Cars are found, rather than being earned or unlocked in Need for Speed: Most Wanted, with the exception of those driven by Freehaven’s Most Wanted that is. The cars that you find in so called ‘jack spots’ can be obtained with a simple tap of a button, and once you’ve found them you can drive them at any point, from their spot in the city. This is all well and good, but it does feel a bit alien, and there doesn’t seem to be an obvious reason for this change in mechanic.
Many events are unique to the vehicle you’re driving, so if you want to do a race with the Bugatti Veyron for example, you have to get into your Bugatti (you can fast travel to it once you’ve found the car) and then drive it all the way to the start line - a pretty tedious process to go through for every race, in every car. And god forbid you run into the cops...
Although they provide some of the games most fun and most thrilling moments, the cops quickly become incredibly annoying. More than just annoying, downright soul-crushing. If you’re early in the game, or driving a car that hasn’t had any upgrades yet, namely nitrous oxide, getting away from the cops is really, really tough. It goes against every fibre of our beings to give ourselves up on the spot (the easiest course of action) but running away normally results in a never-ending chase, one that only finishes when you give up, fall asleep or manage to wedge yourself into a corner. We even drove off a cliff one time, and still spawned at the top and drove away again, with a small herd of flashing rozzer-mobiles in tow.
To add insult to injury, if you’ve driven across the map to get to an event, and you manage to attract the attention of a police car, you can’t do anything until you’ve successfully escaped the pursuit (did we mention this is practically impossible without nitrous?) And if you simply allow yourself to get caught, the game will spawn you back in the jack spot of the car you’re driving, potentially back where you came from. It’s maddening, and yet so obvious.
Where the single player feels let down by lack of care, the Need for Speed: Most Wanted multiplayer options feel incredibly well-devised and every bit worth the box price in their own right.
The multiplayer is very reminiscent of Burnout Paradise, as Need for Speed: Most Wanted takes everything that was good about the mix of free-roaming and racing events that the former did so well. At the same time, the developers have clearly thought about how to improve on a formula that was so good already, and the result is absolute genius.
Jump into a game, and you’ll be prompted to go and meet up with the rest of the group. Like Burnout Paradise, events can be anything from races, to speed tests, to acrobatic challenges such as jumping off ramps or between roofs. There are even co-op challenges, where you have to reach a team total, such as jump or drift distances.
It isn’t just about the events though, you can earn points for absolutely everything. Being first to the meet-up point gets you points. Taking down your opponents earns you points, and also freezes their score if you get them in the middle of an event. Playing this game online is absolutely filthy, but in a hugely enjoyable way. As good as Burnout Paradise was online, Need for Speed: Most Wanted does everything that its spiritual predecessor did, and it does it a lot better.
Ultimately, if you’re looking for a driving game, you’ve got two options. The first is Need for Speed: Most Wanted, the second is Forza Horizon. And boy is it a tough call.
We’ve already extolled the virtues of Forza, and in comparison, it’s a real, real shame that Most Wanted’s single player is so ordinary. The game itself is enjoyable to play, but it’s hard to get away from the few, mostly cop-based niggles that can make it so infuriating.
That said, the gap between Need for Speed: Most Wanted’s single and multiplayer is astonishing - as average as the single player is, the multiplayer is absolutely outstanding. It’s built on a tried and tested framework, but Criterion has put real care and thought into the changes it’s made. The result is - for our money - a multiplayer experience that is bettered by none on console or PC, certainly the most fun we’ve had in a long time.