Platforms: PC, PS2, XBox, XBox 360. Reviewed - XBox 360.
Imagine someone you love has an obvious annoying habit – they chew with their mouth open, pick their nose, drink far too much far too soon, have the sort of piercing laugh that strips paint at thirty paces. Do you tell them? Do you just grin and bear it and hope that you’re the only one who notices? Do you try to avoid seeing them when easily wound up?
I’m asking, because the Xbox 360 version of Need for Speed: Most Wanted has an annoying habit, and I think we’d better talk it through before things get said and people get hurt. It drops frames. Despite running on the most powerful gaming console of the present time, it drops frames. There. I’ve said it. The frame rate stalls from time to time – suddenly, and so quickly that you might not notice – but it happens. If you’re the sort of person who wept in anguish when it was revealed that Project Gotham 3 would not run at sixty frames per second, stop reading now. Turn around. This game is not for you.
Feeling more forgiving? Good, because Need for Speed: Most Wanted has charms that more than make up for this little shortcoming. For a start, it’s a looker. In fact, having played three different versions, I can safely say that Most Wanted looks sweet on the PS2, highly desirable on a specced-up PC, and simply drop dead gorgeous on the Xbox 360. Just when we were getting sick of Need for Speed’s obsession with neon lighting and shiny, rain-slicked tarmac, Most Wanted has replaced it with urban grime, industrial squalor, autumn colour and the too-bright sunlight of early dusk.
Instead of trying to recreate real cities, Project Gotham-style, EA has built its own, Rockport – a mass of diverse neighbourhoods, sprawling highways and busy junctions – and it’s packed with character and detail. From the tree-lined suburban byways to the crumbling boardwalks by the ocean side, Rockport is a magnificent creation, and EA has complemented it with beautifully rendered car models and literally blinding lighting effects. If HDR bloom is next year’s lens flare, then thank goodness this game arrived before we all got sick of the cliché.