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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Review

Need for Speed: Most Wanted (PS3)Need for Speed: Most Wanted (Playstation 3)

Criterion follows the successful NFS: Hot Pursuit reboot with an invigorating take on Most Wanted. Far from feeling like a rehash, it includes and mixes elements of the classic police chase gameplay with the open-world car combat seen in the developers Burnout Paradise to create an expansive racing experience. With extensive online social networking features highlighted by its robust Autolog feature, the game shines in multiplayer modes with many events to play and unlockable vehicles to discover. Most Wanted’s gameplay is relentless as well, with high-stakes chases through some amazing environments with exotic, expensive sportscars. It’s a cohesive and highly-polished racing game that offers excitement, challenge and depth in a single package.

It’s interesting to note how far gaming evolved, even within the current generation. When the last version of Need for Speed: Most Wanted launched nearly seven years ago, online gaming was a much smaller niche than it is today. Most racing games at the time were quite linear in design and HD graphics were a novelty that most gamers could only dream about. Flash to today’s gaming world and things are quire different. Thanks to Xbox Live and Playstation Network, gamers are accustomed to broadband gaming and robust social networking features. High Def TV’s are now as commonplace as standard ones used to be and gaming design has evolved with much deeper and more integrated online and networking features a given not an innovation. One of the titles that led the way to this more modern approach was the seminal Burnout: Paradise, which innovated many of these contemporary features. It’s fitting that Criterion, the Paradise developers are the ones to update this storied Need for Speed sub-franchise. They do it in fine form, making this one of the most polished and deepest racing titles released this year.

Set in the realistic, though entirely made up city of
Fairhaven, Need For Speed: Most Wanted on the PS3 casts players in the role of a lowly street racer looking to build their reputations as they race other drivers in a fast-paced, exhilarating series of races. The game’s open-world design is quite impressive from a number of standpoints. The city is vast and encompasses a variety of terrains from steep urban hills, to long forested straight-aways. There’s tarmac racing, huge jumps and tight corners, twisting paths and long straights. Players eventually face off against a variety of racing and pursuit modes, with many high-end vehicles at their disposal. All of this with slick production values, a robust graphics engine, taut controls and blistering races that can resemble destruction derbies nearly as much as standard races. This lends Most Wanted plenty of variety and challenge with its robust graphics engine delivering some exciting moments.

Its frame-rate never slows down and races unfold at an almost unreal pace, with frenetic turns, vicious battles with other vehicles and almost murderous competition giving an impressive ride. Moments matter in racing games, and there are plenty of these to go around. Narrowly missing a divider, swooping through tight walls or crashing through a massive police barricade, there’s very little in the way of dead space in the game. While it’s a Need for Speed title at heart, with police sirens constantly wailing, there’s still a bit of the Burnout magic in the game’s epic crash animations and Takedown sequences. They aren’t as dramatic as in previous games, but they still have an impressive impact. Each vehicle in the game is impressively detailed and the range of makes and models you can eventually earn is impressive. You probably won’t pause to watch the scenery, but the fictional city is impressively rendered as well, with a variety of urban and rural environments present during the game. An impressive hard-rock soundtrack is complimented by police chatter to create a frenzy of aural excitement that only heightens the game’s drama and brings the street-racing ferocity to life vividly. It’s about as sleek and modern as you’re likely to find on this generation of consoles and NFS: Most Wanted’s gorgeous audio/visual presentation probably represents the peak (or close to it) of the current cycle.

All of its uncompromising modernity comes wrapped in an intuitive, sleek and modern interface that’s easy to navigate and use. Navigating the various menus and options is fairly simple using the standard controller. Most Wanted’s structure allows you to jump right into your vehicle and hit the streets immediately. You use your on-board ‘Easydrive’ interface to locate different races, which you can then drive to. Only a single press of the d-pad is required, and your route is mapped for you. This can be a bit tedious since it might take several minutes to get to the next race, but it helps you learn the handling of each car along the way. However, once you’ve competed in a race, you can jump to it immediately. Additionally, once you’ve unlocked a car, you can switch between it immediately without penalty, with each car featuring its own races as well. You can challenge any of its races immediately as well, adding to the game’s non-linear structure.

