Review: Need for Speed Most Wanted (PSV)
Title: Need for Speed Most Wanted
Format: PlayStation Network Download (2162 MB) / Game Card
Release Date: October 30, 2012
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Criterion Games
Price: $39.99 (PSN) / $39.99 (Game Card)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Need for Speed Most Wanted is also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, WiiU, Android, iOS, and Kindle Fire.
The PlayStation Vita version was used for this review.
Criterion Games, best known for its over the top Burnout series, is back again to try its hand at another entry in the venerable Need for Speed series. After last year’s semi-disappointment that was Need for Speed: The Run, fans are itching to see if Criterion can produce another stellar game. The result is Need for Speed: Most Wanted. Similar in only namesake to the 2005 entry in the series, this title comes across as more of a spiritual successor to Burnout Paradise. Whether you think this is a good idea or not, the results are clear. Need For Speed: Most Wanted is one of the best racing games of this generation, second only to Criterion’s other games. The portable version (which this review focuses on) is nearly identical to its console counterpart, giving us the best racing game on the Vita thus far.
(Editor’s note: Even though this game is similar to the console version, I will be giving it my own review. If you are looking for just the Vita differences, check the last paragraph of each section. It’s worth noting that this is NOT a cross buy title, so gamers looking to get the Vita version on top of the PS3 version must pay an additional $40
If there’s one thing that Criterion knows best about racing games, it’s the gameplay department. Most Wanted is most structured like Burnout Paradise; it’s an open world that urges the player to explore and drive the city. There are billboards to be smashed, gates to be opened, and cars to be found. It harkens back to what made Burnout Paradise so much fun; explore the city at your own pace and have fun doing so. Every car is unlocked from the beginning, allowing players to find a car that fits their style with little competitive effort. (I say competitive effort because you still have to find them on the map. Every car may be unlocked, but you can’t use them until you discover them.)
The city, known as Fairhaven City, is large and diverse. There’s a lot to do and see, and it is a blast just driving around the city. Unfortunately, I found most of the city to be forgettable. Intersections blur together, and only certain pieces of scenery stand out in my mind. If you asked me to describe some memorable locales from Burnout Paradise or Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, I could go on and on. I find myself having a hard time recalling scenes from this game. That’s not to say it isn’t well designed; it just isn’t as memorable as their past games.
Every car in the game has its own set of goals and unlockables, giving completionists a wealth of content to play in the game. Each car has 5 events tied to it, and about a dozen or so unlockable parts. This greatly extends the length of the game, but at times it can seem almost artificial. I’m one who likes to stick to a great car when I find it, and being forced to change cars in order to gather more speed points left a sour taste in my mouth. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter when a game is this fun.
The overall objective of Most Wanted is to climb up the most wanted ladder and challenge the 10 most wanted drivers in Fairhaven. As you accrue more speed points, new challengers open up to the player. If you are successful in challenging and defeating these drivers, you earn the right to use their car. These 10 drivers are the main motivator to continue the story, but the rest of the side objectives and car parts to unlock will keep you busy way beyond the main story.
Driving around is a blast and can be fun, even if parts of the city do blend together. In order to change cars, you must find it in the environment, which can become a pain after a while. You have the option to change cars from the easy drive menu, but it still forces you to teleport to where the car is. (This issue seems to not be a problem online however). Overall, these little annoyances do little to hinder such an amazing experience.
As far as Vita performance goes, this game stands right up with its console brethren. There are some slight differences, such as reduced traffic and only 3 AI opponents in a race instead of 7, but the fact that this game is running as smoothly as it is should be praised. This is the best and most realistic racing game to ever grace a handheld device. There are no gimmicky Vita control implementations at all; this truly feels like the PS3 game shrunk down.
Even though there is not cross play, the speed points you earn on your Vita (and any other platform for that matter, including the iOS versions) will carry over to your PS3. It became slightly annoying to have to unlock the same parts on the Vita as I did on the PS3, but the increased speed points allowed me to move through the most wanted races at a significantly faster pace.
As far as visuals go, Need for Speed is quite the looker on Vita. The lighting effects are very nice for a portable racer, and the car details are sharp and crisp. Damage and scuffing isn’t as apparent as its big brother, but it’s still noticeable. Everything that you’ve come to expect from the PS3 version is here, yet on a smaller scale. The scaled back processing of the PS Vita prevents certain things, such as the dust on the windshield, compression and artifacting in the cutscenes, and nitrous blur, but these are nitpicks. It’s still astonishing that Criterion was able to fit the entire game on the go.
Audio wise, the same criticisms from the visuals can apply here. In essence, everything from the PS3/360 versions are here, albeit in a lesser form. Car sounds sound over compressed, police radio calls happen with less frequency and tend to repeat more, and the city just feels quiet overall. Thankfully, the same strong soundtrack from the console version is present in this release, and it’s got some of the best music in a racing game in a while. I would still have to say Hot Pursuit and Burnout Paradise have better soundtracks, but what’s here is good. (Especially the opening title sequence with Muse’s Butterflies and Hurricanes)
All of the online play modes from the PS3 version are apparent on the Vita, and in my opinion, the same feeling transfers over. The actual experience of playing with friends is a awesome, even if it feels like there isn’t much to do. The playlist style makes driving around Fairhaven a blast with friends, but without the incentive to unlock new things or check off specific goal lists (like in Burnout Paradise), I found myself not playing online much. The play sessions I have with my best friends are extremely memorable, but unless you have a group to play with, it can be a bit boring.
I find myself in a strange position when analyzing this game. The more I look at the game, the more I feel disappointed. The city feels bland, the progressions system seems arbitrary, and the online doesn’t seem as engaging, but the more I analyze, the more I realize that I’m comparing it to one of my favorite games of all time: Burnout Paradise. Though the comparison is warranted in many ways, it would be doing a disservice to what this game is. This is one of the strongest racing games of this generation. The amount of content is astounding, the polish and tuning done by Criterion is unmatched, and the pure experience of racing and outrunning the cops cannot be matched by any other racing series. Even though it’s a bit rough around the edges, the Vita iteration of Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a must play for racing fans, and is by far the best racing game on the system.
* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature.