Need for Speed: Most Wanted review for Xbox 360, PS3

Platform: Xbox 360
Also On: PS3, PS Vita
Publisher: EA
Developer: Criterion Games
Medium: DVD-ROM
Players: 1-8
Online: Yes
ESRB: E10+

Last year the Need for Speed series attempted a story-based new installment called “The Run” that fell upon mixed reviews and criticism of straying too far away from what made the series popular in the first place. Well if games like Madden NFL aren’t proof enough that the folks at EA listen to their fans, then put Need for Speed: Most Wanted on that list. Criterion Games has dished out not only a game that brings back old school NFS memories, but delivers one of the most heart pounding, adrenaline rushing games that the series has seen to date.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted is an open world driving game that mixes the cop chasing style of old, with elements that Criterion perfected in their popular Burnout series, but have created something totally unique, accessible to all skill levels, and finally gives you the chance to drive the cars you want without the drudgery of having to play for over 20 hours to earn enough money or skill to obtain it. Players now drive around the open world and will find the vehicles hidden in little spots called Jackspots. When you come across the vehicle, just choose the option to get in, and viola, you now have access to the vehicle at any time. What’s more, once you have the car you can jump in and out of them if you feel the need to change things up. The Jackspots also come in handy when you are in high speed pursuit as all you need to do is approach the vehicle’s Jackspot and hop in. If you are out of sight of the cops, they will be unaware of the change you made, allowing you to escape pursuit. You can still change cars even if you are in sight of the law, but be aware that they will announce it to their fellow pursuers.

While there are gamers that I’m sure will frown at the not so realistic approach to the car options, it’s nice that this style never takes you out of the pace of the action, minus a screen wipe that shows your car maker’s emblem. What’s more, once you have the vehicle, each car has its own set of unique races that will help you upgrade it; from adding options like off road tires and a light weight chassis, to adding much needed nitrous, and believe me to be successful you will want to compete and win these races so you can get the absolute best out of every car you obtain.

This nonstop action also comes in the form of Autolog that allows you to select not only the car you want to drive, but races you want to find the destination to (or if you have raced it, jump right to it). This also serves as a way to increase your player score by completing objectives such as beating a previous score, drifting so many feet, driving in oncoming traffic, and of course, out doing one of your fellow drivers on your friends list. There is even a Cloud Compete option that allows you to compete in speed point comparisons and accomplishments over multiple consoles. The open world action is so continuous and impressive that even after you finish a race, win or lose, the action doesn’t stop. If you have wreaked havoc on the open roads and you are in hot pursuit with a ridiculous heat level, just because you crossed the finish line doesn’t mean that you have escaped the long arm of the law. The action will continue until you are busted or escape pursuit, which finally eliminates that whole jumping from menu to menu, as the action and racing just keeps on going.

The single player portion takes you into the streets of Fairhaven and you have many options to choose from when hitting the open road. You can attempt to raise your rank of the top 10 elite of the Most Wanted drivers and take the top 10, head-on, one at a time. Of course, you will want the car you choose to take them down with to be the most tricked out as possible. Once you beat these drivers in the race, the action isn’t over as if you want to obtain that most wanted car, you must take them out of action. If you miss your chance right off the bat, don’t fret as they will try and take you off the road when you least expect it and you can try to return the favor and earn the vehicle at most anytime in the game.

To add more diverse action throughout your travels in this huge open world, you have tons of collectables that will keep you focused on the road without even competing in a race. You have collectables like smashing billboards you find along the way, and if you hit it the hardest and farthest between your online friends, your gamer tag and profile pic will be inserted on the billboard, almost like instigating you to outdo your friends if you mug isn’t plastered on the billboard.

The aforementioned Jackspots will keep your eyes keen trying to locate those bad to the bone cars you may not have yet acquired. Other little things like Speed Cameras will rank you by how fast you passed them, Security Gates you take out are counted, and even Body Shops are sprinkled throughout the world that will instantly, not only fix up your bashed up ride, but give it a new color and paint job as well (which is another way to reduce your pursuit heat level).

Breaking any laws that the police see you doing will activate a pursuit on you and believe me, they aren’t just looking to give you a ticket. If you cause enough chaos you will not only alert dispatch and patrol cars, but the higher your heat level rises, the more desperate to take you out they become adding roadblocks, spike strips, and will even call upon tactical units and big bad Rhino SUV’s to bring you to a screeching halt.

The single player mode isn’t the only way to get your white knuckled thrills as you can take your bragging rights, rivalries, and you skills online to show them who’s boss in the heat of competition in a pack of up to eight players in riveting multiplayer action. As with the single player mode, you never have to leave the multiplayer action and drop back to the menus until you want to finally quit out of that multiplayer session. You start off at Speedlist 1 and work your way to better cars, faster thrills, and more ways to meet up with the best there is to compete with online. You have quick matches, friend games, meet up at race lines, and most importantly, you can enjoy a never ending playlist of races in numerous competitive events with endless rewards.

All this sounds wonderful, but how does Need for Speed: Most Wanted look and play? Well that’s just the cherry on top of the delicious dessert. Visually, the game is remarkable with plenty of flash, mind-blowing crash presentations, accurate and beautifully detailed car models, lighting and night and day transitions that look brilliant and really change the world around you. Of course, the game features a sense of speed that is unrivaled by most other racing games on the market. The soundtrack is a nice mix of rock and rhythm, but it is a forgettable one over time. The in game audio is loud and boisterous, whether it’s the roar of the engines or the crashes that scrape metal and concrete together in a symphony of ear pleasing damage effects.

To those wondering if this indeed is the racing game of 2012? it will all depend in the type of action you are wanting. Make no mistake, while the controls are tight and diverse between vehicles, and the game features a relentless A.I. that matches any real human without feeling too cheap, this is an arcade racer though and though. So don’t be expecting Forza or Gran Turismo as this is meant to be a joy ride that will blow not only your hair back, but your heart out of your chest with intensity. This being said, some of the lighter cars feel a bit floaty, and some of the heavier cars will feel like they are stuck to the road, but at least each vehicle feels unique and it is eventually up to you to pick and choose which one handles best for you.

All in all Need for Speed: Most Wanted is the Need for Speed game that fans of the series have been clamoring for, for quite some time. It mixes a formula of both old school ideas and new ones, creating an experience that mixes well and will certainly appeal to a wide audience and gear heads. The game is fast, huge, and most importantly?fun, and part of its charm is not taking itself too seriously. Need for Speed is back, and we welcome you with open arms.

Grade: A-