The best arcade racer out there.
EA took a different approach on the Need For Speed franchise when they decided to go with the street racing culture (credits to "The Fast & The Furious") in Underground. The formula worked pretty well, offering some decent car customization and upgrades as you progress through the game. They also introduced a pretty much boring open world in Underground 2 and leave most of the original features intact.
For Most Wanted, fans pretty much expecting the same. However EA somehow managed to give them a big surprise - by introducing numerous features that kept the game addicting for years to come.
Different from other games, Most Wanted includes a storyline which is corny beyond belief. Just imagine any street racing movie minus the action. But then again, if you hop on to the game expecting an over-the-top storyline, then you're pretty much screwed.
The story unfolds as the player enters Rockport city with some chick named Mia. You never get to know how they hooked up. But then, screw that. Anyways, you have this cop named cross who somehow hates you and is always up on your ass. As for you, you just want to make it to the top of the Blacklist - otherwise known as the list of most notorious street racers in the city. Eventually you meet this guy named Razor. You challenge him, he sabotaged your ride, he took your ride because you were gambling with pink slips and now you vow for revenge. That's pretty much it for the storyline.
The basic goal of the game is to challenge Blacklist racers. Let me explain this to you.
Before you're eligible to challenge a Blacklist racer, you have to accomplish a set of objectives he/she laid down for you. They are "Bounty", "Milestones" and "Races" .
"Races" are pretty much self explainatory, requiring you to finish a certain no of races. But for "Bounty" and "Milestones", things get a little more complicated.
For "Bounty", you'll have to mess with cops to increase the bounty they put on your head. When the bounty reaches the required value, you would've completed the objective. You may earn those points through multiple pursuits.
For "Milestones", you'll have to complete a set of tasks set by the Blacklist racer for you to complete during pursuits. For instance, roadblocks dodged in a single pursuit or cost to state achieved in a single pursuit. Again these objectives can be accomplished on multiple pursuits.
What game is Need For Speed without racing? For Most Wanted, they introduced two new racing modes, which are less than creative but are good enough. The first one being " Toolbooth Challenge" which requires you to pass through a number of toolbooths within a certain time limit. Just treat it as a checkpoint race. The second one being "Speedtrap", in which players drive their cars pass a bunch of speed detectors. The winner is whoever accumulates the highest speed.
They're OK, but not really original.
The racing AI, however, should be your biggest worry, as it heavily relies on a somewhat punishing rubberband AI. It's not surprising to be up by 10 secs one minute ago and be down by a couple a minute later. And the worst of all is, when you're not ahead, you're basically done for the race. This will bring lots of frustrations.
For the car customization, they replaced the options for bumpers with body kits. Since I'm not really a fan of customization, so I'm not really against this idea. You get the other stuffs as well, like vinyls and spoilers etc. Not necessarily an improvement, but was acceptable to me.
However what truly defined the game is its over-the-top cop chases. Given Need For Speed's previous experience with cop chases aren't all that innovative, they somehow managed to pull out what I consider the best cop chases in video gaming history..
The pursuit system had a heat meter of some sort on your car. The more crimes you commit, the higher the heat meter. The higher the heat meter, the more agreesive the cops are, and it's impossible to not notice the difference in police AI as you progress. There are also changes in the cop cars they send out as the heat meter rises, with a generic police cruiser at level 1 and Corvettes at level 6. They will also start deploying copters and using spike belts, making things noticable tougher.
In order to keep track of your current status, there is a bar at the bottom of the screen. When the left side of the bar fills up, you're busted; when the right side of the bar builds up, you've escaped and enter the cooling down period. Once the period is done, the pursuit is officially over.
The way to get rid of cop cars is by hitting "Pursuit Breakers". They are generally destructible environments which will damage cop cars, allowing you to leave them behind. and thus allowing your bar on the right side build up.
The ideas in the chases are really nicely executed, and left you wondering what if EA included a "Be The Cop" mode in the game.
Now to the presentation. The visuals are pretty good. However what impresses the most are the sound effects. Instead of a generic engine sound, the development team managed to record engine sounds for each car in the game, making the whole experience much more enjoyable. Nobody wants to hear a Lambo sounding like a VW Golf.
The soundtrack is also impressive, and will appeal to all as it includes a wide array of music genres, from hip hop to heavy metal to trance.
Overall speaking, this is one of the classic arcade gaming out there. The gameplay elements are nicely executed. However, its biggest shame was that you can't help but go "the game could've accomplished a lot more". Still, it's an enjoyable experience.