Old 16th December 2005, 19:01   #1
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Review: Need for speed: Most wanted

As soon as i heard that the upcoming game in need for speed series was going to include underground style street racing combined with police chases, i remember thinking to myself that if it was done right, it had the potential to be an awesome game. Need for speed: Underground had me hooked for over a month. Underground 2 had me going for even longer. Despite parts of the game being annoying or seeming to be rushed, last minute inclusions, i played through the career mode at least three or four times.

I deliberately avoided reading any reviews or hype about the game before playing Most wanted, as i wanted to be surprised. This certainly isn't the first game in the series to include police chases, but how they'd work them into the game would be critical.

The blurb on the back of the case states:

* Exploit the open world as you master the art of strategic cop evasion.
* Modify your ride to beat any tuner, muscle, or exotic.
* Earn your rep in all-new race modes, including Speed Trap and Tollbooth.
* Customise the look of your ride to elude police in intense Pursuit Challenges.
* Win races, climb the Blacklist, fill your Rap Sheet, become the Most Wanted.

Sounds good.

The car list:

1. Aston Martin DB9
2. Audi A4 3.2 FSI quattro
3. Audi TT 3.2 quattro
4. Audi A3 3.2 quattro
6. Mercedes-Benz SL 500
7. SL65 AMG
8. Mercedes-Benz CLK 500
9. Dodge Viper SRT10
10. Fiat Punto
11. Ford GT
12. Ford Mustang GT
13. Corvette C6
14. Corvette C6.R
15. Cadillac CTS
16. Pontiac GTO
17. Vauxhall Monaro VXR
18. Cobalt SS
19. Lamborghini Murcielago
20. Lamborghini Gallardo
21. Lotus Elise
22. Mazda RX-8
23. Mazda RX-7
24. Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren
25. Mitsubishi Lancer EVOLUTION VIII
26. Mitsubishi Eclipse
27. Porsche Carrera GT
28. Porsche 911 Turbo S
29. Porsche 911 GT2
30. Porsche 911 Carrera S
31. Porsche Cayman S
32. Renault Clio V6
33. Subaru Impreza WRX STi
34. Lexus IS300
35. Toyota Supra
36. VW Golf GTI

An interesting choice i must say.

Lamborghini and Porsche are present but nothing from ferrari? There have been ferrari's in previous NFS titles. Nothing from Nissan, Peugeot, or Honda, which have all had cars in the underground series. Yes, i do realise this is NFS: Most wanted, not Underground 3, however, the Lancer EVO, WRX, Audi A3 & TT, Mustang, GTO, Supra, IS300, Golf GTI, RX7 & RX8 were all carried over. The Pontiac GTO and Vauxhall Monaro VXR are both pretty much the same car, so why they're both included is beyond me.

Ok, so the list isn't perfect, but it does offer a reasonable mix of American, Japanese and European cars.

Career mode is where people will probably spend the majority of time playing the game, so I'll cover that first. There are also multiplayer, quickrace and a challenge series which I'll cover later. When you begin career mode, the introduction includes a mix of full motion video and rendered scenes, some of which you take control of. Although the acting is somewhat poor, it is quite humorous at times. The story starts in the present day, as you challenge Razor who's #15 on the Blacklist. After a few FMV and rendered scenes, you get to take control of your car, but after a few moments it fades out. The story then jumps back to 6 days ago, as you're entering Rockport City which is where you first meet Sergeant Cross. The story then jumps forward a couple of days, where you meet and then have to race Ronnie (who turns out to be one of Razor's "boys"). Following this race, you're properly introduced to Razor, Mia (who helps you out in the game) and another of Razor's "boys" who you have to race next.

The story jumps then forward another couple of days, where you race a number of people, one of which is Rog, who also helps you out during career mode. Following the race, Razor appears, and you learn that to race someone on the Blacklist, you risk losing your car. The story then jumps back to the present day as you race Razor. While racing, you're informed by Mia that "something's wrong with your ride", soon after that your car breaks down. Razor takes your car and your girlfriend (who you're never really introduced to). The cops show up, everyone else leaves and you're arrested. The story jumps forward an unspecified amount of time where you're released from jail, picked up by Mia and told that it was Razor who sabotaged your car. She drops you off, and you're able to pick your first car.

