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Need for Speed: Most Wanted Review

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  • PC

If you're looking for a multiplayer driving game that's about way more than simple races, Most Wanted's speedlist system makes for an amazingly good time.

The cops are probably the least interesting part about Most Wanted.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted might not have the name on the box, but it's essentially a mini-sequel to Burnout Paradise. Criterion has taken a lot of the ideas from its last big open-world racing game and sharpened them up a bit. As the type of person who put hundreds of hours into Burnout Paradise, I find this to be a very exciting prospect, indeed. While the ideas behind Most Wanted are mostly sound, sometimes the execution of its solo gameplay is decidedly less so. Yet the multiplayer side takes all those learnings from Burnout Paradise and runs with them in some incredible ways. The end result is a game with some amazing moments and enough little issues to make you constantly wish that it was slightly better, slightly smoother, and (on consoles) slightly cleaner.

But let's start with what Most Wanted actually is. It's an open world racing game with a single-player mode that is very different from its multiplayer, but they're united by a shared player progression. In single-player mode, the object is to take on the 10 cars that make up the "Most Wanted List." In order to unlock those 10 races, you'll need to earn experience points, which are gained in other races. With the exception of the "Most Wanted" cars themselves, no vehicles are doled out to you as you progress. Instead, every car is tucked away in a few spots around the world. These "jack spots" let you drive up to these parked cars and press a button to switch. Each car has five races assigned to it, and completing these earn you experience points and unlock car modifiers, like off-road tires that help you maintain control when you're not on the streets, or a reinforced chassis that lets you maintain control after a collision with another racer or cop. That's not to say that there are five unique races for every car, though, as plenty of them repeat. But the unlocks are car-specific, so if you're bent on doing everything you'll need to find every car and complete all five races with every car.

Putting the aero body on your car lets you catch more air, useful for taking some high scores.

The cars themselves handle well in a loose, fun way that feels a lot like Burnout Paradise. Tapping the brakes sets your car adrift, letting you get long, smooth slides around sharp corners, often while simultaneously using your nitrous boost to actually gain speed while sliding out. The fastest cars require tight turning abilities and even tighter reaction times from the player to help dodge oncoming traffic, highway dividers, and the like. Once you get used to its specific style of driving, it's positively excellent.

While the bulk of the single-player events are only open to a few cars, the Most Wanted races themselves are open to any vehicle, and you can use a handy in-game menu to change cars or mods at any time. But, for whatever reason, changing cars doesn't let you change cars on the spot. You can only warp to one of the areas where that car is parked. So changing cars on the fly isn't really an option, which is annoying in cases where you want to switch to a faster car because you just found a billboard, speed camera, or some other optional piece of the world that you want to blast through.

The name Most Wanted also implies that the police will be involved, and sure enough, they'll pop up with increasing frequency as you work your way through the game. Some events simply have police encounters programmed into them, forcing you to deal with the law as you race and escape them once the race is complete. You can also get into free-drive scuffles with the law if they see you driving fast... which happens all the time. The police aspect of Most Wanted feels tossed in and largely out of place, especially when you're just trying to bang out some races and unlock mods for your current car. You can't start race events or warp to other cars while a pursuit is in progress. While you can typically speed away from a pursuit just as it's started and get away without much trouble, if you get mired in a longer chase that started during a previous event, the fastest way out is usually to just let yourself get caught. There's no penalty for that--in fact there are in-game milestones built upon getting busted--though the game forcibly warps you back to your current car's parking spot once that happens. If you're right near the next event or trying to hunt down collectibles, this is pretty much just a pain in the ass.

Ultimately, though, the real issue with the single-player is that it feels a little empty. The world feels small and lifeless. Aside from an announcer coming on and giving a speech that is deliberately similar to the one found in Burnout Paradise when you first start playing, the only other chatter you hear comes during police chases. But the police radio dialogue is almost immediately repetitive, adding the tedium I felt whenever the law got involved. On top of that, it isn't particularly long or in-depth, so unless you're bent on upgrading every car, you'll reach a million experience points and be able to complete the final Most Wanted race in around six or seven hours.

