It’s been a pretty good month on the racing game front. First there was the brilliant Forza Horizon last month, and now we get the equally brilliant, albeit very much different, Need For Speed: Most Wanted.
To describe NFS: MW, I have to compare it to FH and use an analogy that may look like it’s putting FH in a bad light (I’m not; I gave the game a 9.5): Forza Horizon is the like the guy that wears the DC Shoes hat, t-shirt, and Spy sunglasses, whereas NFS: MW is Ken Block himself. FH places a great deal of emphasis on culture, whereas NFS: MW could care less about music festivals or car count, and just wants to peel your face off.
A lot of other websites have described NFS: MW as the spiritual sequel to Burnout Paradise, and at first glance, it really does seem to be that way. Not only does Criterion develop this game, but the large open world of Fairhaven bears more than a passing resemblance to the first time we experienced Paradise City. The action is fast and frenetic, and there are Takedowns galore. However, I wouldn’t go so far as to describe NFS: MW as Burnout Paradise 2 with a Need For Speed name slapped on top; think of it more like Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit meets Burnout Paradise with some of the best graphics ever in a racing game. It takes the best parts of both franchises, and polishes up into pure madness that neither of the two games that preceded it can match.
First, we’ll tackle the gameplay. Before you read any further, know that this is a NFS game through and through; there is nothing “sim” about the car handling at all. We’re not here to replicate the real world physics and driving experience of a real car; we’re here to run from the cops and nitrous our way to victory. We’re here to hit ramps at 120 MPH and go flying over the freeway, only land and continue racing. We’re here to smash through billboards and e-brake through every turn without worrying about the tires melting off.
With that being said, I was actually pleasantly surprised at the way the cars handled in MW. I’ve played racing games since the days of Pole Position, and the one thing that I can claim with a great degree of confidence is that 90% of arcade racers play like go karts. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Dodge Challenger or a Porsche 911 Turbo; both cars will probably handle the same, and even if they don’t, the differences are minute, and don’t matter once the nitrous kicks in.
In MW, there’s a actually a very noticeable sense of weight difference between the different car models. At first I thought it was my imagination, but damned if the Range Rover Evoque didn’t feel totally different that a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X. Small, nimble cars handle much better than large, cumbersome ones, and for once, choosing different cars actually means something.
That’s strange to say because in MW, the cars are disposable. I certainly don’t mean this as a bad thing; in fact, it almost feels like Criterion is encouraging this. Rather than going to some central hub in the game world or exiting out of the race to go into a menu, if you want to switch cars in MW….you just do it. At any time. Anywhere. Even while in the middle of driving. Fast. Every car in the game is open to you from the very start; you just need to go find them. Scattered throughout the city are cars parked in random locations. As soon as you find one, it’s yours and can be accessed whenever you want.
[quote_right]Just know that the cars models look fantastic, and have some really gnarly damage effects. In fact, one thing I have never seen in a racing game before was after my Ford GT took some heavy damage, I drove over a stretch of uneven ground at a high speed.[/quote_right]You do this by pulling up an in-game menu called Easy Drive at anytime without having to pause and exit. Within this menu, you can upgrade your car, switch cars, find races, check the status of the Most Wanted list etc. This is a great feature, as it allows you to be looking at the game’s gorgeous visuals even if you’re stopped at the side of the road trying to decide on the next race.
And my goodness, are the visuals impressive. NFS: MW runs off of the Chameleon engine found in NFS: Hot Pursuit, which, if you all remember, was quite a looker itself. Imagine the polish two years later. Even at top speeds, the game is a visual treat. The environments are stunning, particularly the wet asphalt. I know it’s a silly thing to gush about, but the wet ground just looks SWEET. Everything else in the surrounding world looks great as well.
The cars themselves also look fantastic. True, this isn’t a level of detail that you might find in Gran Turismo 5 or Forza Motorsport 4, but then again, this isn’t exactly like those two games anyway, right? Just know that the cars models look fantastic, and have some really gnarly damage effects. In fact, one thing I have never seen in a racing game before was after my Ford GT took some heavy damage, I drove over a stretch of uneven ground at a high speed. The car’s body actually “rippled” from front to back as I was chugging along.
I also like the fact that prior to each race, you get a cool looking cutscene. It definitely pumps you up and gets to ready for the adrenaline that lies ahead. Even though there aren’t hundreds of cars in the game (there are 41), it’s still impressive that Criterion took the time to not only create specific races for each car, but also a specific pre-race cutscene for each race.
On the audio front, the race sounds are exhilarating. Car engines roar, tires squeal as you drift through corners, and the sound of crashes will rock your speakers. The one thing I didn’t like was the persistent “umph umph umph” soundtrack, but it’s not as bad as it could have been since the race sounds usually drown out any background music.
[quote_left]The one thing I didn’t like was the persistent “umph umph umph” soundtrack, but it’s not as bad as it could have been since the race sounds usually drown out any background music. [/quote_left]There’s a good amount of variety in MW, but let’s be honest here; how varied can you REALLY get with a racing game? Most race types are one’s you’ve seen before, but rest assured, that doesn’t make it any less fun here. You get your circuit races, point to point, speed average, etc. You also get head to head battles with the Most Wanted list, a top 10 list of the most wanted drivers in the game. These races are no piece of cake, as not only are you dealing with an opponent that’s one of the best of the best, but the boys in blue chasing you down as well.
Yes, the cops are the highlight of MW. They are relentless in their pursuit of you and will sacrifice themselves and anything (or anyone) else in the way to take you down. You know how in real life, the police are very conscious of public safety during shootouts and car chases? Yeah…not here. In MW, it’s like going up against a pack of high speed Terminators; they keep coming after you. The one thing I don’t really like about cop chases is the fact that a Crown Vic or Explorer can keep up with something like an Aston Martin V12 Vantage. It’s a small nitpick, but still one that sticks out for us gearheads.
The multiplayer component is both a standalone feature where you and your friends can tear around Fairhaven together just for kicks or go through a series of races and challenges, and also as part of the single player mode via Autolog. Through Autolog, your friends’ exploits are always displayed, and anytime one of your scores is beaten, you’ll know about it. And obsess about it. In fact, the game will even put the profile pictures of your friends who have beaten you on billboards in the city. Talk about a slap in the face.
NFS: MW is exactly what a good arcade racer should be. It’s an action game; just instead of bullets and grenades, you’ve got some of the most desirable cars in the world as your ammo. Having trouble “killing” an opponent? Get a bigger and better “gun.” NFS: MW is fast, furious, and loud. It’s not meant to tickle your senses; it’s meant to kick them in the nuts. It’s one of the best racing offers of the year and should give adrenaline junkies plenty to do in the city of Fairhaven.