Criterion Games delivers the Burnout Paradise sequel that fans have been waiting for in Need for Speed: Most Wanted.
- Large, beautiful world to explore
- Asynchronous and real-time multiplayer keeps you in constant competition with friends
- CloudCompete is a bona fide industry first
- It's basically Burnout Paradise 2
- Overly busy HUD
- Kinect voice recognition is less than stellar
- AI is a bit too "rubber band-y"
Need for Speed: Most Wanted Review:
Let's first address the proverbial elephant in the room. Need for Speed: Most Wanted is Burnout Paradise 2. 100 percent. You won't be seeing Electronic Arts or Criterion Games admit that directly, but it's true. There's nothing really wrong with that, especially when Criterion gets it so very, very right in Most Wanted, but better that we just deal with the fact of the matter up front rather than tiptoeing around.
Good? Good. Let's rev this sucker up and take a closer look at what Need for Speed: Most Wanted really delivers.
Street Racing Superiority
Linear track racing and story are both ditched in Most Wanted, replaced with a free-roaming cityscape and a simple yet effective goal: there are 10 "Most Wanted" street racers in the city for you to smack down, but you've got to up your street cred to take each of them on. Your in-game rep is quantified as Speed Points, an XP-like currency that you earn in offline and online games. As your rating climbs higher, you earn the right to challenge new Most Wanted drivers. Simple as that.
Of course, earning those Speed Points requires a hefty bit of event participation. On the single-player side that means lots of street races and a handful of police evasion challenges. Each car in your garage -- whether it's a bested Most Wanted ride or an unlockable you found in one of 100+ tragically named Jackspots -- offers a set of five vehicle-specific events. Winning these earns your more Speed Points as well as customization unlocks specific to that car, including nitro, gearboxes, tires, and so on.
That's not the only source of Speed Points, however. Nearly every roadway in the city is home to a speed-detecting camera, billboard, or security gate for you to soar past or burst through. Every time you encounter one of these, a leaderboard pops up showing you your previous high score as well as your friends' high scores. Best either one and you get more Speed Points.
This asynchronous multiplayer actually works its way into all facets of Need for Speed: Most Wanted's offline experience. Every race, every Most Wanted event, really anything with a goal attached to it, is monitored and constantly compared to your friends' stats. You'll frequently find yourself restarting a just-finished race that you placed first in simply because you noticed that a friend managed to post a better time than you did.
While the near-constant feedback is a great thing, it can also be distracting. Those with a competitive streak will constantly find themselves glancing down at leaderboard pop-ups in the bottom left corner of the screen. Unfortunately, the action in Most Wanted moves at such a rapid pace that this momentary diversion will frequently be enough to cost you placement in a race.
Criterion really excels here at capturing a sense of speed, for better and for worse. At Most Wanted's most exhilarating moments you'll find yourself weaving in and out of traffic at 150+ miles per hour and feeling a massive sense of accomplishment when that momentum carries you across the finish line first. Then there are the darker moments where you're flinging a control across the room and cursing at the screen because an AI competitor or pursuing police car nudged you just enough in the final stretch to drop you from first to last place.
Speaking of those cops, they are everywhere in Most Wanted. The Fairhaven PD is equipped with a serious budget for chasing down scofflaws, and they'll throw every dollar of it in your direction whenever you commit the sinful act of speeding. Police evasion is yet another of the dynamic events that you can stumble into (and out of) for extra Speed Points, though shaking the fuzz at higher Heat Levels is largely a matter of luck thanks to rubber-banding AI, the same AI that also helps to keep every race competitive.
Racing With Friends
Need for Speed: Most Wanted doesn't just serve up asynchronous multiplayer. You also have the option of jumping into an entirely separate mode online play. Speed Points and the ranking you've earned offline carry over here (and vice versa), but the actual content unlocks -- cars, upgrades, etc. -- are subject to an entirely different set of rules.
Online play gets to be quite chaotic thanks to the mode-specific SpeedList challenges. Instead of selecting one challenge or another a la carte in multiplayer, competitors take each other on in a series of loosely connected events that involve anything from racing to police evasion to scoring the highest at a particular speedtrap.
The variety here is very welcome, though the particulars of each individual event could have been made a lot clearer. The random selection is chosen from a master pool, but if the event isn't something you've done before then you'll have to get your marching orders from a scrolling ticker at the bottom of the screen. In addition to this costing you precious time that more experienced racers will take advantage of, the actual goal isn't always clearly explained.
For example, you might be expected to jump over cars in a certain location, but finding the actual jump -- hidden away along a side street, perhaps -- is a challenge unto itself due to a lack of clear signage. You quickly learn to follow the lead of your competitors, but that just as quickly gives rise to a sense that you're being cheated. In reality, Most Wanted's multiplayer rewards repeat visits, as soon enough you're the one taking advantage of little head start opportunities.
I saved discussion of Most Wanted's Kinect features for this multiplayer section because voice commands actually create some problems when it comes to online play. Kinect is a valuable tool offline since it offers instant, hands-free access to the EasyDrive menu, something that is otherwise accessed via D-pad while you're driving with no pauses in the gameplay. From EasyDrive you can change cars, customize your current ride, or set a GPS destination for one race or another.
As great as this is for keeping your eyes on the road, the Kinect mic unfortunately proves to be very lousy at distinguishing certain phrases from others. If you're going to be talking into a headset mic, prepare to bellow in frustration when the EasyDrive or, worse, pause menu pops up mid-race because some comment you made was misread as a Kinect command. This happened all too frequently while I played, a frustration that was only exacerbated by the fact that you need to physically unplug the Kinect if you don't want to use it.
There's one last element in Need for Speed: Most Wanted that ought to be of interest to multi-platform gamers. The PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, and Xbox 360 versions of the game are all identical, feature-complete replicas of one another. Since all of this is also tied in with Origin, Most Wanted offers what I do believe may be an industry first in EA's CloudCompete system.
In short, your Speed Points ranking on one platform automatically carries over to another platform. The cars and upgrades you've earned won't transfer, but anything tied to hitting a Speed Points milestone does. Which means that if you play 10 hours on your Xbox 360 and manage to unlock six Most Wanted races, the first time you fire up the game on your PS3 or Vita, those six races will also be unlocked. On the multiplayer side, since Speed Points ranking determines what you've unlocked, your multiplayer unlocks actually do carry over.
Unfortunately, this does not include leaderboards or any of the other asynchronous multiplayer elements in the game, but I think that most will agree that this is a major step toward a truly cross-platform gaming environment. Kudos to EA for making multiplatform play, especially when crossing from your 360/PS3 to your Vita, a much more attractive prospect.
Crossing The Finish Line
Need for Speed: Most Wanted isn't perfect. The HUD is way too busy with pop-up windows and information presented in tiny text, the Kinect voice recognition is laughably screwy, and the merciless AI is a bit too capable a lot of the time. That said, Criterion Games brings the fire here in this Frankenstein's monster amalgamation of Burnout and Need for Speed. The buttery smooth controls, multitude of unlockable rides/upgrades, and ever-alluring draw of besting your friends' times, not to mention the forward-thinking CloudCompete, come together to offer one of the finest arcade racing experiences out there.