rehash what I’ve already mentioned in my PS3 review - instead I’m going to focus on what the recently released Nintendo Wii U version has that’s unique to the console.
Obviously there are two key areas of difference between the PS3 and the Wii U; the controller setup and the graphical capability. The Wii U’s GamePad controller offers unique interactivity via the secondary touch-screen and is put to perfect use in Most Wanted U. By tapping on it, users can access menus and take full advantage of the top-down map that is always on hand to glance down at while navigating the free-roaming streets of Fairhaven City. Users can easily plot courses or set waypoints, but also use the convenient menus to easily switch vehicles, install car mods, and check statistics - all with the tap of a finger.
The Wii U GamePad can even make adjusting traffic levels and switching the environment from day to night a simple two step process. While the menu system on the original PS3 version was clever and non-obtrusive, the use of the touch screen on the GamePad controller creates an even more seamless experience for the driver.
If using the GamePad, Most Wanted works best if you use it as a traditional controller, using the triggers to accelerate / brake and the conventional analogue sticks for steering. But players can opt to use the gyroscopic steering method as well, which works with the old-school Wii-motes and optional steering wheel accessory. While not a fan of the ‘floating steering-wheel’ setup, the gyroscopic controls work exceptionally well in Most Wanted U and ensure the game is accessible and above all, enjoyable to a wide audience.
With the in-built screen, players also have the option of using the GamePad as a stand-alone handheld console. But on the small 6 inch screen, trying to keep track of all the blistering action can be a real strain on the old eyeballs. Fans of BurnOut games will attest that sometimes keeping track of the action on a 40+ inch screen can be a challenge, but here it’s still a sweet extra for those with limited access to the main TV. Just have some eye-drops handy.
The Wii U also introduces a local asymmetric co-op mode titled Co-Driver, which utilises the GamePad and a second controller, such as a Wii-mote or Pro Controller. It allows one player to drive while a second player uses the GamePad to act as a navigator using the map view with way-finding tools in the palm of their hands. At first I shrugged off Co-Driver mode as a ‘last-minute extra’. But not only can it make spectating more interactive, it doubles as a brilliant game mode for those with younger players. Co-Driver allows a more casual player to get involved and the player with the GamePad can take over the steering at any point when the game gets a bit too intense.
Of course the downside is young gamers might grow up with the knowledge that every time you crash your car into a lamp post, there is the expectation that your car will just respawn as a brand new one. Then again how many kids are cruising around in a Ferrari F12 Berlinettas?
The second area of comparison between the consoles would be in the visuals and we’re pleased to report that the Wii U does a fantastic job in the graphics department. For a new console, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, especially considering Criterion paced themselves and ported Most Wanted to the U sometime after launch. But from past experiences, Wii U ports have often come in at a much lower frame-rate, less depth of vision and with less detail than that of other consoles.
Most Wanted on the Wii U however looks almost identical to the PS3 edition and only when comparing side-by-side, with a magnifying glass would players really start to notice. Technically, the Wii U version is slightly superior as Criterion have packed in the texture detail from their PC version of the game - rather than the console version. The end result is a slightly sharper image than the PS3 version, but again few gamers would really notice. The Wii U version does boast an impressive draw-distance though - a feature that is greatly appreciated when hurtling through crowded streets at 200 kmph.
The only bad news regarding Most Wanted U is fairly minor, but nonetheless extremely frustrating - simply because Nintendo continue to make the same mistakes whenever a game with their label on it has online connectivity. This game disappointingly has to be patched immediately when taken out of the box - a restraint that is completely mad considering gamers would’ve just handed over a decent wad of cash for it.
The patch is only 156mb but with Nintendo’s often-unresponsive servers, it can be a drawn-out irritation. Thankfully this initial lag doesn’t seem to hinder online multiplayer. We had no problems joining in the action, which again all takes place in a sandbox city filled with other real-life racers with whom you can challenge or just cruise around with. The inbuilt microphone on the GamePad controller also made for easy online chat as well and, with the community-driven (excuse the pun) competitiveness, being able to talk to fellow racers is a worthy asset. Similarly, online leaderboards, a large component of Most Wanted’s addictive nature, are all fully intact and you’ll see embarrassing Mii avatars popping up all over the place with top speeds, times, and completed stunt challenges for you to best.
Lastly, Criterion have packed in a few extras for Nintendo fans with the game including the original DLC pack for the PS3/360 versions titled the Ultimate Speed Pack on disc. It adds an additional five drop-dead gorgeous cars from McLaren, Lamborghini, Pagani, Bugatti, and Hennessey, as well as a multitude of new races with varying degrees of challenge in each. With the new (improved) control system and slight increase in visual quality, it would be safe to say that Wii U owners are getting the best experience out of Most Wanted - even if it is six months behind.