There’s something you should know about me before we get too far into this review; I like playing games alone. That’s not to say I’m a complete sociopath when it comes to my hobby; I certainly enjoy talking about games with other flesh and blood people, and enjoy the occasional gaming get together, but typically prefer my gaming to be a solitary ‘me time’ pursuit, especially as I get older. Why? There’s a variety of reasons. The student gaming knockabouts on split screen games are long behind me. Good local multiplayer gaming is a rarity in this day and age. Online multiplayer is still a harsh, inaccessible and occasionally openly hostile environment. Ultimately I am constantly aware that the pinnacle of multiplayer gameplay, Gravity Force 2 on the Amiga, was made eighteen years ago and still seems unlikely to be beaten. All these factors mean I hear about games with a multiplayer focus and zone out somewhat.

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So, that said, here’s something you should know about Need For Speed: Most Wanted. In multiplayer, it is sublime. Racing, as you’d expect from Criterion is a frenzied high-speed death-defying joy. With the official licenses that the Need For Speed branding brings comes a wealth of cars that all handle uniquely and dynamically. You’ll quickly settle on a favourite, and be engrossed in the Call of Duty style unlock system in place for upgrading car parts, but will also be encouraged to experiment; certain events mandating certain car types so that you have to be as well versed with Land Rover style SUVs as you are with Lamborghini designed penis enhancements.

Taking cues from the strides made in multiplayer FPSes, Most Wanted locks you tightly in its Skinner box, rewarding you for the slightest of accomplishments, and including a subtle handicap system to ensure experienced players have to work harder to increase¬†their speed level when in a field of noobs. The more points you get, the more customization options are available to you, but you’re kept so busy that you will spend little time in the menus. In a similar vein to Burnout Paradise, multiplayer ditches humdrum menus and lobbies for online freedrive, setting you loose to perform stunts and host your own demolition derbies before a game starts. The games themselves are a collection of events one after the other, with final standings based on your cumulative performance. That means that consistency is as key to success as raw speed or agression, not just in events themselves, but in between; finish one event and you have to race opponents to get to the next one, earning XP as you go through takedowns. You are always, always kept busy, with downtime at an absolute minimum; even waiting at a start line for opponents to arrive is somehow an enjoyable experience that rivals Journey for a glimpse into other players’ psyches if you don’t use voice chat. Do they sit and wait politely, carve donuts for a few seconds, smash into everyone, or- my favourite- just honk their horn obnoxiously to the standard collection of bland EA game music?

Find and jump through signs and they'll transform to show the longest jumper on your friends list

Find and jump through signs and they’ll transform to show the longest jumper on your friends list

Most Wanted’s multiplayer mode is everything great about racing games writ large; blisteringly fast driving, through satisfyingly sweeping roads and tight alleys offering thrilling racing, but also the madcap stunt work Criterion is known for. While the crash intersections of Burnouts past are sadly long gone, speed test events see you battling it out in long jump contests, or challenges to keep your place on a narrow precipice for as long as possible. They’re events that can only really work with other people as well; the joys of setting a long jump and then ruining everybody else’s runs for the rest of the event by cheekily parking at the peak of the ramp are as heady as the frustration you feel at taking what you’ve doled out.

The ¬†dour counterpoint to all this is that the same level of energy and creativity isn’t carried over to Most Wanted’s single player mode. Here, you have the same open city to run around in and find events, earning points to upgrade your cars, but you’ll only find yourself contending with straight racing for the most part, or the occasional time trial. In theory, the open world is there to distract from the fact that the racing itself is fairly pedestrian, but in truth, this only drags out a dull process; you can’t fast travel to an event you haven’t tried before, so as you work your way through the titular ten most desirable cars on offer in head to head races, you’ll have to haul yourself long distances across the map to do so, and competing with friends’ leaderboards as you drive past speed cameras is no competition for the smashing and crashing of multiplayer road trips. Worse are the police that patrol the streets; if they see you driving naughtily, they’ll give chase, which means that even if you arrive at your next event, you can’t start until you lose the fuzz. It’s a baffling design choice, purposely hamstringing a game about adrenaline and speed, and doesn’t even lead to exciting “Bullitt” style chases; most of the time I found it easier to let the pigs catch me, then start my drive again unimpeded.

Police presence is largely unnecessary; chases add little thrill to races and are a frustration when free driving

Police presence is largely unnecessary; chases add little thrill to races and are a frustration when free driving

Where Most Wanted’s multiplayer modes manage to reach in and poke the pleasure centres of your brain with surgical accuracy, making you near convinced you’re playing the greatest automotive triumph since, well, Criterion’s own Hot Pursuit, most likely, single player leaves you in doubt. Suddenly you start thinking that those gorgeous looking streets, with little puddles of recent rainfall splashing up as you drive past, and the grime of the inner city muddying up your camera, are what’s causing the occasional frame rate hitch on the console versions of the game. You start noticing that Autolog, an obssession in Hot Pursuit, is not the compulsion as it was when easily ignored notifications are coming up as you drive rather than a big splash popping up when you boot the game. The AI is heavily rubber banded, but rarely to snatch victories from you; rather it feels like when you’re behind the pace, your opponents will gleefully blunder into oncoming traffic, making the whole experience feel a bit soft. It makes you doubt the handicapping you loved when you started playing the multiplayer and was surprised by its accessibility; maybe those wins weren’t entirely deserved?

So you put that theory to the test, and in so doing find the solution to all of Most Wanted’s problems. You’re dogfighting through city streets and leaping across buildings again. You’re feeling a sense of progression in your garage and in your own skills, earning every win and bump in level. You’re snaking through oncoming traffic, and sideswiping friends and enemies. You’re having fun, and feeling, just a bit, like you’re flying.

GODZILLA SCORE:

3poops

 

3 Poops: Exceptional. Need For Speed Most Wanted is a beautiful beast. It lacks symmetry for sure, but flaws in its single player only serve to remind you of its jaw dropping party loving half.

Playstation 3 version reviewed. Need For Speed: Most Wanted is also available for 360, Vita and PC

The Japanese version of Need For Speed Most Wanted does not include English language support.

About The Author

Gamer, Educator, Writer of Stuff, wrestler of professionals (sometimes)