Need For Speed Most Wanted Review
Overall 8

Driving simulators are all fine and dandy, but nothing beats putting the pedal to the medal and saying nuts to the rules. Criterion Games, one of the last stalwarts of arcade-style racing games, hopes to keep this devil-may-care spirit alive with Need for Speed: Most Wanted. Is everything old new again with this reboot of a reboot, or is it an accident waiting to happen?

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Need For Speed Most Wanted Review

Driving simulators are all fine and dandy, but nothing beats putting the pedal to the medal and saying nuts to the rules. Criterion Games, one of the last stalwarts of arcade-style racing games, hopes to keep this devil-may-care spirit alive with Need for Speed: Most Wanted. Is everything old new again with this reboot of a reboot, or is it an accident waiting to happen.

Much like the recent Burnout Paradise (another Criterion title), Most Wanted gives all would-be racers an open world full of fast cars, ramps leading to nowhere, and advertisements you are encouraged to destroy. Set in the diverse city of Fairhaven, reaching the endgame is as simple as becoming the number one racer in town. But the greatest thrill in the game does not come from reaching the credits, but rather from dinking around in the world.

In the world of Most Wanted, everything revolves around Speed Points. Serving as the scoring system for your shenanigans, they mark your progress as you rise through the ranks and become the top racer. Completing races (conveniently marked in a GPS system by difficulty, distance, and reward amount) net valuable points, but so does everything else in this world gone wild. Blasting through a speed camera, making a killer jump, or simply driving on the wrong side of the road all add to your SP tally. As a result, it never feels like a rigid checklist of things to do, but rather a playground to have fun in.

As a longtime Need for Speed staple, police pursuits play a major role in Most Wanted. While supernatural weapons from previous entries like the EMP blast are (thankfully) MIA, Most Wanted still manages to up the goofiness ante with some of these endeavors. Of course, each chase nets you SP as well, so one could theoretically unlock most of the game by messing with the cops until the cows come home.

However, for all of its absurd elements, Most Wanted tends to play it safe when compared to other titles on the market. The speed Criterion is known for is definitely alive and well, but the destruction has been turned down a considerable amount. Taking down fellow rivals is much tougher than before, and crashes don’t have a satisfying crunch to them. While this could be due to the licensed cars available, seeing nothing but the windows and some scuffs on a post-crash vehicle just feels forced. The end result is something that feels a little safe, something akin to watching a censored version of a slasher film.

The sprawling freedom in Most Wanted’s open world also comes at a price. While it is nice to have a sprawling world at your fingertips, forcing players to hunt down individual cars feels limiting. For all the freedom the city of Fairhaven has to offer, having to unlock each car (and its respectable missions) one by one comes off as an artificial way to extend the game’s length. There’s drip-feeding, and then there’s starvation.

At the end of the day though, it’s all about the races, and in that regard, Most Wanted delivers. Driving dangerously is as fun as ever, and Fairhaven is a nice place to go about re-enacting our wildest, most illegal driving fantasies.

This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Need For Speed Most Wanted