Need For Speed Most Wanted Reader Review
I was trying to dodge my fourth spike stripe in slow motion when it dawned on me: Rockport might be the best fictional racing environment ever created. It managed to be beautiful, gritty, exotic, and familiar at the same time.
Yes, Need for Speed Most Wanted (PC). Why would I want to post my review now? Because it is NOW that I am playing it. And I want to make one thing clear to everyone reading this: This might be the BEST arcade racer around.
Yes I know that includes PGR3 and Ridge Racer. Before branding me a heretic, please at least hear me out.
First comes the city of Rockport. Take it from me: It is HUGE. It feels like a real, bustling city, containing factory areas, quaint residential boulevards, seaside roads, and twisty highway sections. Since the city is huge, you cannot hope to learn the track layout because every race the game throws at you is one configuration out of a million possible. Yes, you might learn portions of the track, but you are guaranteed to have your share of ‘oh, shit!’ moments during every race.
The city is BEAUTIFUL. Most of the time you are soaking up the glorious sun and realistic shadows, and only when you slow down you notice the subtle nuances of the city and begin to realize that this is nothing short of a stunning technical and aesthetic achievement by EA. The architecture is different and interesting through every part of the city, and you can almost always catch a breathtaking vista or two during every event. And that is before the rain kicks in. Suddenly the world goes dark and the road goes shiny, and coupled with the sounds of thunder, you get an unparalleled sense of being there. I can safely say that the tracks compare favorably to those found in Porsche Unleashed, and that is no small feat.
The car collection is glorious, including everything from an Audi TT to Lamborghini Gallardo. Unlike the Underground games, the cars feel surprisingly solid and real. Each car has its own way of sliding and flapping through the twisty streets and you actually get to use the brakes and steering a lot. The enemy AI is good, and I saw very little elastic effect in evidence.
It would have been a good racing game even if didn’t include its main feature, the pursuit mode (in other words, Cops!). This time the experience is nothing short of spectacular. It is a joy to be followed by the cops and trying to shrug them away by driving through an entire city. Almost anything you can see other than construction is destructible, and what is more, you can immobilize police vehicles with a good side-on smash. Once you have gathered enough ‘heat’, you will be chased by literally dozens of cars which will form walls and even set up spike stripes. You would think that with an entire city to play with, dodging cops would be easy. Think again.
The only way to evade the cops is to get out of their sight, at which point a ‘cool down’ meter starts and if you stay put or get to a hiding spot, you have gotten away.
The story, though rudimentary, sets up the structure nicely. You have to beat 15 rivals to beat the game. In the process you can acquire various parts for your car as well as their cars. The game rewards you through the ‘bounty’ system – you get all sorts of bounty by performing illegal actions and keeping the cops on your tail. The challenges are divided into Race Events and Milestones. Races include sprints, lap races, knockouts, drag races. They also include a type of event known as Tollbooth races, which means that you have to get past a number of tollbooths within deadline – a refreshing mode reminiscent of rallying.
Milestones include a number of ways you can wreak havoc – a typical challenge is to tag X number of police cars or keep up a pursuit for X number of minutes. After each of these challenges you have to escape without being busted, otherwise your car will get an impound strike (3 land your car in the police station) and the event won’t be recorded. Here the line between racing and pursuits is blurred – you can perfectly find yourself in a pursuit after winning a sprint event. Then there is the customary slow-motion effect, here put to beautiful use by letting you escape out of tight spots. But beware: this game is NOT as easy as it seems. You will learn.
Another mode of Milestone events is causing a certain amount of damage to property, and getting clocked at certain speeds on specific checkpoints. The whole game world is nicely integrated and events flow into each other. You can complete several milestones simultaneously. You can drive in real time to any event or your garage or the customization shop or the car show room. You can evade a pursuit and start searching for another police car to smash, to start another pursuit. In the meantime you always have time to soak the glorious sun and admire the scenery just be driving around. There is lots and lots of stuff to do, even after you have beaten the game. What is more, getting chased by cops was never this fun, in any game. And that is not even counting the helicopter which kicks in at later levels.
Gripes? A few. The game stutters quite a lot, and the cops are awefully dumb – sometimes you will find yourself chasing a car just to keep a pursuit alive and achieve your milestone. The city, so beautiful, looks eerie without any living soul in sight. And I don’t know about the music collection since I turned it off on my first run.
This game got good reviews, but not the sort it deserved. I will go out on a limb by saying that this is the real next-gen of arcade racers – there is nothing else quite like it. The interface is slick and you don’t get those stupid prompts everytime you jump – the score (‘bounty’) keeps adding up in the corner of the screen. How EA will top this effort remains to be seen.
A solid 9. Go out and buy it, but stay away from the horrid PS2 version.
9 / 10