Once you've made your choice, you drive back to your "safe house" and Mia lets you know that Razor has used your car in order to make it to #1 on the Blacklist, and what you need to do to progress in the game.

There's also a text and voice message system just like there was in underground 2, which provides information about what's going on at each point in the game. It also gives you hints and tips about winning races, evading the cops and so on.

In order to move up the Blacklist, you need to challenge each of the 15 racers, but before you can challenge each racer, you need to win a certain number of races, but also pass certain milestones and have a certain amount of bounty. The race wins part is pretty self explanatory, milestones are challenges such as getting caught above a certain speed by a speed trap, trading paint with police cars, getting past police road blocks and so on. Bounty is built by getting caught by speed traps, spending time being chased by police and by taking out police cars. In the early stages you don't have to do too much in order to challenge the next racer, and when you do you only have to beat them in a couple of events. In the later stages of the game it can take quite a while to accumulate the number of race wins, milestones and bounty, and you'll need to beat the racer in more events.

As you beat each racer, more cars, parts (spoilers, rims etc.), performance upgrades (self explanatory) and visual upgrades (paint, vinyls, decals etc.) become available. You're also given a six options to choose from. You can unlock a unique part, performance upgrade, visual upgrade but there are also 3 choices with question marks and they seem to be random. They may be the pink slip to the car of the racer you just beat, a get out of jail free card, cash or an impound marker. You only get two choices.

After beating certain racers, you'll also unlock more parts of the city (known as boroughs) and unlock a higher heat level, which I'll get to shortly.

The city itself is broken up into three main sections and is very well done. There's also a reasonable amount of contrast and detail so you always know where you are, whether you're in the financial district, the coast, or the country highways.

The race events are scattered throughout the city, however you don't need to drive to them like in Underground 2. You can jump straight to them via the menu at your safe house, or you can bring up the Blacklist menu while driving around. At the end of a race you're able to continue driving around (with the AI opponents if applicable) rather than being taken straight to the menu, but you also have the option to restart the race if you lost. The exception to this is when you're challenging a Blacklist racer.

When you're driving around, the game screen is similar to that in the underground series. There's the usual gauges, nitrous meter and the mini map. There's also a radar detector, heat level meter and a speedbreaker meter. Speedbreaker is new to the NFS series, and is just like bullet time. I thought it was a bit of a useless gimmick at first, but at times it can be quite useful. In Most wanted, your nitrous refills automatically.

Every car that you own has a "heat level". If you're chased by the police, the heat meter moves up until the bar is full. When the bar is full, it moves to the next level and the type of police chasing you changes. When starting out, the heat level will slowly fill up, passing to level 2, but will stop. As you progress through the game, you unlock higher heat levels and the bar will move faster through the lower heat levels. The system, although very unrealistic, works fairly well, as it means you wont get into a difficult chase until you're prepared for it. I'll go into more detail about the police chases later.

To bring down the heat level on a car, you can either use another car for a while, or change how it looks. To change the look of the car, you have to drive to a parts shop and buy parts. The blurb states "Customise the look of your ride to elude police in intense Pursuit Challenges". It really should have been "Customise the look of your ride to elude police after intense Pursuit Challenges" as you cant change the look of the car during a pursuit.

In Most wanted, you cant customise your car to the same degree as you could in Underground & Underground 2. You can still change the body kit, spoiler, rims etc. but there are fewer choices available. Body kits can only be applied as a whole (like with the wide body kits in underground 1 & 2), the ability to add neon's, hydraulic kits, audio systems, change head lights, tail lights etc. has been removed. There are a few new vinyls, but you can only add one layer, and while there are a few new paint options, rims, and body kits, most of the parts have just been carried over from the underground series.

