Thrills and Hilarity Ensue...
Need for Speed: Most Wanted acts as an injection of freshness that the series needed after the Underground games. Those games, and other franchises, have stretched the tuner scene pretty thin. They also lacked any real police presence, a key feature of earlier series entries and an omission that didn’t do the games any favors. This latest iteration rectifies that mistake and puts a good foot forward for the new generation of consoles.
In Most Wanted, you play as a no-name racer in Rockport taking on the Blacklist, a collection of the 15 most notorious street racers in the city. The game starts off with you taking on Razor Callahan, who occupies the 15th spot. But it’s never a fair fight. Razor’s cronies mess with your car before the race causing you to not only lose the race, but lose your car and get arrested to boot. You’re back in the saddle soon enough, though, with help from a woman named Mia.
The incredible FMV cutscenes scattered throughout the game are also introduced at the beginning. These cutscenes aren’t incredible for their visual panache (though they do sport a cool look by combining live actors with CG backgrounds) but instead because of their performances. The acting on display here would put William Shatner to shame. The characters are so absolutely chomping down on the scenery that you can’t help but laugh. Whether it’s intentional or not, it’s still hilarious. However, most of the story is conveyed through text and voice messages from the various characters for the remainder of the game. These contain a good amount of hamming themselves; nevertheless, the cutscenes take the cake.
The game’s career mode sprawls out from there. You’re tasked with taking down Razor, and since he’s now #1 on the Blacklist, everyone else along the way. You accomplish this by beating each member of the Blacklist in races, but you first must prove yourself worthy to face them by completing a number of other challenges. These include driving game staples like circuit, sprint, drag, and knockout races. Checkpoint races are present in the form of tollbooth races and speed trap races place a number of radar guns around the track that clock your speed with the racer with the highest total combined speed at the end of the race winning.
Besides the races, you have to reach milestones involving the game’s biggest adversary – the cops. These range from getting a set number of cops involved in a chase to accruing an overall bounty through various illegal acts. Police can get involved both during and outside of races. However, chases outside of races are where the real fun is. They begin small, with only a few squad cars, but as your heat level rises, the big guns get rolled out. Spike strips, roadblocks, helicopters, and federal Corvettes start bearing down on you. At this point, eluding them can get pretty complicated, requiring you to get and stay out of sight. Oftentimes, just when you think you’re safe, a patrol car will come screeching around the corner to blow your cover. It’s maddening and nerve-racking and thrilling all in one.
The core racing through which all this takes place, for the most part, is fun. The computer tends to keep races close by exhibiting some rubber band tendencies. However, this isn’t as detrimental to the game as it might initially seem. In fact, it accentuates the experience, especially when the police are involved. There’s more bumper-to-bumper racing in those situations than you’ll see in any driving game. But it can be annoying near the end of races when the computer immediately pounces on little mistakes, making you start the whole thing over again, but the trade-off is worth the gripes.
The graphics of Most Wanted go a long way to enhance the experience through detailed car models and a good sense of speed. The varied environments in the city of Rockport and flashing police lights reflect off car models in convincing fashion. But sometimes all the visual flash can be too much and causes the game to stutter. It’s not a huge problem but it certainly detracts from the visuals. The audio portion of the game is largely excellent. The aforementioned voice performances are great, at least depending on your viewpoint. Engine roars and tire squeals are high quality too. But the police chatter is, by far, the highlight. It makes you wonder if they just stuck a microphone up to a police scanner; it sounds that genuine. Meanwhile, the music that accompanies the gameplay is rather generic. A lot of hip-hop and rock with some techno mixed in for good measure plays in the background, but a decent chase-y theme kicks in when the fuzz get involved.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted doesn’t do everything perfectly. But it does most things very well. Especially the police sections, and that’s a good thing given that putting “Most Wanted” in the title without nailing the police chases would be inexcusable. All in all, this game offers more thrills than most racing titles and is certainly worth checking out.