"Slipping Out the Cuffs... Barely"
Need for Speed: Most Wanted - A Criterion Game represents more than just the newest entry in the long-running arcade racing franchise: it's the passing of the torch from EA Canada to Criterion, developers of the Burnout franchise. While the title is solid and feels great, a lot of what made the Burnout series and the 2010 reboot of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit fun to play is lost, such as the car combat.
The new Need for Speed: Most Wanted can be best described as a combination of Burnout Paradise and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Players take control of a car in an open world and complete races, occasionally encountering the city's police and making daring maneuvers to escape capture. There is no story here, with most of the game's appeal and structure coming from completing the different events in order to earn credits, which give players the right to face off against cars on the Most Wanted list. In addition to the events in the single-player modes, the game uses EA's Autolog, which is a leaderboard created from the player’s friends list to create additional challenges. There are also multiplayer modes, which stack with the credits from the single-player mode to unlock upgrades in both modes.
The car line-up in this Need for Speed: Most Wanted spans all kinds of brands; however, there is no unlocking of cars; almost every car is available by finding it in the world and unlocking it in the list of 3 "Jack Spots" for each car. It's here that some of the ideas used to streamline the game experience start appearing and bring the experience down as a whole as the game aims to find its identity. Each car starts off with no upgrades, and upgrades can only be earned through races available with each car separately. With each car being so readily available and the open world nature of the title, switching cars became something I avoided, because then I would have to start all over with the newer car, instead of just trying to upgrade the car I currently had.
Aside from races, Need for Speed: Most Wanted's world features cops, from whom the player must escape ¡during and in between races. If desired, players can rank up solely through these chases, which resemble the police chases from NFS: Hot Pursuit. It's here where the game resembles Burnout, but the combat elements fall apart due to how car collision and crashes are handled. Cars simply crash too easily, the crash sequences are too long, and the damage doesn't warrant the action lingering on the crash. In every other Criterion racing title, crashes felt heavier and simply looked nice, but everytime I crashed here I just groaned because I knew I was going to fall behind, as the crash is replayed while the A.I. is gaining the lead or the cops are surrounding me. The cop A.I. is also a one-trick pony, simply setting up roadblocks or laying down spike traps, which quickly become trivial. The omission of the playable cop cars is also a missed opportunity.
A lot of the features implemented in Need for Speed: Most Wanted for simplicity are highly debatable as to whether or not they're actually useful or even fun. The game's main menu is navigated solely through use of the D-pad, and it often fades away when choosing a race. Some decisions are also really questionable, such as driving through a repair shop for a random reskin of your car in addition to repairs.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted - A Criterion Game plays well, and it's pretty fun once it hits its stride; however, when compared to previous installments in the series and its many identities, it leaves a lot to be desired. The game isn't bad by any means, but there are better experiences in the same series, from the same genre and the same developer that are more worthy of your time.
GameDynamo's Score for Need for Speed: Most Wanted - A Criterion Game (X360)
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