Before I start reviewing Need for Speed: Most Wanted, I feel I need to explain my views on some of Criterion's recent games. Burnout Paradise was the first ever Burnout game I ever played, and as a big fan of open-world driving games that encourage exploration, it very quickly became one of my favourite games of this generation. With a large, varied map, hundreds of collectibles, a large variety of different races and events and dozens of vehicles, it was a long time before I even touched the online aspect of the game, but when I did, I found a treasure trove of hours more gameplay. Combined with frequent, game-changing updates, the game kept me entertained for months.
So when it was announced a couple of years ago that Criterion would be making the next Need for Speed game (Hot Pursuit), I was looking forward to getting my hands on the game. But while the game provided me with some entertainment for several hours, I found that the game quickly got old. While the world could be explored in free-roam, there was very little reason to do so. The map was large, with some interesting areas, but no reason to go out of your way to explore. And as for the different events, they didn't keep me entertained for long.
So I was sceptical when Criterion announced that they would be making another Need for Speed game, especially as I was still awaiting a follow up to Burnout Paradise. What I didn't realise was that the two worlds - Burnout and Need for Speed - would come crashing together into a single, beautiful game.
From the moment you pop the disk into your console and boot the game up, any fan of Burnout Paradise will feel right at home. The introductory cinematic is spookily similar to that of Burnout Paradise, and explains the set up of the new game: The city is Fairhaven, a place where 10 drivers rule the roads, constantly on the run from the police. It is your job to beat them one by one and move up the ranks to become... (wait for it) Fairhaven's 'Most Wanted'. In that sense, the plot is somewhat reminiscent of the original NfS: Most Wanted. But as soon as you start to play, you realise that a lot has changed. This is Criterion's spin on a classic Need for Speed concept, and it shines as a result.
Fairhaven is made up of a series of locations, the main part of which is the city itself. Twisting narrow streets, tall skyscrapers and wide highways make up most of the city, complete with shortcuts, alleyways, parking lots and railway tracks. As you continue to explore, you will find various other locations, including an industrial park, a shipyard, an abandoned airstrip, a large public park, and miles of highways that twist their way through the games moody mountain range.
Throughout this world are things that will be familiar to Burnout Paradise fans: security gates make a comeback (where you have to find and smash all the flashing fences across the world) as well as billboards (all of which - in the first product-placement-based-marketing-scheme that I've ever approved of - all feature the names of different EA development teams) which must be smashed through. In a nice twist, when the billboards respawn, they are complete with a copy of your profile (assuming you achieved the furthest jump as a result) on all your friends' games. There are also speed cameras dotted around the world, which you must find and... well... speed past.
Much like Burnout, there are various drive-through repair centres dotted across the map, where you can repair your vehicle on-the-fly, while also recovering your boost. However, instead of having to find a garage to switch vehicles, you switch by pulling up to a 'jack-spot' for the vehicle you want, and with a press of a button, you're driving that car. Of course, this being a Need for Speed game, all the vehicles are officially licensed, and handle appropriately. All vehicles can be damaged, both visually and physically, and Burnout's 'crash-cinematics' are present and waiting for you every time you fly off a highway and into the path of a lorry.
The events themselves are pretty straight forward. Each vehicle has five events associated with it (1 easy, 2 medium and 2 hard). Successfully coming first or second in a race grants you new customisation for your vehicle, allowing you to upgrade and change the tyres, chassis, gears and boost systems. Vehicle events vary between straight races (checkpoint race from A to B against opponents), circuit races (complete a certain number of laps against opponents), endurance races (drive from A to B while keeping your average speed as high as possible) and pursuits (escape the police as quickly as possible). On top of these events, there are Most Wanted events, unlocked when you have gained enough speed points to be noticed by that driver.
Most Wanted events consist of an unusually long A to B race, usually heavily involving the police. Upon successfully completing the race, the driver of the opposing car continues to drive around Fairhaven, waiting for you to shut him down - another feature lifted almost directly from Burnout Paradise. The police roam Fairhaven, and a pursuit against them can be started at any time by ramming them, driving quickly past them, or... basically anything else.
On a whole, if you're a big fan of Burnout Paradise, and you're waiting for the next part of the series, don't overlook Most Wanted. It's a spiritual successor to Paradise if ever there was one.
Combining Burnout's lush environments, Hot Pursuit's impressive graphics and Battlefield 3's 'Star Trek' inspired flare-lighting, the game looks absolutely stunning. There are occasionally small drops in framerate when there are a lot of police in pursuit, but apart from that, there's very little to complain about here.
Engine sounds are very good, although there are occasional glitches when the police-sirens won't stop even when you're blocks away from any police cars. The game's soundtrack is good, with songs by Muse, and even some remixes of The Who tracks. Unfortunately, to hear the music, you have to turn the games sound effects way down - not really a problem, though. The game also supports listening to your own music, although this must be done by creating a playlist on your PS3 before booting up the game.
Gameplay and Controls: 9/10
The game plays extremely smoothly, with controls that are very easy to learn. The games also utilises EasyDrive, which was first introduced to Burnout Paradise, and allows you to select events, set satnav locations, go online and customise your vehicle, all without leaving gameplay.
So much content here. Each of the games 55 vehicle has 5 races attached to it, and there are also 10 Most Wanted races, 3 sets of collectibles and endless opportunities to take part in pursuits. Plus the games boasts a robust online mode (similar to Burnout Paradise in almost every respect). Unfortunately, the game doesn't yet support local multiplayer. Additionally, if Criterion support this game in the same way they supported Burnout Paradise, then we could be seeing dozens of hours of content added in the coming months. It's not guarantee, but I'm certainly hoping for it.
A great racing game, which will make any Burnout Paradise fan extremely happy. Need for Speed fans may be a little disappointed by the lack of visual customisation, but I truly think this is a fantastic follow up to the series, and is a true reflection of Criterion Games.