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Need For Speed: Most Wanted - a Critereon Game Review

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Need For Speed: Most Wanted - a Critereon Game Review

Post  Rhemsis on Tue Jan 22, 2013 10:18 pm


Need For Speed: Most Wanted is a game by Electronic Arts released in 2005…oh I’m sorry, I got confused about which game we were talking about since it is now apparently alright to recycle game titles that aren't even a decade old yet. Need For Speed: Most Wanted (2012, or A Criterion game) is a rehash of the rather popular 2005 release Need For Speed: Most Wanted. This is where the similarities end.

I was honestly excited to play this game. I am generally a fan of Need For Speed titles (albeit only playing them every few years so that the repetition doesn’t wear on me), especially when it involves police chases. This was an aspect introduced way back in 1998 in Need For Speed III: Hot Pursuit. No, not Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit released in 2010…you can see how this naming thing gets rather annoying. It’s almost like the creators of the Need For Speed series couldn’t possibly be burdened to think of a brand new verb (maybe an adverb to spice things up) to distinguish the game as “Not the one released a few years back.”

Regardless, this is another game that is a veritable buffet of eye candy. The graphics hooked me when I first started it up. The cars looked flawless, the sparks from collisions and sideswipes were out of this world, and the whole world looked very well polished and put together. Unfortunately for Criterion, graphics aren’t everything.

The game throws you into the heat of things with an upbeat cinematic explaining that “This is Fairhaven, home of the fastest cars and the cuh-raziest racers”. The female voice-over tells you how you’re going to need to prove yourself to become part of this elite group of racers. Then you see all the ‘Most Wanted’ racers doing time across a bridge. You can tell that they’re the Most Wanted racers because all of their cars are primer white. Most Wanted racers have no need for color on their cars, it’ll only slow them down!

After the cinematic cuts, you get dropped into an Aston Martin right in the middle of a race. “Sweet” I thought “This is going to be just like in Need For Speed: Most Wanted (2005) where I get a kickin’ car, and then something happens, and then I scrape and crawl my way to victory with this smokin’ female announcer who’s been voicing over the intro for too long now!” I was even further hyped when a Baba O’ Reily remix started pumping through my speakers during the intro race. Finally, it seemed, the soundtrack and cars might not be geared solely towards ricers anymore.

I won the race and was introduced to my first car, a Porsche Carrera. I was so excited to get it taken away from me, that I hopped in and spun tire until the rubber was stripped away from the rims and I careened in and out of traffic throwing sparks this way and that screaming “Whee!”.

After my shenanigans concluded, I was introduced to the new menu system. No longer are we bothered with pausing our game when we want to access things, instead we have a live menu that you access with your number pad while still maintaining complete control of your vehicle. While this seems like a really nice feature, it is basically the video game equivalent to texting while driving. The menu is so goddamned hard to use while flying in and out of traffic, with your car that requires you to rip your e-brake to make it around the slightest bends, that you’ll end up with options selected that you didn’t even know where on the menu when all you wanted to do was set your GPS to go to the next race. This feature is supposed to aid you mid-race so that you can hot-swap unlocked car parts (ie off-road tires) to your car to improve it on the current terrain.

Fuck that noise. The only thing texting while driving at 100+ mph is going to do for you in this game is get you killed. This is probably where the realism ends with this game.

Once I found out about the menu, I looked for a way to change my transmission to the ‘manual’ option, because I like my games to engage me. Sure pressing a button to shift up and another to shift down is great and all, but Forza 3 set the bar with a manual transmission that included a clutch button. I thought that this was now the precedent with driving games, but Criterion thought otherwise. They said “Shifting is hard, automatics for everyone!” No option for a manual transmission, no option for a clutch. You’ll use what Criterion wants you to use! Besides, how are you expected to rip your handbrake every time there’s a corner when you’re busy ‘worrying about gears’.

