Review by BloodGod65

Reviewed: 09/04/07 | Updated: 02/25/13

Bringing back the spirit of vintage NFS

Now that the Need for Speed franchise has become a yearly tradition that EA is milking for every penny it’s worth, it’s nice to see they are at least attempting to keep the series fresh. Despite the huge success Underground had, EA decided to change the formula before it got boring, and I applaud that. Not only has EA gone in a new direction, it ends up being pretty good. The mix of Underground elements and classic Hot Pursuit will appeal to both recent converts and older fans. Unfortunately, there are enough minor glitches and design flaws to make Most Wanted an occasionally frustrating experience.

Most Wanted picks up the story where Underground 2 left off. What’s that? You didn’t know Underground 2 had a story? Remember those weird, nonsensical comic still slides? Well, apparently that was a story and it basically added up to this. Some street racer rolled into town and got his Skyline trashed. After that, he worked his way through the racing scene to find the culprits and took his revenge. Most Wanted is the continuation of that story, and Rockport is our nameless hero’s newest stomping ground. Once again, the character has been screwed over (this time losing a BMW M3 GTR) and must once again take his revenge. You’d think this dork would have learned by now…

You’ll start by picking one of a few cars (Lexus IS300, Chevy Cobalt SS, and a Peugeot), and given your mission. In order to get your car back, you’ll have to fight your way to the top of the Blacklist, a list made up of the best and most notorious racers in the city.

In order to do this you’ll have to win races and, more interestingly, harass the police (more on that later). The races themselves are basic; circuits, sprints, drags, knockouts and two new additions called Tollbooth and Speed Trap. Drag races are now a complete joke and involve none of the intensity of those from Underground. These are mostly based on set traffic patterns, so there’s no skill required, just patience while memorizing the pattern. To make matters worse, winning a drag race only gets you half the money you’d get from any other race.

Tollbooth races are essentially time trials. You’ll race (alone) against the clock, until you reach the end of the set course. Speed Trap races require keeping your speed as high as possible while passing through checkpoints. Each checkpoint registers your speed and adds it to a total. The racer with the highest total is the winner. This race type is laughable, mostly because it shows just how skewed the difficulty is (I’ll get to that later, too). Another thing that detracts from these races is the fact that the map is so twisted and curved, it’s almost impossible to reach any respectable speed. Add in the fact that most of the checkpoints are situated directly behind hard curves and you’ve got a race type that should be ignored.

The new race types are largely irrelevant. The best thing EA has added to Need for Speed is cops. This is definitely a great addition (or reintroduction) to the series and it adds a whole new layer to the game. There are several layers of heat, which eventually lead to a police helicopter on your tail. At first, the level of intelligence exhibited by police is pathetic, but later on, they gain a wicked level of intellect, almost to the point of being omniscient. As the heat associated with your car grows, police tactics will also get better. While at first you’ll just be chased, roadblocks and spike strips will eventually get thrown into the mix. Regular police cars will also employ some nasty tactics of their own, such as trying to spin you out and forming a rolling roadblock. My main gripes with the police are that they can materialize pretty much anywhere and they are able to match your speed, no matter how fast you’re going. I know cop cars are specially tuned, but they aren’t capable of hanging with a supercar blazing through the city at two hundred miles an hour.

But getting a wanted level isn’t all there is to being chased. In order to draw out a Blacklist member, you’ll have to cause some damage to the police force, state property, and complete a variety of other tasks. These can include anything from surviving a police chase for a certain amount of time, evading them, destroying cop cars, destroying property or just hitting police cars.

Once you meet your quota for wins and mayhem, you’ll be challenged by a Blacklist member. Then you’ll have to best them in a series of races. Once you win, you go to a screen with a bunch of cards. These cards may grant you anything from money to special parts to extra impound strikes and most importantly the pink slip to the car you just beat. This system is absolutely ridiculous, since you should get the pink slip just for beating your rival. At least that’s the way it works where I come from. This leads to some problems, especially if you really want the car. And trust me, you will. If you don’t get it on the first try, you’ll have to reload the game and redo the entire race for another chance.

