And you have to love the sound. The basic soundtrack is a slightly tiresome mix of screeching metal and trying-too-hard gangster rap, but the music that kicks in during a pursuit is brilliant, while the screeching tires and rumbling engines are plain top-notch. The police radio is the icing on the cake – a running commentary on your efforts, begging for assistance or arrogantly stating they can take you on their own. “Yeah… just try it, copper” you find yourself spouting back.
The handling is solid this time around; not realistic in Gran Turismo terms, but with a certain sense of weight and power to the different varieties of car. Most importantly, there is an awful lot here to do. The basic storyline is good for at least a weekend of fairly solid play, and there is a decent selection of bonus challenge missions to try on top. The game also boasts a decent online mode for the PC, Xbox and 360. Admittedly, I’m disappointed not so see the cops turn up online, but the racing is smooth and enjoyable with one proviso: you should take time to unlock better cars in the single-player game first. Otherwise, you’ll be crawling off the starting line in your stock Fiat Punto while three smug kids race off in their tricked-out Ford GTs and Beamers – a mildly humiliating experience.
Who would have predicted it? Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a surprising turnaround for the series, and a genuinely brilliant game. On the Xbox or PS2, Burnout Revenge still pips it for all-out thrills and general carnage – Most Wanted just doesn’t have the variety or the polish of Criterion’s bumper-pack of arcade racing action – but it does come a very close second. On the PC or 360, meanwhile, it is probably the most straight-up enjoyable racer around. So what if it has the odd technical slip-up? Nobody’s perfect, I guess.
It’s great on other formats, but 360 Most Wanted is a revelation. Ignore the odd dropped frame and you’ll find a gorgeous, gritty arcade racer packed with good old-fashioned entertainment.