While the forced automatic transmission was disappointing, I did find one of the game’s best features while perusing the options: The ‘M’ button. The M button changes the current radio track! No longer do I have to sit through the new age garbage that the Need For Speed series in subject to, but rather I can skip through all of their terrible track listings and listen to The Who over and over again!


I started to wonder what I could expect in the way of a story, where did that lady from the intro go? **Spoiler Alert** That bitch left, and she isn’t coming back. As for a story there is none. No story whatsoever. Now you might say “Well Forza doesn’t have a story and you seem to like it so much” That’s because Forza didn’t give me an intro about how crazy cool these Most Wanted cats were, rename their game after an older one with a story that really drew you in, and Forza didn’t LEAVE ME HANGING! It’s to the point where I played for a little while wondering what the hell I was supposed to do before I realized the main object of the game were the Most Wanted races that held together the game’s entire plot like watered down Elmer’s glue.

Driving around Fairheaven, you’ll notice quickly that it’s truly open world. There are no barred off roads that you can’t access later on. In fact there aren’t really too many cars you can’t access until you unlock them. You’re given everything the game has to offer from the get go. While that might seem awesome, it really isn’t. There is nothing to look forward to, there is nothing to really earn, do a few races and get a pat on the back for a job well done.

Of course the first thing I did was stumble upon a Lamborghini Gallardo and then a Countach. I tore through the five races for each vehicle, and raised all kinds of hell with the police when I stumbled on another car, a wonderful car: a Corvette ZR-1. I hopped in and never looked back. Seriously, I never looked back. I won all five races, applied all the necessary upgrades that you get from racing all five races, which are subsequently the EXACT same upgrades for every vehicle in the game and beat every Most Wanted racer with nothing but this Corvette ZR-1 that I found about an hour into dicking around in the game.

Gone are the days where you have to struggle with unique upgrades to your car just barely clenching victory from a ‘boss’ racer in hopes that maybe you’ll be able to take his pink slip. Now, you find the ZR-1, you win five races and you’re set for the rest of the game.

Now, in the original Need For Speed: Most Wanted (2005), I became very attached to my garage of cars. Most notably a Toyota Supra that I beat most of the game with. I applied custom paint, custom decals, and rims to make it look great and then I tore into the engine with individual upgrades to boost my cars performance. Need For Speed: Most Wanted (2012) offers you two types of tires (off-road or track), two types of Nitrous, two types of bodies (Impact Resistant and Aero), two types of Chasis (Lightweight or Reinforced), and two types of modifications to your transmission’s gears (Long gears or Short Gears).

Your paint options are limited to around 5 colors per car, and you don’t get to choose. You drive quickly through a gas station and receive a GTA-style ‘Pay n Spray’ to your car. New color, no damage, go on your way.

Speaking of damage, it sucks. Not only have we regressed into a style of damage that reminds me of something slightly better than what was offered in GTA Vice City, the damage is always the same no matter how minor the accident. Your glass spiderwebs, your body gets crinkled with dents, and sometimes if it’s really, really bad the glass will actually break.

This is NOT dependent on how you crash, but it seems is rather a roll of the dice to see what will happen. The game seemingly justifies this by making every crash a bone jarring collision no matter what the angle, no matter what the speed. No matter what your car hits you’ll more than likely be forced to watch a slow motion crash not directly proportionate to what you were doing immediately before. Most likely your car will end up flipping over on itself before settling on its tires.

Let me take a second to tell you how terrible this slow-motion camera is. At first, you’re like “Aw, whoa! Look at that crash, yeah!” but when you’re watching it for the 116th time a half mile down the road from the first time it happened, your expression is more ‘smashing your face on the keyboard cursing Criterion for not putting in a button to skip these cutscenes that take 150% longer than they should’.

It’s especially bothersome when a minor sideswipe that wouldn’t normally merit forcing you to watch a cutscene turns from a fender bender into a recreation of Dale Earnhardt’s final flight.

