Review: Need for Speed: Most Wanted (PS3)
Title: Need for Speed: Most Wanted
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (4.4 GB)
Release Date: October 30, 2012
Publisher: Electronic Arts
ESRB Rating: T
Need for Speed: Most Wanted is also available on PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire.
The PlayStation 3 version was used for this review.
I’ve been a fan of most of the Need for Speed franchise for quite a while, so when I heard that Criterion was taking a stab at the series, I was pretty excited. Criterion has continuously brought some amazing racing games to consoles for a long time, and the Burnout series has been an absolute favorite of mine since its inception. My only exposure to Most Wanted was at E3 2012, and it was one of a handful of games that I returned multiple times to play. The variety of modes combined with the technical bliss was something that I instantly latched-on to, and it made me want the game even more than when it was revealed.
The similarities to Burnout Paradise are obvious at first, but as you get further into the game, you’ll find not only a deeper experience, but also an infusion of the Need for Speed pedigree that’s undeniable. Like Burnout Paradise, you’ll have plenty of security gates and billboards to smash (albeit less of each,) and you’ll have a completely open map to explore. That’s where BP’s influence ends though and where the Need for Speed soul is revealed. Cars don’t automatically have nitrous, and you’ll also need to complete races specific to each vehicle to gain add-on’s like a better suspension, a more rigid chassis, and yes, even a nitrous system. As in Burnout Paradise, there are events strewn throughout the landscape, and you merely hold R2 and L2 to trigger the event. What’s different though is the inclusion of a virtual info board at these locations so they’re easier to spot, but also to give you info on the event itself and stats from your Autolog (when you’re connected to the Internet.) It’s an insanely slick mechanic, and to me makes the game a bit more accessible.
The events you’ll encounter in Single Player include ‘Ambush’ in which the police surround you, requiring you to escape; Circuit Races which has you racing multiple laps around sections of the map a Sprint Race which instead of laps is instead a race from Point A to Point B; and a Speed Run which requires you to hold a minimum average speed over point-to-point routes. All of these events tie into your ultimate goal of moving up the Most Wanted list, since you’ll need a pretty souped-up machine to do so.
Cars are hidden throughout the map, and when you see one, simply drive up to it and press the Triangle button, but those aren’t all of the available vehicles. There are rival drivers, indicated by a red bullseye on your map, that await your challenge, but you’d better be ready. Beat that rival and you’ll take a higher spot on the Most Wanted list, and you’ll also earn their vehicle for use in Single and Multiplayer events. The rivals get pretty tough as you progress, but the difficulty curve seems to increase steadily and smoothly.
The locale itself is pretty awesome, yet strangely familiar. It’s not a copy of the map from Burnout Paradise at all, but there are similarities in terms of there being a huge city, mountain roads, and a sprawling countryside. Roads seem wider though, and the city is laid-out better for actual races, which is a good thing, because the biggest difference between the games definitely benefits from this change in concept, because now you have to deal with the Po-Po!
In true Need for Speed style, there are cops wandering the landscape and if you speed past one and he/she see you, the chase is on. As in the GTA games, the longer you evade the cops, the higher your Heat becomes. With every level you go up, the more the Police will throw at, including souped-up Corvettes dropping spike strips right in front of, and armored SWAT vehicles battering your vehicle into submission. When your tires blow-out, sparks will fly as you drive on the rims, as your control lessens as well as your top speed. If you’re lucky enough, you can drive through a service station to repair your vehicle (and get a new paint color.
If you can race out of their view, you’ll enter “Cool-down mode” but you’re not out of the woods until your Heat level reached zero again. So when in cool-down, you can speed the process by changing your paint color, or even better, change vehicles completely. That doesn’t guarantee that you’ll evade them for long enough, but it can help. The experience when in a pursuit is truly awesome, and is almost addictive to a certain extent. When I’m not online, I always find myself getting into trouble with the cops, which has resulted in pursuits that have lasted up to 45 minutes even. It’s a crazy experience, and is so completely satisfying and one of my favorite aspects of Most Wanted.
In a word… Luscious. Burnout Paradise already had some pretty impressive visuals, but Most Wanted definitely surpasses it in essentially every way. Textures are deeper, lighting is astounding, and the draw distance has improved greatly, which is especially needed for the even higher speeds experienced. The graphics just feel cleaner and more detailed than in Burnout Paradise, and even at high speeds, it feels easier to see what’s coming in front of you. The lighting too is much more abundant, and when combined with rain, can truly be an amazing experience. Rain can play a factor from time-to-time, and there’s a day-night cycle as in BP. But this time around the cycle just feels more defined, and especially when the moonlight stretches across the world, it has an indescribable effect on the experience.
On top of that, crashes are still intense, with sparks flying everywhere as the car crumples or breaks apart. Damage to your vehicle is persistent until you either find a new one or drive through a service station, and the cars themselves look even cleaner than you would expect. HDR lighting is definitely a factor as well, especially when you’re temporarily blinded by the midday sun when you exit a tunnel. The only visual aspect that I truly hate though, are the realtime pop-ups that are right in the middle of the screen during an event, which effectively blind you and can result in a huge misstep. I would hope that enough people complain about to motivate Criterion to fix that issue in a patch, as it happens enough to truly frustrate you on occasion.
The sound design is wonderfully tailored to pull you deep into the world they’ve built, with engines growling and tires squealing, you’ll actually feel like you’re behind the wheel. Custom soundtracks are supported, and unlike Burnout Paradise, you don’t have to be in a specific mode before you can find the option to switch away from the included soundtrack on the disc (which is actually pretty good.) Also, voice chat during online play is exceptional, with clearly understandable chat through-and-through. My favorite aspect of the audio though is when the cops are chasing you. Everything that should have a sound, does, and while the frantic action is taking place, the audio does a great job at distracting you from your getaway attempts. The best part is the chatter over the Police channel, as they continually communicate details about the chase. It’s a really cool effect that really makes the game even more intense.
The online multiplayer really opens the game up, and really brings almost unlimited amounts of gameplay as long as you can find someone to play with you. Getting together is incredibly easy, and even more seamless than in Burnout Paradise, Matchmaking works quite well, and hooking-up with folks on your friends list couldn’t be easier. You can choose to just run around the city together, or use playlists to setup some events to play through together. The playlists can be setup manually, or let the game randomly build one for you. Some events require a specific vehicle class, but everyone has vehicles in each class available automatically. One of the best parts of going through a playlist is just getting from event to event, since you actually have to drive to the starting point of each. The playlist mechanism is fantastically implemented, as everything is straightforward and easy to understand. The game plays great via online, and is one of the most solid I’ve played in a long time.
I was pretty excited for Need for Speed: Most Wanted after playing it at E3, and the final product exceeded every expectation that I had. It looks great, controls great, sounds great, has an exceptional online system that includes an updated Autolog implementation, and with a diverse and sprawling map, there’s a ton of gameplay included. You’ll easily spend hours playing this game, online or offline, and hopefully escape the clutches of the law from time-to-time. This game is exceptional from beginning to end, and is one that I can’t wait to spend more time with.
Once you get into the game, don’t forget to check out my article covering what’s NOT in the manual HERE!
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