For every step forward, this game takes several steps back.
I ran into a peculiar conundrum while playing Need for Speed: Most Wanted: I couldn’t help but wonder exactly for whom I’m reviewing this game. If you are a hardcore fan of the series, then this game is sure to be the best thing since sliced bread. On the other hand, if you’re new to the series, it will turn you into a raving, homicidal maniac.
Let’s clear up a few things. Rubber band AI is not good. It’s been done to death. The time has passed for such laziness in programming. When you’re going top speed and hitting nitro for a speed boost in a max-tuned car, and a computer opponent still passes you on a straightaway without even using nitro, then there’s something horribly wrong.
As a result, the game victimizes you for making a single mistake. A word of advice: don’t ever be anywhere but first. It’s nearly impossible to catch up, and the game is extremely unforgiving. I suppose if you’re an expert in the series already, then you’re already familiar with the process, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that newcomers will find this game more frustrating than fun.
It’s a shame that I had to put in that little rant, because this game could’ve been excellent. The reasoning behind the Most Wanted name change is that EA has incorporated high-speed police chases back into the series. This is part of the game’s main career mode and is integrally tied into the main story line. It’s also the best part of the game.
NSF: MW is a racer dolled up in import-tuner's gear and seasoned with over-the-top highway chaos. Your goal is to become the Most Wanted driver in the game’s universe. To do so, the player picks a car, races, is chased by the heat, and causes general mayhem. The car is customizable to the extent that you may increase and fine tune the speed, handling, and acceleration of your ride as well as make several cosmetic changes.
The pursuit portions of the game are so good, though, that you may find yourself skipping the race sequences in NSF: MW just to run up your bounty. The more damage you cause, the higher you score, and there are so many ways to outrun the heat that it rarely gets tiresome. If only the rest of the game lived up to its promise.
The story line is goofy at best, and downright insulting at worst. You play some sort of noble street racer out to beat the local jerk by outracing the Blacklist 15. These are the fifteen most wanted street racers. In order to race them, you have to cause damage, increase your bounty, and race around town. The head cop is also an ass, as he’s out to stop all speed racing in town.
Now, I don’t mind playing a bad guy. But, this game wants you to feel like you’re some kind of misunderstood rebel. Please understand, you will be driving around town causing accidents that would make people die (not in the game’s world, of course, because then it’d be rated M, and EA can’t have that—even the awful EA TRAX songs are censored). How your character could be anything but a horrible menace is beyond me.
By the way, the cutscenes are awful. The storyline is so insipid that I recommend that you simply skip them entirely. Yes, Josie Maran (this version’s model du jour) is extremely hot, but she’s also very blurry (as is every other actor in the game). EA did some kind of odd mixture of CG and video that captures the actors in a very soft focus lens. It combines for a surreal effect that manages to remain uninteresting in spite of itself. If you have no other way of looking at Josie Maran, then yes, watch the cutscenes, but I will remind you that if you’re reading this review, you’re probably on the Internet (hint! hint!).
Honestly, it’s so strange how a game can have such high production values, yet fail so completely in putting them together. Aside from the stupid storyline, there’s the music. I already said the EA TRAX soundtrack is awful, but you can turn it off. Despite the lousy music, there is a silver lining: the sound effects and background music during cop chases are first rate. Keep the music turned off, and you will be completely immersed from the beginning. I understand that no one comes to a racing game for the story or the music, but they are part of the package, and they distract rather than enhance.
There is one other aspect to the game I need to touch on, and that’s the customization process. It’s very streamlined and is excellent fun, but you must compete in the career mode to earn better parts. I know some players could find a cheat in which it’s possible to bypass this requirement, but there’s a reason they’re called “cheat” codes. The only drawback with customizing is that once you tune your car, the controls have changed. Adapting to the changes can consume a lot of time unless you’re an expert. Otherwise, it simply leads to more frustration during the race sequences.
Maybe the question shouldn’t be for whom this review is written, but rather for whom this game was made. It seems obvious, now, that this game is for the hardcore Need for Speed fan. If you love the series, get it; it’s a marked improvement. However, if you’re outside of that demographic, rent it. The game is definitely worth some play time, but not your sanity.