Performance upgrades are also similar to the underground series. Parts range from "race", through to "ultimate" level. At the ultimate level, just about any car will be an absolute weapon, but I'll get to that later.

Since a lot of the focus is on racing, i should probably explain the types of racing you'll do in the game. Sprint, Circuit, drag and knockout racing are carried over from the underground series, however, there's no drift mode, no underground racing league (which makes sense, as it's not part of the underground series) and no Street-X. As there are no other racers to be found while driving around the city (except after completing a race) outrun mode has also disappeared.

The two new styles are Tollbooth and Speedtrap. Tollbooth racing is just plain old checkpoint-to-checkpoint-with-a-timer-counting-down style racing that has been around for decades. Speed trap is the only actual new racing style. It's like sprint racing, but instead of having to finish first, you have to have the highest speed at certain points (the speed traps) along the road. When one person finishes, the score of the other racers starts to drop until they're over the line. The highest accumulated speed wins.

The opponent AI is very easy to beat in the early stages, but becomes increasingly difficult to beat in the middle and later stages of the game. Most wanted's AI uses rubber-banding "catch up" mode like no other game I've ever seen, and you cant turn it off in career mode. Basically, it just means that in the longer sprint races and just about any circuit race, how you drive during most of the race doesn't matter, as long as you drive well at the end. If you drive perfectly and the AI drivers crash, or you make mistakes and plough into traffic while the AI drives well, you'll still either only be a short way ahead or behind at the late stages of the race.

This becomes increasingly annoying when you're towards the end of career mode, as some of the races can take more than 10 minutes to complete, and if you make a small mistake late in the race, they'll fly past and you'll have to do it all over again...and again...and again. To win the final races, you not only need to be somewhat skilful, but lucky as well.

If you think that sounds bad, drag racing mode is possibly even worse. There's more traffic around than in Underground 1 & 2 and it's not random. The only way to win is to work out the traffic patterns (which can sometimes take 10 or more retries), making it seem like more of a memory puzzle game than actual racing. Also, the AI is able to cheat, by driving along footpaths etc. when you cant. Using speedbreaker can help, but as it knocks of speed as well as slowing down time, if you use it there's a good chance you'll be passed by an AI opponent and not be able to make up the difference before the race ends.

To complete career mode, you need to do a lot of racing and due to the nature of the AI, i wouldn't blame anyone who gives up on it, or uses a trainer to win.

Car handling and physics are all over the place. The games in the Need for speed series have never really tried or claimed to be a realistic simulation, but this game gets beyond silly at times. The cars actually seem to handle somewhat realistically when standard, especially the slower cars, but once they're upgraded, everything will corner like it's on rails, literally like a formula 1 or indy/champ car, and at speed they all "feel" the same, whether they're front wheel drive, rear wheel drive or four wheel drive.

Acceleration & top speeds are equally crazy - 0-300km/h in 7 seconds and a top speed of over 380km/h in a VW golf? No problem in this game. A similarly upgraded Porsche or Lamborghini isn't much faster, which made me wonder why they bothered including the exotic supercars if a budget (in comparison) hatchback will match them.

A lightweight car like a Lotus Elise can smash into & push along a fire, garbage or cement truck, but no force in the universe can move the larger logging or container trucks. There's plenty of movable objects in the game world to crash into, but they all seem to have a similar mass - hitting a road sign, cardboard box or light pole will slow you down about the same amount (which isn't much) as hitting a dumpster.

You're still able to tune the performance of your car, but if you were hoping for the type of tuning you were able to do in Underground 2, you'll be disappointed. It's been dumbed down to just sliders for handling, aerodynamics, brakes, turbo, nitrous etc. There's no dyno and no way to accurately measure the cars performance.

What about those cop chases though? Well, they're a bit of a mixed bag as well. As i stated earlier, you have a radar detector and scanner in your car which picks up anything that the police say. Before you'll see a police car, you'll hear the dispatcher say something about a dangerous driver, a wanted car or street racers. Your radar detector will start beeping before any police cars come into view and will actually show where they are relative to your car, so if you want to avoid the police, you can.