Enough about my general gameplay complaints, let’s get into what it’s really like to race in this game. When I first said that we were moving away from the ‘ricer’ image of NFS games, I wasn’t correct. They’re making an attempt, but it’s not succeeding. My biggest complaint of this is how you start EVERY race. I have no problem with rolling up to the designated spot and spinning a little tire to initiate the race, but things plummet downhill when I’m forced to watch an opening cinematic that looks less like a cool intro to a race and more like a child with downs syndrome started playing with color filters and camera movement in Cinema 4D. Seriously, it’s that bad. The only exception being the Most Wanted races which feature very nice cinematic openings of the car you’re about to race.


Actual intro cinematic to a race.

After struggling through the opening cinematic by smashing my escape key into oblivion, I’m launched into a race. Literally launched, as in every single race begins with you taking control of your car already doing ~100mph. I’ve already mentioned the awful handling almost every car has that requires you to pull the emergency brake to drift around every goddamned corner. In retrospect this isn’t so much a complaint about the forced drifting as it is the shitty handling on every car that forces you to engage in drifting the car. Losing traction on my ZR-1’s back wheels and sliding around corners was great, but not being able to make those turns without throwing my back end into the oncoming lane was significantly less great.

The races themselves can be restarted at any time through the quick menu, which is really nice since you’ll be encountering so many slow motion crashes that your opponents will leave you in the dust with no chance of catching up. The same is not so for them. This game falls HEAVILY victim to the ‘rubber-band’ effect that many (terrible) racing games employ. This is where due to some unforeseen circumstances you gain a significant lead, only to look at your mini-map and see your opponent catching up to you at ungodly speeds. You are never granted the same favor.

This rubber-banding is available to literally every car that isn’t either A.) General traffic, or B.) The car you are currently driving. On several occasions I was attempting to evade pursuit from the police (who will chase after you for either exceeding 100 mph in their presence, or being involved in a collision in their presence) and travelling at around 200mph in my ZR-1, when a Crown Victoria police cruiser moseyed up beside me in an attempt to drive me off the road. This is just another game that can’t distinguish the difference of being difficult and being unfair. Another example of the blind stray towards unfairness in an attempt to emulate difficulty are the Corvette Police Cruisers who will swerve in front of you and drop spike strips every 10 seconds or so until you hit them. Yes, this makes the game difficult. Difficult in the sense that it is difficult to beat a game which is unfair.

While I may seem to have a lot of complaints about this game, they almost all go out the window when you get the Bugatti Veyron SS. Simply because: Criterion is in love with the Veyron and the only attempt they make to hide this is to make it the #3 Most Wanted race instead of #1. Don’t get me wrong, the Veyron is one hell of a machine, but Criterion seems to think that this is the answer to their game being unfair towards you.

The Veyron is built like a tank. You can plow through most roadblocks without even getting one of those terrible slow motion crashes! You accelerate to 200 mph in the blink of an eye, the handling is impeccable (albeit at high speeds when you just need to use your handbrake to get perfect handling back), and you are now apparently immune to the rubber-band effect, because: Get real, police can't catch up to a VEYRON!.

I guess it all boils down to: “Is this a fun game?” and the answer is “Yes, for a while.” Don’t get me wrong. The game is hugely flawed, but it still presents the ridiculouly high speeds, nitrous induced, corner drifting experience that we’ve come to expect from the Need For Speed Series. While the newest installment of Most Wanted seems better suited to being an arcade game rather than a full PC/Console release, it is good for a couple hours of fun.

You may have wondered why the only cars I mentioned throughout this review are Lamborghinis, Aston Martins, Porsches, Veyrons and the ZR-1. This is simple. You don’t need any other car other than the ZR-1 to beat this game, or even have fun in this game. The formula for winning is simple: Get a ZR-1, max it out with vague, generic upgrades, beat the game, and don’t EVER look back.

Rhemsis
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