Though you'll see plenty of cops during some pursuits, it never turns into the Blues Brothers or anything like that.

Thankfully, the game has multiplayer, and the online side of Need for Speed: Most Wanted is amazing. Rather than just dump you into yet another series of races, Most Wanted is more like the challenge modes found in Burnout Paradise with some proper racing mixed in. The events join together to form "speedlists," which group five different events together. These are served up at random in public matches, but you can configure your own lists for private matches. The events vary from group activities, like asking all the players to perform drifts around a landmark until the total drift yardage reaches a certain number. Or individual feats of skill, like seeing who can get the longest jump off of a specific ramp. But these have a twist. If you're taken out by another player while trying to hit that longest jump, your last score is frozen and you're effectively eliminated from the event, leaving you to just try to screw it up for the other players by taking them out. So it's a viable strategy to get a good, long jump and then just park on the ramp to mess up other players. It's dirty.

Even the racing has a wicked, filthy edge to it. Between events, you're asked to drive to the next meet up spot so that all players are in the same basic location when the next event starts. When that event is a race, it doesn't line you all up into some sort of formal starting grid. As soon as the GPS line appears on your map and you know which direction you're supposed to take, you're free to start moving in the basic direction of the first checkpoint, timer be damned. Even the drive to the meet up point has a bit of competition to it, as the player that gets there first gets a little bit of XP. At the end of the five-event group, the scores are tallied, a winner is declared, and you're ready for the next set.

Though the pool of experience points you earn is used across multiplayer and the solo portion of Most Wanted, the two sides of the game handle unlocks completely differently. Rather than finding cars in the world, in multiplayer you unlock more cars when you gain a level, and mods for those cars are earned by driving and performing well in those specific vehicles. So you might earn track tires for driving a car for five miles or an aero body kit for jumping a set number of yards. "Pro" versions of these perks are also unlockable later on. And since the game uses the same XP count for both modes, playing online is a good way to unlock the Most Wanted races in single-player, and if you've been playing a bunch of single-player, you'll have a bunch of new cars to choose from the next time you get in a game with other people.

No front plate, but your rear license plate is customizable like a Call of Duty playercard.

The Xbox 360 version of the game is a little hitchy, with an unstable frame rate that takes supreme dives whenever there are a lot of cop cars on-screen. It also looks a little blurry at the horizon, which in a game where dodging oncoming traffic at insane speeds is the order of the day can cause some issues of its own. The PC version, predictably, has none of these issues. It looks great at high resolutions and, assuming you've got a machine that can handle it, the frame rate is terrific. Ultimately, though, this is a multiplayer game that you'll enjoy most with friends, and you should probably play it where your friends will play it... just try to convince them all that the PC version is the way to go, if you hold that sort of sway over your peers.

It's also worth noting that Most Wanted might be the first game I've seen that justifies the existence of EA's Origin service, as it syncs your point total across all platforms, including the Vita version. This means that if you finish the game on one platform, you'll have enough points to immediately open the main races in single-player on another platform, but more importantly your multiplayer progress will carry over. I don't know that I'd recommend that people play the game on multiple platforms, but if you're planning on playing the portable version as well as its "big" counterpart, it's pretty cool to not have to unlock all those cars in both places.

It's a shame that the single-player portion of Most Wanted isn't more exciting, but it's still pretty good because the handling makes the cars enjoyable to just drive around, regardless of what you're doing. But if you're looking for a solid, lengthy solo campaign from a driving game, this isn't what you're looking for. Most Wanted is a multiplayer-first game, and taken in that context, few games do it better than this.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
92 Comments
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Posted by vividnova

Great!

Edited by MrMcJerk

My dog took a pic of herself!

http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/mrmcjerk/all-images/52-493706/2105078-photo_00004/51-2105079/

Also, day 1 purchase.