When and where the police will show up seems totally random, but you do get a fair amount of warning time, so you'll never be surprised to see them. It would have been much more realistic (and exciting) if you weren't always warned about it. Once the police have spotted you, they show up on the mini-map.

At the lower heat levels the police don't do much to stop you, there are few of them and they are easy to elude. Actually, it's too easy. For some of the milestone events you need to keep the chase going for a while, so you don't want to accidentally lose them, but it seems to happen a lot. At the higher levels there will be more chasing you, they become far more aggressive and use different tactics to try and stop you. It's far more difficult to even keep driving, let alone get away, but it's still possible to accidentally lose them.

If/when you do want to lose the cops, there are objects you can crash into to disable the cars behind you known as pursuit breakers. During a chase they're highlighted on the mini map. No matter what the heat level, the police don't seem to bother actually searching for you when you do lose them. Once you've eluded the police you go into cooldown mode, which is basically just a timer. At lower heat levels it doesn't take long for the cooldown meter to fill, but at higher heat levels it takes a while. There are hiding spots spread throughout the city, and driving into one these speeds it up. If you need to keep the chase going, you can drive around and hopefully come across another police car, a road block, or at the higher heat levels have the helicopter find you. Once the cooldown meter is full, some statistics about the chase come up, then you're free to continue driving.

The police can show up during a race. However, before starting each race you can check the police probability level, which is either maximum or minimum but may as well be yes or no. The scanner and radar detector still work while racing, so you'll be warned before they show up. When they do, they're far less aggressive while you're racing, even at the higher heat levels. They're just more moving obstacles to avoid. There's no roadblocks or spike strips and your heat meter moves much slower while in a race. If you're being chased by the police and they're still on your tail at the end of the race, you'll still need to elude them, unless you plan to restart the race. The police don't seem to be worried at all by AI racers, and don't bother chasing them at the end of a race.

If you get busted, you'll see a short cut scene of your character being arrested (and often beaten) and you'll need to pay any fines you've accumulated while driving the car you're in. You'll also get an impound strike against the car. By default, every car can have 3 strikes against it, although if you receive an impound marker after beating a Blacklist member, you can increase it up to a maximum of 5. Once you've used up all your impound strikes on a car, it gets impounded. It is possible to release a car from impound if you've received a release car from impound marker, otherwise, it's gone. Lose all your cars and it's game over. This makes it important to have multiple cars stored in your safe house.

You're allowed to buy a maximum of 10 cars in career mode. If you receive the pink slip to a Blacklist rival's car, these wont count towards that. However, money is tight in this game. If you only complete the minimum number of races required to challenge a Blacklist member, it'll be almost impossible to keep more than one car upgraded with the highest level of performance parts available at any point in the game, and if you have to keep changing the look of your cars to manage the heat level, you'll need to be careful or you'll run out money fast. You can sell cars to make money, but you'll only get back half of what you paid for it, or half of what it would have cost if it's a Blacklist member's car. The only other way to make more money is by doing more races and you can go back and re-race events you've already won. Of course winning the earlier, easier races wont give you as much money as winning the harder races later in the game. The high end cars cost a lot, and upgrading any car with the top level performance and visual parts cost even more. Thankfully any Blacklist rival's cars you win will have performance parts preinstalled, and some will even have parts that haven't been unlocked yet.

This means that it's important to carefully choose which markers you want after beating a Blacklist rival, as taking a gamble at getting their pink slip will often be more important than a unique performance or visual upgrade.

I wont give away the ending, although there are hints thrown in from time to time which makes it quite predictable. Completing career mode is no easy feat, but I did get a certain sense of satisfaction after watching the final cut scenes.

There are some holes in the storyline, it sometimes raises questions that are never answered and some of it doesn't make any sense at all. Some messages you receive just don't add up either. For example, after beating one of the female Blacklist members you receive a message which uses he instead of she. You also get a message about performance tuning which talks about tuning gear ratio's to the course you're driving. The thing is, you cant change gear ratio's in this game. This suggests to me that some parts of the game were changed, or weren't properly finished.

