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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Need for Speed: Most Wanted (Xbox 360)


By Michael Palisano

Adding police chases to its Need For Speed Underground series, EA has enhanced an already proven formula with NFS: Most Wanted on the Xbox 360. The game's open-ended design allows for a freestyle approach that allows you to explore the game at your own pace. The visceral racing is intense throughout, but this is especially true during police chases and the battles with ranked racers. The extensive customization options are impressive and creative. The gameplay itself is challenging and exciting with tight responsive controls, aggressive foes plus, a slow-mo camera that lets you pull off some incredible moves. NFS: MW's highly polished visuals are richly detailed and smoothly implemented, making it one of the most impressive Xbox 360 launch titles.

Need For Speed: Most Wanted will likely cause a strong sense of déjà vu amongst most players, since the game mixes elements of two previous series, Need For Speed: Underground and Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit. You have the intense police chases of HP melded with the street-racing, extensive customization and battles of NFS: Underground in one unqiue package. The game borrows a bit from both games, with the game's primary location, a mountainous rural area evocative of the HP series, while additional levels allow players to explore a series of more urban environments. The game offers several modes of play including a quick race, career and challenge modes. NFS:MW's quick race mode should be self-explanatory and the challenge mode is also straightforward. Both of these modes are useful since you can practice some of the race types you'll encounter when you pit yourself against the elite racers. These modes are enjoyable as a quick racing fix, but its in the Career mode, where you face off against the "black 15" where the game really shines. As you begin the career mode, you find yourself racing against a crooked street race, where you car is sabotaged, causing you to lose the race and your wheels. Starting from scratch, you must regain your street cred by challenging each of the racers on the Black 15 list, while evading capture by the police. In this mode, you are allowed free reign and can explore the streets of the city without having to perform a structured races. In order to race against opponents, you need to return to your safe house and can then enter several different race types. There are multi-lap circuit and sprint races along with toll-booth races where you need to reach the checkpoints before time runs out plus Knockout races where the player in last place after each lap is eliminated. During the races, your goal is to finish first, but you also need to be on the lookout for cops, who will pursue you during the race, which can be distracting. However, they're also after your rivals, which can be used to your advantage if they're knocked off the track.

NFS: Most Wanted's courses are quite large with multiple branches, hidden paths and secret areas hidden throughout. Most of the tracks the game sets out for you are fairly straightforward, with different levels of traffic and cop frequency outlined before each round. You have a map with different icons, which show you the locations of garages, speed traps, your safe house and other locations on the course. The open-ended structure allows you to explore each area thoroughly but that doesn't mean the cops won't chase you if they catch you speeding. However, you can earn points during these free-pursuits as well, increasing your wanted level and cred points as you win races and evade capture. In Career mode, your score becomes quite important, since you need to reach a set number of wins, street points and, wanted level before you can challenge one of the racers on the Black 15 list. Beating the sub-races and competitions wins your respect, allowing you to compete in a one on one boss style race across two different courses. When you defeat these characters, you receive bonus icons, which you'll be able to use and claim bonus items including additional cars, parts and more. After each race is won, you can use the cash in your special garage to customize your vehicle with a number of different parts. There are both cosmetic and performance parts available for your vehicle including tires, engines, brakes, shocks and nitrous upgrades which help during the race. You can also use your money to customize your vehicle's appearance with paints, vinyls, decals, spoilers and other items. Changing your car's appearance will also help to throw the cops off your trail if your car becomes infamous.

As you drive, you'll receive email messages which will alert you to potential street races, cop locations and other information while also moving the game's plot forward, allowing you to track your progress through the rankings. It's not just about winning races, you'll also need to build up your wanted level and can do this by engaging the police in pursuits through the city streets. You earn points for the pursuit's length and can increase this with how many infractions you cause such as crashing into cop cars and damaging property. The police will usually start with a single cruiser, but will call in reinforcements so multiple cars are chasing you. They'll become increasingly aggressive the longer a chase goes on and will eventually begin setting up tracks and roadblocks to try and capture you. Initially, you'll trigger chases only by blowing past a nearby police car at high speeds, but once the police become familiar with you, they'll begin a pursuit the second they see your vehicle, regardless of how far you're going. The good news is that you can break off a chase by outrunning the police for an extended period. You can also evade capture by triggering pursuit breakers, which are environmental events such as making a scaffold collapse, that block the cops from chasing you, effectively meaning you can get away with it. The racing itself is brutal and unrelenting, though the game is somewhat forgiving in that you can recover from small errors and minor crashes in most races. The exceptions are battles with Black 15 racers, which are unforgiving and quite difficult, as you'd expect. While the basic ingredients of the gameplay have been seen in several previous NFS games, Most Wanted polishes them up and integrates them effectively to make for an interesting game.

Visually, the first thing most players are likely to notice is that the game has dropped the nocturnal neon-saturated look of the Underground series for a more sedated look. The colors seem to have been bled out of the game, with an almost monochromatic brown that tinges the entire game with a rusted, burned look that gives the game a more realistic feel. From a technical standpoint, NFS: Most Wanted is quite impressive with a richly detailed game world full of excellent car models that glisten and glow as they race through the streets. Trackside objects are beautifully rendered with buildings, trees and other objects feeling quite lifelike throughout. The course layouts are also believable and range from dirt roads to busy highway intersections, downtown areas with plenty of curves and obstacles to more open sections of track that allow you to accelerate with near impunity. With such intense action, its no surprise that the game moves along at an intense pace, and a silky smooth frame rate doesn't hurt either. The engine is quite powerful with effects such as lighting, reflections, shadows and weather implemented smoothly throughout. MW features with a smooth, polished appearance that shows off the richly detailed car models brilliantly, down to their reflective paints that make them look incredibly realistic. The paints reflect light, from the skies, and you can see the incredible levels of detail in the pavement as well. This is especially noticeable after a rainy section, where you can see light reflected in small puddles in the cracks of the road, and the textures within. The blurring effects used during the nitrous blasts are impressive and the slow-down camera's straightforward implementation makes it easy to use. The soundtrack features a decent mix of hip-hop and metal, with most tracks matching the intensity of each race, making them perfect compliments to the onscreen action. The chatter of police radios and calls in the background further adds to the game's intensity, adding a sense of urgency to the police chases that makes NFS: Most Wanted all the more exciting to play.

These solid production values lend NFS: Most Wanted an impressive amount of eye-candy, but what lurks below the surface is much more important. While the game stays fairly true to the execution and layout of the Underground series, Most Wanted's addition of police chases brings a welcome new twist to the series that nods to previous franchises while pointing the series in a slightly different direction. The career mode is obviously the deepest part of the game, and offers a satisfying variety of race types and challenges. It takes a bit longer to challenge the Black 15 racers than we'd like, and repetition does tend to set it after awhile. However, games like this are usually better in small doses, and the game is perfect for those who want to play for an hour or two at a time, gradually working your way through it. Unfortunately, there's also a sense that the various elements in this game has been done before, with elements from earlier NFS titles stitched together to create this release. However, racing fans will appreciate the game's tweaks, tight controls and intense races despite the lack of innovation. The tight controls, superlative open-ended structure, and implementation, exciting gameplay and highly polished visuals help to make NFS: Most Wanted one of the more enjoyable and addictive Xbox 360 launch titles.

Grade: B

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