Posted by Winternet

huh

Posted by dropabombonit

Sounds good, think I'm going to finish AC3 and then get this

Edited by Metal_Mills

Shame the PC version is having performance issues for a lot of people. :(

Posted by Fistfulofmetal

I played a bit of the PC version this morning and found the port to be pretty subpar compared to Hot Pursuit. Tons of framerate issues for no apparent reason. I have an i5, 16gbs of RAM and a GTX680 but seeing tons of drops when driving around. Really surprised.

Posted by zombie2011

I think if you're gonna make an open world game the open world should be interesting, nothing about this city looks interesting, it's just looks like a regular ass city.

Posted by Winternet

Well, guess I won't be playing any driving games this year.

Posted by Cincaid

Hopefully Criterion's next racing game will offer more fun for single players. Even more hopefully; a proper Burnout game.

Posted by deano546

What video card does Jeff have does anyone know? I've seen people complain about framerate issues with 680s.

Edited by Darthozzan

Runs fine(60 fps) after I turned off ambient occlusion, shadows and lowered the quality of reflections to medium on a 2500k and 560ti for what it's worth :P As someone who typically only plays single player in racing games I can't say I've been having a great time in NSF: Most Wanted... I'll keep playing it for a little while but I doubt it'll stick around, multiplayer racing just isn't my cup of tea for whatever reason ^^ That said I think the review is on point and the score is exactly what I would have given it too. And the soundtrack is awesome.

Posted by Begilerath

So which is better? Need for Speed: Most Wanted or Need for Speed: Most Wanted?

Edited by mcmax3000

As someone who always plays through all of the single player in Criterion's racing games, hearing that the single player in this isn't the greatest is kind of disappointing.

I'm still picking it up as soon as I possibly can this afternoon, and I'm sure I'll still push through all of the game, just like I do with all of their other games.

Also, the frame rate issues on 360 are disappointing, because Criterion is usually very good at having a stable frame rate.

Posted by NimbusLaw

@Begilerath: If you're a fan of the old "tuning era" of NFS the old MW is much more interesting and fun then this one, this NFS should be named NFS: Burnout x Ridge Racer.

Posted by sixpin

Between the frame rate issues on 360 and the lack of any real single-player content, I'll be skipping this one. This is really disappointing, as I was hoping to finally have a racing game to play that isn't a 5 year old Burnout game.

Edited by Niall_Sg1

@deano546 said:

What video card does Jeff have does anyone know? I've seen people complain about framerate issues with 680s.

He's said on a Podcast that he has a GTX 670

Posted by CptBedlam

@zombie2011 said:

I think if you're gonna make an open world game the open world should be interesting, nothing about this city looks interesting, it's just looks like a regular ass city.

That was already my problem with Burnout Paradise. I was a fan of Burnout 1-4 but driving in an open city was just not fun to me at all. I did like, however, the countryside open world of Criterion's Hot Pursuit with its awesome roads through spectacular landscapes. Needless to say, I'm currently in love with Forza Horizon for that reason.

Posted by rmanthorp

A lot of NFS feels. I'm still pickin this up over Forza.

Moderator
Posted by FissionMailed10

Can't Wait to jump into the multiplayer, went back and played some paradise multiplayer the past few days, man i forgot how crazy fun some of those online challenges are.

Posted by BlatantNinja23

I just want to know how the vita version is

Posted by mlarrabee

That's a shame.

I never shared the love for Burnout Paradise--probably because I never had two dozen friends who played the game constantly--and I was hoping for an updated version of NFSHP, but it looks as though I'll have to wait a while longer for another racing game to hook me like Hot Pursuit did.

Maybe I'll finally try getting into my untouched, day-one purchase of Dirt 3...

Posted by whitespider

I have a i5 @5ghz (stable), two gtx 670's in SLI. Both overclocked to faster-than-stock 680's (although the game currently only uses 1 gpu). And the game is virtually unplayable for me.

In most games when you drop to 40fps, it feels a little less smooth. In this game there are specific sections that drop - like tunnels. And the game stutters when it drops to 50 or 40fps. In a game like this you simply cannot have a stuttery framerate. Dropping the important settings to medium and setting the reflections to low makes the fps a little more consistent - however it also eliminates a lot of the advantage of the pc version.

After playing the console version, the pc version (even on my system) might seem smooth in comparison. However since I can run every single game on my system WITHOUT stuttering framerates - then this makes this version a rare case.

In a sense, this is a worse port than dark souls. It might look prettier with dx11, however at least dark souls was consistent. This is not.

I hope this is patched soon. And I sincerely hope that jeff is playing some other version of the game .exe when he says it's smooth.

Posted by NipCrip66

Certainly didn't expect Forza Horizon to be the racing game of the year. I was expecting this to be fantastic. Looks like I'll be changing my Xmas wishlist then. :)

Edited by rbanke

I7 860 @ 3.8ghz, 8gb ram, SSD, gtx 680 and even with reflections and AO turned to medium, I can't even maitain 30fps most of the time. And many others are having issues also. So I'd say 'predictably the PC version has none of these issues' isn't accurate for many or maybe even most.

Posted by fooflighter737

Crappy framerate...have 2 GTX 580's SLI'd with the latest Beta Drivers...

Getting dips into the 40's...NOT GOOD CRITERION...NOT GOOD!!!!

Posted by kennybaese

Huh... I guess I'm a little unsure of this now. I don't have any friends who really play racing games, at least not arcade racers, so the single player component of this would be the selling point for me. Maybe I'll end up skipping this and picking up Horizon instead. This saddens me.

Posted by owen99

any word on the ps3 version? thought paradise ran slightly better on ps3, wonder if its the same with this.

Posted by Brodehouse

It sounds almost identical to Paradise and Hot Pursuit. Is this just a case of I Already Played Those? Was it that the stuff Criterion does was amazing in 2008 and 2010 but not in 2012?

Edited by JerichoBlyth

I think Most Wanted tries to emulate the success of Burnout Paridiso but ends up falling a little short.

When being pursued by the cops, it is extremely irritating during the cooldown period if you happen to clip a stray piece of scenery - you're back in their clutches again before you realise what the hell happened. Some of the things you can crash into definitively (those that activate the crash cam) just appear randomly at times, with absolutely no room or opportunity to maneuver.

It's not as smooth as Burnout Paradise was either, so it can be a little clunky and comes across as feeling a little ambitious at times.

There's also a strange blend of realism and arcade action that I couldn't help notice. The car handling is similar to that of a simulation racing game - yet....it's NFS Most Wanted...a chaotic driving game based in a stunt-heavy playground. Just felt a little odd.

It's a decent game but I feel Hot Pursuit and Burnout Paradise were a lot better.

Posted by Spookie

@kennyshat said:

Huh... I guess I'm a little unsure of this now. I don't have any friends who really play racing games, at least not arcade racers, so the single player component of this would be the selling point for me. Maybe I'll end up skipping this and picking up Horizon instead. This saddens me.

Having played both that seems a good call.

Edited by MatthewMeadows

Great review Jeff, but I really wished that you'd have checked the frame-rate on the PS3 version, especially considering that it isn't an either/or with Forza like it is for 360 owners (I do have a 360 but it's at my parents').

Even just putting the disc in and maybe giving it a run through for a half hour just to sign off on it. Ah well.

Posted by coperoco

The extreme rubberbanding killed this game for me. It´s way overdone.. I don´t know why we have to put up with that crap in arcade racers.. It´s just lazy design. If you have to cheat that much to make your races "interesting and exciting" you end up making them "boring and frustrating".

Posted by MildMolasses

a little disappointing since the reason I loved The last criterion nfs game was the single player. Maybe I'll skip this and pick up Forza Horizon instead

Posted by radion_null

Here I was hoping Jeff would review the PS3 version as it "crossplays" with the Vita version. I actually wanted to see if that was a good selling point. But oh well!

Posted by beard_of_zeus

@Spookie said:

@kennyshat said:

Huh... I guess I'm a little unsure of this now. I don't have any friends who really play racing games, at least not arcade racers, so the single player component of this would be the selling point for me. Maybe I'll end up skipping this and picking up Horizon instead. This saddens me.