Career mode isn't all this game has to offer though. There's a challenge series with enough events that may keep you entertained for a while longer. There's a mix of tollbooth challenges, and pursuit milestones similar to those found in career mode. Some are a bit oddball, like being in a pursuit while driving a garbage truck, cement mixer or doing a tollbooth race in a pizza delivery or pursuit car.

There's also a quickrace mode, and completing career mode or the challenge series makes more cars available. Given the frustrating AI, i doubt many people will spend much time in quickrace mode, except perhaps to try out different cars.

There are also lan and online modes. However, there are no pursuit options available, only circuit, sprint & drag racing. Most wanted therefore has less multiplayer options to offer than there were in the underground series, so as a multiplayer game it just doesn't cut it. The biggest oversight in my opinion is that there's no pursuit option in quick race mode. The only way to try different cars in a pursuit is to go back into career mode, but since you have to be able to buy and modify the cars, it's not really possible.

The menu system is well designed and executed, however i did notice on several occasions that the mouse pointer disappeared. This seems to be a fairly common problem and as i write this there appears to be no fix for it yet.

Graphically speaking, the game is quite good. It requires a fairly grunty pc to take advantage of the high quality settings, but the engine remains efficient enough to allow the game to run on less than cutting edge hardware if you're willing to make some sacrifices in visual quality. By default the game has an overbright setting, which gives a sepia effect making everything look sunwashed. However, it makes seeing where you're going difficult at times. Motion blur is still used, in fact it's not possible to turn it off, but it does increase the sense of speed.

The arrowed boundaries laid over the roads on the race course are more of a yellow color rather than the bright red used in the underground series. While this suits the look of the city more than red would, it also makes them more difficult to see. Combined with the motion blurring (and there's a lot at any speed above 300km/h, even more if you're using nitrous), it makes it very easy to crash into them at high speeds. The work around is to keep an eye on the mini map, but since things happen very quickly at 350+km/h it's not always possible.

The sound is definitely a strong point. Engine sounds are very well done and there are distinct differences in the engine note when the cars are modified. The police chatter you hear on the scanner seems very realistic. The music tracks included are in much the same flavour as those in the underground series - a lot of rap for the menu's and a mix of rock and techno for racing.

As there's traffic and a lot of objects to avoid in the game world, to control the car and keep from crashing into things requires quick reflexes. Unfortunately, this means using a steering wheel is often a huge disadvantage as going from left to right lock and vice versa takes time. Gamepads or a keyboard are much better suited. Since the car handling is very much arcade like, subtle changes to steering, throttle and braking are not required.

Underground 2 included some advertising for a few large corporations, which annoyed several people, myself included, and it's still present in Most wanted. It has been toned down somewhat though, however i still feel that if EA wants to make more money, perhaps they should focus on making better games rather than shoving adverts into them.

To sum it up, this game seems to have an identity crisis. On one hand, it tries to offer the same type of street racing in the underground series, but due to the poor AI, it just doesn't cut it. It also gives you the option to modify your cars, as in the underground series, but with the lack of options in comparison it also falls short of the mark in that area. The police chases definitely add something worthwhile, but seemingly at the expense of other parts of the game. The bugs, holes in the storyline and parts of the game seeming to be rushed through to meet a deadline don't help.

The game seems to try and cater to fans of exotic European cars, American muscle cars and Japanese tuner models, but they all seem to become blurred together once modified, which means there's not much point. They should all handle very differently, and in my opinion it doesn't matter if there's one or a hundred cars available if they're all much the same to drive.

Most wanted is addictive though. Several areas of the game are very well done and you can almost forgive some of the shortcomings at times. If the AI and car handling was improved, more options for customisation were added and there was an ability to jump into police chases using the car of your choice from the quickrace menu or in multiplayer mode, the game could have been spectacular.