The problem with redoing Blacklist races is this; sometimes they’re insanely hard. The game implements “rubber band” difficulty. This means that if you are really good, the other drivers get better. Unfortunately, if you are really bad, the other drivers don’t really adjust their driving style. While you, as the player, have to obey the rules of the game (i.e. slowing down before curves, having to slowly accelerate back to full speed after hitting a wall) the computer controlled racers can do what they want. When braking for a hard turn, they just fly on by with the nitrous flowing and never have a problem. My favorite example of the cheating computer is when I raced Izzy. We were neck and neck as we passed through an intersection. I dodged a car that was crossing, but she plowed right into it. I immediately hit the nitrous and had put nearly ten seconds between us. However, while I’m watching the map, she was accelerating like a rocket and within seconds, she had reached and overtaken me. This kind of thing makes for frustrating gameplay and leads to more than a few lost races. More importantly, it just speaks of poor design.

The carlist can be summed up in two ways; tuner and exotic. While some great cars are represented, most notably the Supra, RX7, McLaren SLR, some Lamborghinis, and a nice variety of Porsches, there are some obvious gaps in the car list, mostly with the Tuner side of things. Honda and Acura are missing entirely (and you can search the message boards for all the speculation on why), there is no 350Z or Skyline, and EA decided to include the new, butt-ugly Eclipse instead of the one that actually has importance to tuner culture.

Another gripe I have in the way of the cars is the way they are unlocked. After you beat a Blacklist member, you’ll unlock a handful of new cars. Not far into the Blacklist, you’ll acquire a Porsche (provided you pick up the pink slip). Up until that point, the Blacklist members have been driving tuner cars. But immediately after beating the guy with the Porsche, you’ll go back to racing against guys in tuners again. This is such a problem because, once you win the Porsche, you might not even want to buy another car in the game because its works so well.

The customization is where Most Wanted really deviates from the Underground series. Whereas in past games you were given numerous pieces to mix and match, in Most Wanted you can only buy the whole body kit. To make matters worse, there are very few kits to choose from. Most of the tuner cars have five, but once you start moving up to the exotic class, the kits become as few as two.

Other than body kits, you can attach wings, hoods, roof scoops and wheels. There is a very large selection of wings, and every one of them has a carbon fiber alternative. Hoods and roof scoop selections are also varied and can make your car stand out from the pack. Wheels however are a bit of a letdown. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot to choose from, it’s just that most of them are pretty similar.

As for the paint and vinyl part, these two areas have been dumbed down as well. There are three paint categories; gloss, metallic and one that contains all the oddball colors like pearlescent, quicksilver and matte. I was usually hard-pressed to find the exact color I wanted, and some of the colors don’t even look like they should, red in particular. How does one screw up the color red, you ask? I have no idea. Personally, I think it’s high time EA implemented a color scale system like the one found in Midnight Club 3.

The vinyls have been stripped down so far that they should have been totally taken out of the game. Underground 2 had Modern, Unique, Art Contest and others. These have been completely cut out (save for the Art Contest, but since there are only five of those…), and what’s left isn’t entirely impressive. And for reasons unknown, you can’t put more than one vinyl on your car at a time.

Since this is the first time the series is appearing on next-gen hardware, it’s not surprising that the graphics are the best the series has seen. The jaggies that plagued the Underground games have been eliminated, and there are glare effects galore. The effect really shows right after coming out of a tunnel. The roads also have a nice look to them (you know, they look like real roads). Really there’s not much to say other than it’s pretty.

There is one major, MAJOR, problem with the game. If you hit a wall, and don’t immediately get away from it, there is a chance you will be stopped dead in your tracks. As strange as it may seem, it almost feels like the environment wasn’t put together properly and there are still invisible edges poking out of things. There were dozens of instances where this happened to me and whenever it does, the car is completely stopped. It didn’t matter how fast I was moving (although I’ve flipped a car at 180mph due to this) and when it happens during a race or in a police chase, it can lead to some catastrophic results.

A hot topic for any Need for Speed game is the audio. Most people seem to think that EA always picks awful soundtracks, but Most Wanted has some great racing music. The Prodigy is present, as well as the mind-blowing up-and-comer Celldweller (if you haven’t heard this guy, you need to check him out) along with some heavy metal. There are also a few rap tracks.

As I always say, I can’t speak for the authenticity of the exhaust notes because I don’t own a single one of these cars (and if I did I’d be driving it and not playing a game about it). However, there are a few nice little touches, my favorite being the sound of a turbo blow-off valve.

THE VERDICT
Most Wanted is a street racer’s dream. The reintroduction of police into the series was long overdue, and makes the game even more enjoyable. And those who were dismayed at EA’s two entries solely focused on tuner cars will be happy that exotics have returned, and those who loved the customization aspects of Underground won’t be too unhappy. All in all, it’s a great game, if you can ignore the occasional glitch and minor design annoyance.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Need for Speed Most Wanted (US, 11/16/05)

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