Need for Speed: Most Wanted (PS3/Xbox 360/PC)
Criterion's solid, engrossing racer combines panache and technical bravado
It’s over a decade since British developer Criterion made their mark with Burnout, a technically solid but otherwise unremarkable racer on PS2. Over the course of four sequels the series increasingly fused combat into the mix as aggressive driving was rewarded.
Since the open world experimentation of the series’ PS3 debut Burnout Paradise, Criterion have twice been tasked with rejuvenating EA’s signature Need for Speed series in what has become one of the best marriages in gaming. 2010’s Hot Pursuit was a confident, searing racer implementing many innovations which have made their way into this year’s Most Wanted.
Combining the open world freedom of Burnout Paradise with the developer’s own innovations in linear racing, Most Wanted features a sublime progression system and an updated version of Hot Pursuit’s ingenious Autolog. By comparing your progress with that of your friends, Autolog recommends races and stunts in an effort to provoke ongoing rivalries. The online integration continues with EasyDrive; instead of faffing about with menus, a couple of button presses seamlessly populates the landscape with other players. Changing and customising cars is similarly painless as Most Wanted does its best to prevent intrusive menus from getting in the way of the game.
The racing itself is sublime. Criterion have mastered the Frostbite 2 game engine to staggering effect. At top speed the game is an assault on the synapses, a terrifying blend of eye-watering visuals and ear-pounding audio. The sound design is terrific, with occlusion and other environmental effects integrating themselves perfectly with the action. It’s just a shame the combat has been dialled down. In order to preserve the pace, takedowns – once Criterion’s centrepiece – are now underwhelmingly signalled by an onscreen text message. Police chases can become frustrating as your intricate, high speed manoeuvres are matched by pursuing cops. And a hard-fought race can be undone at the last hurdle should you blink at the wrong time; unlike Codemasters’ recent racing efforts there are no rewinds here.
It’s been four years since Criterion last worked on a Burnout game and it would be nice to see them get back to their roots with a more combat-oriented racer. In the meantime, however, this is a solid, engrossing racer with enough panache and technical bravado to leave the competition in the dust.