Need For Speed Most Wanted

Back in the good old days, I realized that all my favorite racing games were old. So old, they were retro. There's nothing wrong with that, and they were and still are fun and great, but they were familiar, and ceased to provide wonder and discovery. I wanted something new. I had heard of the Need for Speed games, and heard that they were good. I saw some previews of Need for Speed Most Wanted that released with the 360, and it looked cool (racing around streets), so I bought.

"Screenshot of Need For Speed Most Wanted, during a race."

There is a story happening, but although the game has showy introductions for everything, the story doesn't get in the way. Even for a game with FMV, I think the acting is pretty good. The game starts off well enough, with you rolling into Rockport with a sweet ride, and challenging the local street racers. One, Razor, takes a particular liking to you, and challenges you. He sabotages your car for a race, and eventually takes it. (What?) He races it to number one on the Blacklist. You gotta take down the 14 others to get back to him. Each member on the Blacklist requires some race wins, and reach some challenges and bounty level against the cops.

Challenges are things like 'have the cops chase you longer/shorter than X minutes', damage or destroy cop cars, dodge roadblocks or spike strips, damage property, or go past a photo ticket camera very fast. Your car has a police scanner that keeps an ear on police chatter, and informs you with what's going on with them. You know when they are looking for you, or have given up the chase. You can hear them request a roadblock and get denied, and you can hear them talking about boxing you in. So long as you don't start crashing into things, the cops will stay away. Once you start running over parking meters, traffic cones, light poles, or dumpsters, you'll hear a report coming in, and the cops will start looking for you. You also have a radar scanner so you know what direction to avoid (or not). I've been able to cruise by a cop carefully at 30 MPH on the road like a law abiding citizen, and not have them notice me!

"Screenshot of Need For Speed Most Wanted, catching some air with the cops."

But once you're in a chase, things will get hairy as your heat level (how much the cops want you) climbs. There will be more cops, and they will employ harder tactics on you. They will start with roadblocks (a line of cop cars across the road). Those are pretty easy to break through: aim for the rear of the cars and avoid hitting the front. Cars are heavier in front. Crash into the rear, and the block swings open like a door. But be careful: there may be an opening, but there might be a spike strip there. Running over those will guarantee that you will be busted and taken in. Avoid unless you have a challenge for breaking through. Once you have a nice posse following you, damage to property starts to add up. Look for pursuit brakers that you can damage that will fall on the cops to take them out. Once you've lost them, look for hiding spots that will quickly end the chase.

Because you're racing on the streets, you need to know where you're going. Your car has a helpful minimap, and tall flashing walls direct the way on the streets. Races come in a few types. Circuit and sprint races are pretty straightforward: loop around some laps, or go from point to point (no laps). Lap knockout is a circuit where the last person to finish a lap is disqualified; 3 laps determine the winner of 4. Tollbooth is a time trial. Going around Rockport, there are tollbooths along the road that no one seems to stop at, and you race through a few. A speedtrap race is going as fast as you can through specific points (not necessarily overall), and the MPH total is added to determine winner. Then there's the drag race, which is my least favorite. Go as fast as you can, and time your shifts, while avoiding traffic (and getting totaled). Its frustrating when all the traffic along the route seems pre-placed, and is always the same pattern, but at least the game takes care of steering and keeping you in lane.

When racing and driving around, you have slow motion and nitro. Slow motion is useful for turns, but when you do that, you start to slide around. Nitro not only gives you a nice boost in straight sections, but it shifts the car's weight to the rear, giving you traction in sharp turns. I haven't used the handbrake in turns much, but it seems to be an easy way to slide your car around hairpin turns.

Once you meet the requirements, you can challenge the racer. You'll go through 2 races, and as you climb up, up to 5 races for each Blacklist contender. Once you do, you can select two markers from the defeated. You can get some free upgrades, but those don't matter much as the bonus markers. One of those is the pink slip (ownership papers) to the racer's car (which is how Razor got mine?). If you're lucky, you won't have to buy many cars as often, but you can buy a new car at lots around town, and upgrades at shops. As you move up the Blacklist, cars and upgrades unlock. (Something about only serving more exclusive clientele.)

I've played through it at least 3 times now. Each time, it seemed to take much longer than necessary to complete. I love the feeling of how the game starts. It gives you a taste of what a good car feels like, but it smacks you down to the bottom within an hour. Rockport has three boroughs, two unlock as you progress through the Blacklist. You start in Rosewood, a small college town. After a while, you have access to Camden Beach, a coastal and industrial area, and after more wins, you can drive in Downtown Rockport.

"Screenshot of Need For Speed Most Wanted, showing a Polaroid of a race win."

Driving around feels good, but it's unrealistic, because your car is indestructible. While there is rain, it is never night. Rain puts a damp shine on everything, but it doesn't seem to affect traction on the road. I'm not sure how good traction that a car going 100+ MPH would have off road (probably almost none), but it doesn't seem to affect driving much. I get the feeling that a place like this would not be built. There's freeways that circle a city, but they are wide, and few people use them. There are three double hairpin turns in Rockport that have no business being there, except for being race courses. Depending on which side you're approaching and if the race likes you, you can drive straight through two of them. There is only one way out of Rockport, as all the other roads on the edge loop around.

I do not care for the music. It's all metal and rap from people that I've never heard of, except one. My dad picked up that band's t-shirt in a thrift store 15 years ago, not knowing it was a band, but because "disturbed" is his constant state of mind.

The graphics are OK, but I get the constant feeling that there's a fine coating of grease smeared on the camera lens. Although it's not all gray and brown, everything has this low dynamic range vibe. It tries to be colorful, but it has a flat look. The textures and models have an acceptable level of detail.

Again, this game is longer than what I thought it should have been. I would let someone borrow it if they wanted a racing game. However, I bet a lot of these features are staples of the Need For Speed series, and could be had in almost any one. It might be tedious to go through the entire series one by one.