Having played both that seems a good call.

Yeah, this is pretty much the conclusion I came to. I was pretty excited for Most Wanted, but if the single-player is lackluster, I might just pass on this until it's cheap. Plus the framerate issues sound like a bummer on the console version, which is where I would be playing it. There will probably be a Black Friday deal, I'll wait until then.

Forza it is!

Posted by radion_null

Then again, the whole crossplay applies to 360 as well according to his review, so i guess my statement/requested is nullified.

Edited by Bourbon_Warrior

@rbanke said:

I7 860 @ 3.8ghz, 8gb ram, SSD, gtx 680 and even with reflections and AO turned to medium, I can't even maitain 30fps most of the time. And many others are having issues also. So I'd say 'predictably the PC version has none of these issues' isn't accurate for many or maybe even most.

Seems Nvidia has to update their drivers... Looks great on AMD cards.

Posted by wrecks

Damn. Wanted another single-player burnout. Looks like this ain't it.

Edited by ucankurbaga

Word of warning to everyone thinking to buy this game. (If you already bought like me I feel sorry for you):

I appreciate Jeff's enthusiasm against this game but it doesn't really deserve 4 star hell even 3.

- Bad car handling

- Poor PC optimization

- No sense of progression

- The cops and most wanted list seems pointless

- No cutscenes or characterization of most wanted list like in previous game

- No visual upgrades for cars

I am really suprised its getting high scores all around. I guess people felt sorry for EA after bashing MoH Warfighter to the ground and gave this game good score to make up for it...

Posted by Demoskinos

I'll be the obligatory troll and post. *ahem* LOL FORZA > NFS:MW

Edited by fooflighter737

@ucankurbaga: Ditto on all counts...

Really disappointed so far...

This should have gotten 3 stars

Posted by Phatmac

Can't wait to do some sick loops with some duders!

Edited by Vextroid
@rbanke said:

I7 860 @ 3.8ghz, 8gb ram, SSD, gtx 680 and even with reflections and AO turned to medium, I can't even maitain 30fps most of the time. And many others are having issues also. So I'd say 'predictably the PC version has none of these issues' isn't accurate for many or maybe even most.

Man it's a bummer to hear the issues of the PC version. Considering how good Paradise was on the PC. My crappy laptop could run it 60+ everything high (except SSAO) at 720p. (Albiet that game wasn't very demanding as it ditched flashier effects for stability but still) EDIT: Also Hot Pursuit was good too (not on my laptop though :P)
 
That coupled with the Burnout Paradise-Lite SP (meaning it's not enough like BP) I think I'm going to rescind my day 1 purchase.
Online
Posted by graboids

Man, I have been so excited for this game, and skipped Horizon for this because I loved Paradise and NFS HP, and really dont have time for 2 racing games at once. But this review has me second guessing now, not because Forza scored better but because a lot of the issues he had with it were exactly what I didn't want to hear. SP is what I would spend most of my time doing... another example of why I should stop preordering games I guess... but they keep sucking me back in with preorder bonuses.

Posted by ripelivejam

@Begilerath said:

So which is better? Need for Speed: Most Wanted or Need for Speed: Most Wanted?

with no hesitation i would say Need for Speed: Most Wanted.

Posted by bigsmoke77

@graboids: Yeah Im in the same boat. First world problems are the worst!!!

Posted by sixpin

@graboids: Same here. I'll be canceling my pre-order when I go in to pick up Assassin's Creed 3. Might pick up Forza Horizon when it gets cheaper.

Posted by stewy

Criterion's last big open-world game was Hot Pursuit, not Paradise...right?

Posted by MagusMaleficus

I'm glad I pulled the trigger on Forza Horizon instead of waiting for this. I'll still get this one but probably not until the price drops a good bit.

Posted by pyide

Is it true the PC version supports 12 players online compared to console's 8? I've only seen it mentioned in a few places prior to launch.

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