Once in the seat, you can use the on-board map to locate races and other events. You start with a few lowly cars that they can use in the game’s initial races. These are fairly straightforward and allow you to get the hang of the controls without putting in too much effort. As you progress and win races, you’ll be rewarded with more nitrous, stronger bodies and improved handling. Most of these upgrades are easy to earn at first and come in handy later on. Most of the AI vehicles you face are fairly aggressive and they won’t hesitate to shunt and shove you against a wall or into a barrier. You lose precious time when this happens, making it difficult to catch up. Conversely, you can attack them as well, which takes them off the track and gives you an edge in the race.
The races themselves begin with standard circuits, where you compete in laps against other racers and sprint modes which are single-shot point to point races. Competing in these requires you to make good time and memorize track layouts but you don’t really have to put much effort into them. As you race along the tracks, you’ll be able to pop into gas stations to earn instant damage fixes, which is convenient, but you will lose a little bit of time when you pause for them.

Along the way, you’ll also find extra incentives to drive around, with numerous speed cameras installed around the city. Passing these at high speeds increases your points. Another extra feature are the numerous billboards that add even more to your score when you crash through them. These are fun, but largely come into play in multi-player mode where you can compete against friends to see who can achieve these milestones first. Speaking of which, the Autolog has been enhanced this year with a more intuitive interface that’s easier to navigate and better integrated into the main game. Logging on and using this is a seamless process and once your online, finding friends, competing in multiplayer races and rankings is just as much fun as the single player game. Its definitely a more connected game, but the gameplay is excellent with little lag meaning you won’t hit many pot-holes.

Playing solo or online for an extended period allows you to increase your stats, but unlocking cars requires you to either find them in the streets, referred to as “jackpots” in the game or by defeating them in races, As you build up your stats, you’ll be able to compete in different types of races, including Ambush races where you have to escape the cops. These races aren’t as easy as they sound, since the police will pursue you relentlessly, until they’ve busted you or you’ve escaped their perimeter. As you inflict more damage, your ‘wanted’ level increases, which leads to additional cars on your tail, each trying to ram you off the road. They can also stop you by blocking you in or causing enough damage to your vehicle that you can’t out run them. You can use the scattered gas stations to repair your car, but the change in paint color won’t fool any of the police who are right on your back. Higher wanted levels only increase the challenge as the cops lay down metal strips to damage your car and even set up roadblocks. These impede your progress and the opposing cruisers can be just as fast as your vehicles. You need to learn how to out pace them, use short-cuts and find hidden areas in order to evade capture. When you’ve evaded the cops, for a short time, they’ll lose sight of you.

NFS: Most WantedOnce you’ve gotten out of their range, you enter a cool-down phase where you can escape notice after a short time. These are some of the most exciting and intense races in the game, and you’ll need plenty of stamina and concentration to avoid getting busted. Building on these events are the penultimate Most Wanted races where you race against one of the other top drivers while simultaneously attempting to escape the cops. These are like extended chase scenes and are quite exciting. Showcasing Most Wanted’s polished gameplay at its most exhilarating, the frenetic intensity of these races is impressive from start to finish. However, winning these races is very difficult unless you’ve fully upgraded your vehicle before. Even at that point, the opponent AI doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, and with the opposing police in pursuit, you have little room for error. Some of Most Wanted’s other modes seem more suited for online play, with the high-speed mode where you have to keep a high average speed throughout a race the most obvious example., Taken together these different modes provide plenty of variety, depth and challenge, with hundred of races available, the game’s replay value is extremely high. It is in this regard, with it’s multitude of modes and plethora of vehicles and individual events that Most Wanted most  resembles the structure and polish of Burnout:
Paradise.

Comparisons between these two games are evident and obvious, but while
Paradise seemed to be on the cusp of innovation in the new broadband world of gaming, Most Wanted is more comfortable and assured in its presentation and implementation. Structurally, Most Wanted is more coherent with a more obvious path of progression. Links between individual events and progression give you a better idea where to go next and the epic battles with the Most Wanted vehicles gives you an objective to aim for. The niggling problems from Paradise, such as its somewhat incoherent mapping system have been paved over, making for a cleaner, smoother ride overall. The most obvious change comes in the online system, with the more elaborate Autolog feature showing much better integration with the standard gameplay. Most importantly, the racing itself has been modified slightly, with a larger emphasis on racing that keeps the cartoonish physics in the back seat. There are still some fantasy elements such as the Nitrous, but the more realistic grounding makes Most Wanted’s more intense moments all the more exciting. While there have been tons of racing games released over the past few years, a very small number have come close to equaling the sheer polish, depth and intensity that Need for Speed: Most Wanted seems to create effortlessly. This is definitely the most exciting and challenging title in the series for current generation consoles and represents another high-water mark for the developers at Criterion. - Michael Palisano

Grade: A

> Related Reviews

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (Playstation 3)
Burnout: Paradise (Playstation 3)
Need for Speed: Most Wanted - 2005 (Xbox 360)

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