As it stands, it's bittersweet, although i do think that if you're a fan of the Need for speed series, this game is worth playing.
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Old 6th February 2006, 11:20   #2
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you've gotta love the audi quattro! thanks for the review...
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Old 12th February 2006, 00:18   #3
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Great review. This game is really a great one to own. I play it often and it's worth it! Blacklist player #1 here I come!
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Old 22nd March 2006, 09:18   #4
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I agree with, well, everything in Atmo's review. The game's pretty fun from time to time, but catch up is extremely annoying. I just finished playing a Circuit (@ Bull (no.2)), and drove perfectly. Not a single mistake in 3 laps. I have a fully upgraded Porsche Carrera GT. And that didn't prevent some "Lightning" (heh) guy in a Porsche 911 from catching up to me in the last lap. He didn't manage to overtake me, but he was still under 100m behind me in the end. In what seemed to be a few secs, he came from 450m to 0m. And I didn't even crash. I was driving full speed on a highway part of the track ! The sad thing is that the game would be extremely easy if they hadn't used that. The AI sucks.

Drag sucks MAJOR ass. The idea's not bad, but the execution's a complete failure. It all comes down to luck (and experience, cos the trafic doesn't change). Actually, you can drive on footpaths too, if you bullet-time onto them. You're on "rails", normally, but you have full freedom of movement in bullet time on drag. And driving on the footpath seemed to be the only way you could win a Drag that's among the races of BL races number 8 I think. The feeling of speed in Drag fails too. I mean, when you're driving @ 200, you feel like you're driving with the handbrake down.

There's just so much about the game that feels forced, and, yes, badly executed. I mean, one of my favorite non-cooldown places to complete a cooldown is in front of the police station in rockport (near the pursuit breaker). It's so dumb it's funny. And it works. I finished a level 5 pursuit there.

The game has some irritating bugs too. I went through a toll booth (I love tollbooth cos there's no AI to irritate me with cheating) once and it simply didn't register me. I had to double back, and it still didn't register me. I restarted the race, and it did. Odd. Same happened at a speedtrap once. Luckily, I already had 300ish kmph advantage over the nearest opponent, but it was still irritating.

The objects on the road are odd. You can take down signs, trashcans, stoplights and small trees with ease. But for some reason, those water? filled yellow things slow you down a LOT. I mean, ok, so those are heavy in real life, but tollbooths (!) slow you down less than those do. And in circuits, no matter how much havoc you wreak in a circuit, they'll be back where they were in the next lap. Nasty.

I've never played sp Underground 1 or 2. Only 2 once in mp. And I won. Heh. Anyway, the soundtracks for the 1 and 2 were quite good. Some great tracks of those... Stompbox, Fortress Europe, In My Head.. And here. Well. Mostly 2nd and 3rd grade rap (Lupe Fiasco's name says it all). The Timo Maas remix of that Jamiroquai song's nice, but it just doesn't work while racing. And... I Am Rock. Hahahahahaha. The Celldweller tracks do their job nicely, though. Nine Thou was nice too for a while, but it gets boring. There are some other tracks that are quite nice, but none gave out the "zomfg this is bloody great" feeling that some tracks from the previous nfs games did.

Tweaking cars feels like an afterthought. Oh, and I noticed that he/she thing. I think it was after beating Jewels. Made me laugh. The acting's rubbish (but fun). Is Cross supposed to be completely wasted all the time ? I think so, cos his calls sound that way, especially the überlame "pin stripes" one. I felt that that "drive safely Josie Maran video" in the beginning killed all the suspension of disbelief that might've existed right before even starting the game.

There are some fun things in the game, like Rhinos (which, while annoying, are a great idea), and, umm, racing. And police chases (the music there's good). And graphics from time to time (though too much motion blur + "noon" in the game + the solid transparent walls in the races = a lot of crashes, and I could swear that a mountain was a flat image from an angle).

All in all, I'd give it something in the range of 65-75.

Last edited by Doggy Dog; 22nd March 2006 at 10:02.
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Old 4th April 2006, 06:22   #5
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Out of the 20 something games currently on my modified XBox, i've been playing this the most.. even though I don't really have the time to play...
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