Solid Need for Speed with a nice dose of new gameplay elements.
In 2003 Need for Speed Underground was being released, and it was awesome. You got the chance to drive cars you otherwise wouldn't even touch in real life at incredible speeds you wouldn't even dream of achieving. It had that "Fast and Furious" kind of charm, you start the game, get a cheap-ass car, start racing, tune the ride, improve the car, more speed, more tracks, and so on. Need for Speed: Most Wanted comes after the second Underground and it's clear this really shouldn't be named simply "Underground 3", we have the series moving forwards again, this time the leap wasn't as steep as it was when the first Underground was released, but some aspects are new, some are back, some are back from a long hiatus, and some had a little decrease in value or appearance.
For those already accustomed to Underground's metropolitan night-time neon-reflecting city Most Wanted holds a surprise, the races and every other thing you do is at daylight. While I must agree that the feeling of illegal racing with cops on your back trying to bust you at every change they get could easily be boosted if it was night instead of day, the game still manages to create nice locations with its predominant yellowish-pigmented atmosphere. The cutscenes, at least especially them, will have a somewhat blurred touch which will feel like part of the game's personality. The racers won't be the least shy of wrecking the streets with their high-customized super cars for the whole world to see it. And they will actually see it, if you start causing too much trouble somewhere in the map the police will be called, and if you stick for too long rollin' on those areas or if some roaming patrol ever get the descriptions of you car and spots you, then a pursuit will take place.
Police chases are back on the Need for Speed series and Most Wanted is the first game of this "new era" to have it implemented. The chases are at the same time awesome and frustrating. They're awesome because it adds a whole new universe to be explored aside from racing, for you to proceed through the game you have to literally become the "most wanted" person in the game. And they're frustrating because they can get really hard, to a point of you having to count on luck for some stuff. There's no laying low here, if you choose to take on the game you have to get the cops attention and eventually increase you street reputation, so this is a racing game with a plus sign. It has wanted degrees, the more of a mess you make around the more it will become a pandemonium and the chances of escaping harmless will start getting slim. At 1x you have just one or two patrols on your back, you won't have a hard time losing them or destroying their cars. But at 5x things get messy, you'll be treated like Osama Bin Laden riding a car in the middle of New York; helicopters, heavy SUV's, roadblocks, spike strips and dozens of elite police cars on your back trying to stop you, the artillery is not light and they won't go easy on you, if they get you to stop you're done, the car you're driving will be held by the police until you pay your dues.
The story is actually interesting, which is rare for a racing game -- let alone a racing game made by EA. Of course it's still a little cliché and if what is actually presented wasn't so limited this could have turned out amazing, and also a strange exception. You are some nameless guy who is fooled by some other guy, this other guy is not nice, actually the contrary, he is an egocentric jerk, full of prepotency and arrogance. This bad guy has a crew, who share the attribute of their leader in no less extense. They will sabotage "your" car during a street race to take it from you, then use it to reach the highest point of the so called "Black List". The Black List is the list of the 15 best drivers around, the big shots. Needless to say it's up to you to get a new car, a modest one, and start climbing your way until you reach the bad guy who got your ride. To do that you're gonna have the help of a chick called Mia Townsend and some other guy known only by the name of Rog. Now, another interesting thing about the story is that you never get to see the face nor the body of the racer you control, not even in cutscenes, the characters speak to your character by looking straight toward the television, so it seems like they are actually referring and speaking to you. They did an awesome job doing this. It could be better if they had explored the Black List characters in a more meaningful way than only showing their pictures, cutscenes with them fronting you would have been awesome.
So you basically move on from one guy to another on the Black List, at each one you have special requirement to be met before you can actually race against the Black List guy, they are divided in wins, Milestones and bounty. The wins are victories accumulated in normal street races against 3 other drivers, as happened in other Need for Speed before this one, you have more than one type over the regular 3-lap circuits, you also have drag races, sprints, max speed challenges, tollbooth, lap knockout. All these types of races have something in common, you have to win some kind of race against computer controlled players, the difficulty in these is well calibrated, they aren't easy, in fact, the last races will be hard, but the real problem with difficulty doesn't lie in normal racing. Something worth mentioning is the few number of drag races you'll encounter through the game, it'll take some time until you finally reach your first drag race, and when you do and think the situation is gonna change with more of them to come, you'll probably feel disappointed to find only a handful available. The next type o challenge are milestones, and this is all about breaking the law, you're gonna have a list of things you need to do in a pursuit and when these criteria are met you receive a boost in your bounty. The bounty will depend on pursuits as well, but you don't actually have objectives to go for, you just need to make a giant mess, the bigger the better.
You continue earning money out of winning races and you still can buy vehicles to customize them with different colors, decals, performance parts, etc; but it's not hard to notice this ends up not being the game's central focus, as happened in the last two Need for Speed. The focus here are really the chases and the different aspects taken from it. Sure, the free roaming is cool, and the city in which the game takes place is pretty well designed, but it also feels shallow to just roam around doing absolutely nothing but drive, you can get in a police chase or trigger a race, but that can also be done through the menu by simply choosing to do so, start a pursuit or go directly to a race, without the need to keep driving around until you find something. The right to just roll the streets can be a good thing because you get to know the map, and that kind of knowledge in a chase could be a valuable triumph since every time you get involved in a chase you need to successfully evade it for the completed objectives related to milestones during the chase to be counted, and not get your car held by the authorities. To help you with that, you have the pursuit breakers, which are strategically placed locations where you can pass through to cause some kind of "situation" in your favor, for instance, if you have a lot of cops on your back and your life is already living hell, you can simply drive through a gas station to make it blow making the cops go straight to hell. Of course you need to have the cops near you when you trigger these places, there are a lot of them scattered around the city, and the locations are marked on your displayed map.
If you've had enough of the career mode you still have the Challenge Mode at your disposal. Nothing really new here, just a selection of challenges for you to perform, everything related to racing and pursuits -- which doesn't sound much encouraging for those searching something, even the slightest, different from what you do in the career, more for those done with the career mode and looking for more of the same. Still, it is required if you are a completionist, and if you found the game the least fun I'm sure it wouldn't hurt to add some more gameplay time. Actually, making a game last is never a bad thing. But if you're really a completionist you also have the rap sheet to worry about, which lists the a ranking with the best racers -- or worst racers? -- in categories like who had the longest chase or who took down the most police patrols in chases. You still have the challenge of trying to come first in every ranking of the sheet, also not an easy job.
If you're fan of the Need for Speed franchise this is an easy recommendation, it might very well be the most well-developed game in the franchise yet, bringing back the police chases and adding a whole new dimension of gameplay mechanics. For racing fans looking for pure racing with nothing fancy on the side should be aware that the chases aren't skippable and actually required. The high difficulty is mostly thanks to the police pursuits which can very well turn out frustrating to some, the racing part is solid as ever, never giving much attention to what's possible or what's not when driving the cars, no simulation here folks, to a point where your car never gets damaged, after all it would be even more frustrating in pursuits. The career mode will hold you long enough, and the challenge mode will keep you busy for a little more if you choose so. A solid game recommendable to anyone up for a good challenge.