It’s a shame EA couldn’t have released Criterion’s Need for Speed: Most Wanted on Halloween, because this might be the scariest game of the year. There isn’t a second that goes by where you aren’t gripping the controller with white knuckles, clinging on for dear life as you narrowly slip past oncoming traffic while racing the world’s best drivers and evading the police. Need for Speed: Most Wanted is proof positive that when it comes to arcade racing titles, no one does it better than Criterion.
At its core, Most Wanted is a very simple game taking heavy influence from the studio's 2008 effort, Burnout Paradise. You’re freely allowed to cruise around the game’s open world of Fairhaven, entering races, blazing through speed cameras, discovering new rides, avoiding the fuzz and taking down the ten “Most Wanted” racers however you see fit. Within an hour of playing Most Wanted, you pretty much have the lay of the land figured out. But that isn’t to say the game is shallow. Criterion gives you plenty to keep busy, it’s just that they literally hand you the keys to everything at the onset and tell you to go nuts.
Thankfully, the gameplay of Most Wanted provides that same addictive, white-knuckle experience Criterion delivered in 2010’s acclaimed Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Every race is won or lost in a matter of seconds, requiring you to tap into something that closely resembles The Force in order to avoid some horrific head-on collision – although those very same crashes look absolutely spectacular and you’ll rarely be pissed off at your skill/luck when you’re awarded such eye candy as metal-on-metal carnage.
Better yet, you’re never not between a wheel in the world of Fairhaven. The game features a seamless menu system that never requires you to pause the game to pick your next event, switch rides or add upgrades. You simply use the game’s “Easy Navigation” menu to make every decision in the game on the fly. It’s virtual texting while driving, but here the scenario doesn’t end with your head being found by the police 40 yards from the accident site.
Even the game’s multiplayer component funnels experience back into the overall goal of single player in Most Wanted: earn enough Speed Points to get a chance to compete against the ten best racers and steal their pink slips. Whether it’s single player or multiplayer, you’re constantly working towards the same end game, once again allowing you to go about playing whichever way your play style is best catered to.
Now, while most of the components of Most Wanted work in the game’s favor, there are still a few things that sour the experience. For one, I find it kind of odd that there are only two camera perspectives available – third person and front bumper cam. Where is the cockpit view, or even hood view? Additionally, outside the game’s stellar opening, which makes fine use of Muse’s “Butterflies and Hurricanes,” the rest of the game’s soundtrack is sorely lacking, featuring mostly club banger music, dubstep and questionable techno remixes of The Who.
Those minor complaints aside, Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a solid arcade racer. The game is simple in concept, but the execution is pulled off so brilliantly by Criterion that you can’t help but fall in love with the game’s elegance in design. It took the failure of last year’s Need for Speed: The Run for EA to hand the keys of the franchise over to Criterion permanently, and if titles like Most Wanted are what they have in mind, then I say it was definitely a wise decision.
CraveOnline received one review copy of Need for Speed: Most Wanted from EA Games. We were not held to an embargo since the game arrived a day after launch. Before starting our review, we played roughly eight hours split between single player and multiplayer events.
Erik Norris is the Gaming Editor for CraveOnline. You can follow him on Twitter @Regular_Erik.