- Developer: Criterion Games
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Platforms: PlayStation 3 [tested], Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, Wii U, Vita
- Release date: 2 November
- Price: £39.99
Need For Speed: Most Wanted
Medal of Honor: Warfighter, the other game EA published this October, struggled to find an identity of its own, heavily borrowing ideas from Call of Duty and Battlefield. Need for Speed: Most Wanted is similarly derivative, smashing together mechanics and conceits from other racing games like a motorway pile-up.
Its neatest trick, Jacking, sees players access new cars by parking alongside them and hitting X, instantly switching into any one of the high-end machines that happen to be parked up. It's a welcome solution to the laboriousness of pause menus, stolen almost piece-for-piece from Driver: San Francisco.
That game's Shift mechanic, which allowed players to "project" themselves into other cars, won major innovation points from reviewers last year for streamlining driving games - if you totalled your car, or saw another one you liked, you just Shifted into it with a single button without slowing the game's pace. It was a great idea.
But Shift bothered some critics - and players - who thought it too magical and absurd to suit a usually straight faced driving sim. For those people, Jacking is a happy medium between handy accessibility and Driver's ludicrousness. Nevertheless, it's a bit of a knock-off.
Criterion's pedigree is evident in Most Wanted, too. A la Burnout, head-on collisions are captured in fetishtic slow motion, with special race types designed around ramming your opponents off the road. Most Wanted doesn't tally points for crashing like Burnout, but the streets of Fairhaven, Most Wanted's bespoke city are cleared of pedestrians to let you cause as much carnage as you want.
It feels a bit odd, Fairhaven. Beautiful and grubby in equal measure, the work gone into building industrial sectors and country vistas is staggering, but the absence of people, traffic and life makes it kind of dull to drive around. It's designed as a motor racing playground, like Burnout's Paradise City or Forza's Horizon festival, but without the working city vibe, the stakes are much lower, the excitement much lesser. Despite its street racing pretensions, Need For Speed: Most Wanted feels like a track racer, except with buildings rather than barriers.
It's still fun, though, and very slick. If Most Wanted pinches Jacking from Driver: San Francisco, it still goes one up by making upgrading your car, and finding your next race much easier. The entire game's navigation is handled on the fly, a few taps of the d-pad opening your garage, map and customisation menu.
Multiplayer is easy to get into, too, bleeding into the offline mode via live online leaderboards and instantaneous race invites. The Autolog system returns, tailoring custom built races based on you and your online friend's playing habits.
Once you get an invite, it's just a case of accepting it then cruising over to the race start - no main menu, no lobby. It's not Forza Horizon, where you have to drive back to town to mess with your car and get online. Most Wanted doesn't have a central hub, allowing you to quickly and get online, and upgrade your cars.
And what cars. Most Wanted's line-up of Porches, Lambos and Ford GTs is available from the off, as long as you can find them. This isn't like Gran Turismo, where you have to drive studiously up the car ladder. In Most Wanted, your first car is a DB9 and things only get faster from there. They handle brilliantly, too, screeching around corners and barrelling down straights with rewarding oomph.
But Most Wanted's neatest touch is the cops, which come after you in full force for even the most minor violation. Fairhaven PD seems to have taken its training from Keystone, careening off the road time after time as they ceaselessly try to ram your car.
When they're not providing giggles with their lumpish prat-driving, the cops are vicious pursuers, pestering you and your fellow racers into the nearest brick wall.
Even with Most Wanted's small variety of race types (there are standard checkpoint chasers, time trials and special cop evasion races) Fairhaven's overwhelming police presence keeps the whole game feeling fresh, turning even your relaxing Sunday drive into a FOX News style hot pursuit.
The "Most Wanted" races are Need For Speed's party piece, tense, drawn out endurance challenges against Fairhaven's top five drivers. The sheer length of these things bumps the stakes through the roof; fumble on even the final corner, and it's all over.
Add some cops into that mix - and the game does, regularly - and you've the perfect setup for some of most high-octane driving on consoles this year.
Need For Speed: Most Wanted is not the most original racing sim to date. Many of its best ideas come heavily inspired by its competitors. Nevertheless, it's lots of fun - slick, good-looking and incredibly fast-paced.
If you like powerful cars, high speed chases and glossy visuals, you have no excuse for not indulging in Need For Speed: Most Wanted; if you like originality, you might be better off looking elsewhere.
- Gameplay - 7/10: Need For Speed is probably most wanted for robbery, having nicked a lot of its ideas from other games. The police presence makes it lots of fun.
- Sound - 8/10: A great soundtrack, as per racing games. Cars sound perfect.
- Graphics - 7/10: The vehicles look great, but Fairhaven is a little too dead and empty to really please the eye.
- Replay value - 7/10: Lacking in race variety, but online is easy to get into and very meaty.
- Overall - 7/10: A solid racer that's too cut and paste to get really enthused about.