It may seem like EA is simply beating a dead horse, but the Need For Speed franchise continues to thrive with every new installment that’s released. Sure, there may be a stinker or two such as NFS: The Run, but even then the series manages to grab an audience that’s enthralled by the prospect of driving fast and extremely recklessly as opposed to taking four driving tests before the action finally heats up.
The NFS series definitely has an audience but now it’s in the unusual position of another sub-franchise in the series getting the reboot treatment, this time NFS: Most Wanted. Once again in the hands of Criterion (the masters of Burnout and the team behind NFS: Hot Pursuit), NFS: Most Wanted takes the series in some familiar directions but this time builds upon the social element of driving like absolute fools in a dense urban setting.
First off here’s the answer to the big question everyone has on their minds: no, Razor Callahan nor Cross are in the new Most Wanted. It’s ok if you have a slight stabbing sensation in your heart as it’s slightly disappointing that Criterion and EA aren’t going the utter silly route by giving us an overly dramatized tale of street racing told through cutscenes with actual actors. Whether or not the game will have some sort of veiled narrative is still unknown but one thing that was certain is that Razor Callahan or any former Sports Illustrated models will not be in the game – at least for now.
Ok, so with the whole Razor Callahan question out of the way I honestly didn’t know what to expect from Most Wanted once I walked up to the demo station at E3. I'm of course familiar with the NFS brand, the old Most Wanted, and I adore Criterion as a developer. But with EA opting to reboot yet another NFS series and Criterion seemingly being pulled away from doing a core Burnout game once again I had wondered if the new Most Wanted would ultimately prove to be a pointless game that really doesn’t do anything special. Hell, one of the defining elements of the first Most Wanted game was the style of it and the way everything was presented and that was seemingly pulled in favor of a realistic look. Well even without an abundant amount of lighting effects that looked like they were taken from a Michael Bay movie the new version of NFS Most Wanted ended up impressing the inner speed demon within me.
NFS Most Wanted may fall under the NFS brand but the way the game is now, at least through how it was represented in the demo, seemed very reminiscent of the Burnout games – in particular Burnout Paradise. Now before all the folks in the NFS nation flip out at the notion of the series becoming overly arcadey that simply isn’t the case. As cool as it would’ve been to do power parking or flip my car three times in the air after running up a split ramp, Most Wanted is grounded in a lot of ways but it has a sense of heightened reality to it along with a heavy emphasis on social play.
Going into the E3 demo somewhat blind I quickly found myself competing with seven other racers in a Most Wanted event. Playing up the moniker in a way that makes the game seem sensible, the event consisted of seeing who‘s the best as it featured a series of back-to-back events all with different themes and goals. As an arcade racing veteran I thought things would be easy peasy but oh boy was I wrong as Most Wanted ended up providing a sense of racing action and sheer fun that not many games have achieved before.
Things didn’t get off too crazy in the Most Wanted demo as I had to partake in a standard checkpoint race across the vast metropolis that the game is set in. More dense than what Criterion did in Hot Pursuit, the city in Most Wanted feels and looks good as it isn’t too stylized yet it doesn’t look like a dull collection of grey structures with racing pavement in the middle that makes the city design “acceptable” as has been the case with other racing games.
Art design comment aside, the race event itself was rather straightforward and it was an easy way for me to get myself acclimated with the controls and the handling of the car. Thankfully Most Wanted doesn’t suffer from some of the same early issues that Hot Pursuit had as the cars don’t feel too heavy in the back end and more importantly the drifting felt just right. Despite some of the events and the more stylized nature of the game, the cars in Most Wanted don’t control exactly like the cars in Burnout as there’s still a realistic side to them – which is nice since all the cars in the game are actually real as opposed to being fictional.
With me being tuned with my car as best I could, I proceeded to dominate the race until I had the misfortune of misjudging a turn and meeting a concrete wall whilst driving at 80mph. While this would normally spell doom for any racing game, I did manage to bounce back and I still had the shot at becoming the #1 Most Wanted since this was merely the first event of six. The structure for Most Wanted, at least when competing online, is that gamers can compete in an array of events to stack up points and hopefully earn the #1 spot. This element of the game did provide a very competitive nature in the event as bonus points can be award post events for crashing into enemies or being the first to arrive at an event destination. So yeah, it’s fair game at any given moment in the quest to become the Most Wanted.
After the race event some of the more unique challenges were offered such as trying to get the highest speed while driving by a security camera or doing the longest jump in a construction zone. Going from a race to a skill event to an event with arcade roots really provided a nice mix as something different is being done every two to three minutes instead of simply being stuck in a race event for five minutes stuck in 8th place. Going from one event to the next may sound a bit jarring, but it wasn’t that bad since the game is all about having fun as opposed to having the most flawless lap run. Even better, each event resulted in the mood being amplified since we were all messing around having a fun time. Yeah, there were certainly moments when things got tough through us ramming one another for bonus points, but there was also a jovial nature as in between events most of us were doing donuts just to get it out of our system.
As far as being a NFS game is concerned I was impressed with how Most Wanted is looking so far. The game doesn’t have a very stylized look that seems like it was inspired by a music video, but the city does have personality to it. Besides having industrial and financial areas, the city in Most Wanted just has a very crisp look to it which is augmented by how seamlessly certain events are worked in such as one that required everyone to drive and park atop of a series of giant steel art structures. I didn’t get an in-depth look at the world of Most Wanted, but it does seem to be a nice combination of the racers playground that was Paradise City and the more traditional layout of the original Most Wanted game.
Receiving yet another yearly Need For Speed game may not be something that is cause for immediate celebration, but after playing Most Wanted at E3 I’m the most excited I’ve been about NFS in years. The combination of arcade centric racing with realistic handling and physics and events that immediately evoke fun could result in a NFS experience that could be the best of this generation. In some ways it’s disappointing to see the Most Wanted brand return in a different form, but Criterion is doing some amazing things with the game so far that once again affirms that they’re masters of creating thrilling racing games no matter what the franchise is.