What do fast cars, an open world city, and a well equipped police force have in common? Actually they probably have a lot given the world of video games, but specifically I’m talking about Need for Speed: Most Wanted. Electronic Arts (EA) has tapped developer Criterion Games (maker of the well regarded Burnout racing game series) to reboot much of the Need for Speed series for the consoles, while they tapped Firemonkey Studio for the iOS/Android version. How did they do? I review both below. Practice your best Vin Diesel imitation and hit the nitro, it’s time to race.
You are a small-time underground street racer. You’ve had a little success, but now it’s time to “step up or shut up.” To prove your skill and prowess you realize the best way to go is to challenge the top ten most wanted underground racers by the Fairhaven Police Department. With the most wanted list in hand, you roll out to attract their attention, and one by one to climb the ranks to be Fairhaven’s Most Wanted.
Controls and Gameplay
Need for Speed: Most Wanted’s controls are pretty standard for an arcade racer; accelerate, break/reverse, nitro boost, etc. I didn’t have any problems here, although it was nice to have a horn button. The gameplay is anything but standard, unless you are used to Criterion’s version of arcade racing. Yes, you are racing from point A to point B, but Criterion has a reputation of putting a focus on “battling” your way to the front of the pack. That means sideswiping other drivers, pushing them into oncoming traffic, or just plain pinning them against guardrails. All of that is here in spades, but they don’t stop there. Throw in police that are chasing you and using the same tactics you are and now you are having more than your competition to watch out for. As you race and take out police, their involvement increases. Eventually they will start creating roadblocks and deploying spike strips to take out your tires. Heaven help you then.
Your races will vary in style; Sprints are point to point races, they tend to be long with checkpoints you have to go through in order. Circuit Races are the running of laps in certain locations of the city. Speed Runs, these are all about time and speed. You want to do them in the shortest amount of time with the highest amount of speed. Lastly there is Ambush where you are surrounded by the police and you have to do whatever you can to get away.
And that is just scratching the surface. Need for Speed: Most Wanted is set up in an open world so you can just cruise around. While cruising around you can find billboards and security gates to smash through, speed cameras to record top speeds for those road sections, and places where you can jump your car into an off-road or secret area. You will need to smash and jump quite a bit since all the cars available for you to drive (except the ones on the most wanted list) are parked around the city. That’s right they are parked all over the city just waiting for you to find them. Pull up beside them hit the swap car button and drive off in a different car. After you find a car it will be added to your “garage” so you can swap anytime. The Most Wanted cars you can only recieve after beating them in a one-on-one race and then “shutting them down” (make them crash).
If that isn’t enough there is an online multiplayer where you can race, smash, jump and evade police with your friends. The online multiplayer is filled with challenges and races galore.
This version of Need for Speed: Most Wanted really impressed me with its controls. I played it on the iPad for reference. Holding my iPad (like a steering wheel) tilting left and right would steer the car left and right (if you prefer you can disable this style and use a “virtual” steering wheel on screen). Touching the right side of the screen would start the car drifting, touching the left would apply breaks. If you held your thumb there eventually you would reverse gears. Swiping up on the right side of the screen activates the nitro boost. Your acceleration is automatically done for you, so no need to worry about that. I was really surprised at how well these controls worked. In the past, I really fought with virtual thumbpads, buttons etc., these on the other hand just clicked and worked for me.
The mobile version of Need for Speed: Most Wanted is also a very scaled down. Gone is the open world, which given the limitations of mobile devices is understandable. So what you have is a menu driven arcade racer that gives you races to choose from as you unlock them while you move up the most wanted list.
The races are the same here. There are billboards to smash and jumps to be had, but they are hidden on the race courses. This will make you re-race tracks to find them after you have beat the track.
Getting cars on this version is also different since there is no open world to cruise. Here you have to use the money you earn from races to buy them, including the most wanted cars after you beat them in one-on-one races. If you are too impatient you can buy more money through in-game micro-transactions with real world money.
Graphics and Sound
Criterion seems to improve in graphics with each game they create. Need For Speed: Most Wanted looks to be the most realistic game they have done to date. The cars each look like their real world counterparts. An interesting touch is the intro to each race. It goes through some very special effects driven fantasy sequence that eventually puts you in the race. For example in one sequence the cars are all several yards in the air above the city, racing like they are on the streets, and eventually floating down to the roads. Can’t say I found any problems in the graphics.
The sound in Need for Speed: Most Wanted is equally impressive. Each car gets its own unique engine roar; deep and throaty for muscle cars and trucks, high and whiney for exotics and super cars. The smashing and crashing has all the sounds of twisting metal and shattered glass, though after a few crashes one has to wonder how much glass is really left to smash. The soundtrack has quite a few well chosen songs spanning multiple genres. Most are up-tempo and keep a pace for racing, but there are a couple that to me don’t quite fit.
Again the limitations of the systems keeps the graphics lower than their console counterparts, but credit Firemonkey for going for as much realism as possible. Comparatively speaking, they fall into a high-end PS2/original Xbox look where they are realistic, but with some noticeable blockiness.
The sounds are good too. Here Firemonkey pretty much keeps pace with the consoles. The music is also the same.
Criterion Games’ Burnout series has established them as one of the premier studios for the genre. When EA first bought them they let them do as they pleased for their Burnout series and it translated well. Meanwhile, EA had been trying to reboot the Need for Speed franchise with other studios with mixed results. It was only a matter of time before they came knocking on Criterion’s door. If Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit was a trial run of what Criterion could do for the franchise, Most Wanted is the payoff.
Basically anyone waiting for Criterion to make Burnout Paradise 2 has to wait no longer; Need for Speed: Most Wanted is it. All the hallmarks are here: big slo-mo crashes, big crazy jumps, smash gates, billboards, open world city, and shutting down the other racer to get their car, it’s all here. All Criterion did was perfect the formula and sprinkle in police to chase you around. It’s a heady mix that really only Criterion can pull off. I loved every minute I played the game and can easily give it a 5 out of 5.
My hat is off to Firemonkey Studios. To create Need for Speed: Most Wanted while using Criterion Games’ version as a template is a tall order. While they had to strip away a lot because of the systems limitations I truly had fun and enjoyed what they had. I originally had low expectations because prior racing games I’ve played on my iPad have used on-screen virtual control that just don’t work for me. When you get into the heat of the game and you are paying attention to the action, you don’t notice when your thumb has moved too far off the virtual control because there is nothing there for you to feel. Then you wonder why your car isn’t turning or stopping, it just makes for huge frustrations.
That isn’t the case here. The simplicity of the controls translates well into bringing a great arcade racing experience. I also like the old school menu driven race choice style too. It gives it a slight retro feel. I did have the game suddenly crash out to the desktop a couple times, so it’s not quite perfect. What Firemonkey has done really makes me curious to see more racing games from them. An excellent control scheme makes the game enjoyable. However the mysterious game crash does not. I give the mobile version a 4 out of 5.
The console version of Need for Speed: Most Wanted is rated E10+ for everyone 10 Years and older for Alcohol Reference, Comic Mischief, Violence by the Entertainment Software Rating Board.
The iOS version of Need for Speed: Most Wanted is rated 4+ for everyone 4 years and older.
The Android version of Need for Speed: Most Wanted is rated for Everyone.
For more information see the official Need for Speed: Most Wanted web site.