Friday, 12 October 2012

Preview: Need for Speed: Most Wanted (360, PS3)


The Need for Speed franchise dates back to the mid 90's and I can still remember being twelve or thirteen and playing endless hours of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit with my friends on PC while listening to Third Eye Blind and Smash Mouth while one player would play as the cop setting up spike strips and the other would be the bad guy evading the police. The Need for Speed franchise has changed focus over the last decade focusing heavily on street racing during the middle of the decade with the Hot Pursuit style gameplay re-emerging over the past few years. 

I played Most Wanted's multiplayer back in June at E3 2012 and walked away impressed. During a recent media event in Germany, we were given significant amount of time with both the single and multiplayer portion of the game and it certainly boosted my good feelings about the game.

Most Wanted is set in a fictional city of Fairhaven, which is modelled on an amalgam of several American cities. There's no story or characters in Most Wanted as the developers wanted to do an open ended sandbox game that didn't restrict the player to going down one path like the past Need for Speed title. Frankly, I would've preferred to have a story and characters. It creates some kind of emotional attachment to the single player experience.

Unlike most racing games where you start off with a slower or low-level cars, you can immediately start driving luxury or sports cars, provided you can find them in the city. There are over 50 cars scattered around Fairhaven and if you find them you can simply add them to your collection. 

Every aspect of the single player is tied to your friends' scores. Every jump, speed trap or billboard you drive through automatically compares your score to your friends score. This adds a great element as you're always wanting to one up your buddies and gain bragging rights.

The game features a readily accessible and easy to navigate Autolog System, accessed with the d-pad. All Races, Most Wanted events, car upgrades and car selection items are accessed through this menu as well. At least during the time I put in, my only complaint about the Autolog System is that it does not let you compare car stats on the same screen so you have to cycle back and forth and remember which stats are better. 

As you race, hit jumps, destroy security gates, etc. you unlock speed points. Your speed points help you unlock events and dictate your position on the leaderboards.

Each car can be customized. You unlock customizable parts by finishing in the top two or three sports in a race. You'll need to continually upgrade your vehicle to compete in the harder events. The level of customization isn't as deep as past titles in the series, so die hard fans maybe a little disappointed.

Most Wanted races are another big part of the single player game. These ten races that see you square off against the ten Most Wanted cars in the City. If you beat the AI and take them out, at the conclusion of the race the Most Wanted car is added to your garage.

The police make a return to the series. If you're caught speeding or driving recklessly, the police will come after you. They establish roadblocks and spike strips, and attempt to run you off the road.

The police chases can sometimes drag on for way too long. At one point I spent 20 minutes running from the police trying to escape. You essentially get the cops off your tail by hiding in an alleyway or any other spot off the main roads. There are a number of paint shops scattered throughout Fairhaven but even changing the paint job on your car does nothing to help evade the cops. It's rather ridiculous and pointless to have these shops if they do nothing.

It's also a little strange that getting busted by the cops has no negative impact on your career and you don't lose speed points. I would often give up just so I could get on with the Career mode.

I enjoyed my time with the Career Mode. While there is no story and the presence of Police in the game is unbalanced, the racing action is full of adrenaline and excitement. 

During the Germany event, we spent a good two to three hours with the online play. The online play was for up to eight players. I noticed that my vehicles in the single player didn't all transfer over to the online play. 

After you join a game online you must head to a common meetup point. Instead of playing one race or event after all players meet up you play through a set list consisting of regular races, team races and other events. Between each event players are given a short two minute intermission. In addition to the races, you also complete numerous Challenges include drifting the longest distance around a specific obstacle or landing the longest jump off a ramp. You can eliminate your opponents from Challenges by taking them out, which  adds another great element to the online play. 

My favourite online event was Team Races.

In the Team Races you'll play on one of two teams. And quite simply, the team with the highest score at the end of the race wins. You'll earn speed points based on your finishing position and the number of takedowns you do.

The only thing absent from our time with the online play was the presence of cops in the online races. This would've really added something new to the series (or at least re-imagined an old convention) and provided added help against your opponents. Even some team based modes centred on evading the cops could've been interesting. 

When I played Most Wanted back in June there were a few issues with the game's framerate, but this was a non-issue during my time with both the single and multiplayer game.

After spending about 10 hours with the game, I'm fairly impressed. While the game blends a lot of elements of the Burnout franchise and Need For Speed Series in one game, Criterion looks set on delivering an exhilarating experience that's could held back in comparison to the other Need for Speed and Burnout titles by a few minor issues. That being said Most Wanted is shaping up to be one of this holiday's premier titles.

- Siddharth Masand