There’s a cute disclaimer at the beginning of Need for Speed Most Wanted, warning you that the game’s driving experience is “for entertainment purposes only.” It’s too bad that EA wants you to buckle up and drive safely in the real world, because driving like a maniac is a lot of fun.
No question about it, this is an arcade racer that puts all its attention on the driving. The cars are lovingly detailed; the story is non-existent. The game loop is simple: win races, earn prize money and speed points, unlock more cars and races. Repeat until satisfied, with occasional pauses to take on boss cars and move up the “most wanted” list.
This simplicity is a strength, not a weakness. The racing feels good, and you get to do a lot of it. There are at least 10 different tracks representing locations in and around the fictional city of Fairhaven, with several different kinds of race available at each track. Some races require a specific class of car, such as a muscle car or SUV, while others can be run with anything you have in your garage.
The most common race is a street race, where you take on five other cars and try to get over the finish line first. However, you’ll also do timed races through checkpoints and races that ask you to maintain a minimum average speed. There’s even a series of ‘hot ride’ races, where you are given an exotic car, a time limit, and penalties each time you scratch the paint.
There are plenty of opportunities to ding up the cars. Fairhaven’s cops pursue you with complete disregard for life and bumper, and you’ll spend a lot of time bouncing off them and other obstacles. Fortunately, your cars have the kind of durability that only happens in arcade racing games. Police cars and passing civilians crumple like tissue paper when hit, but it’s almost impossible for you or your AI opponents to wreck and get knocked out of the race.
The real penalty of a crash is that it costs you time and speed, and by the middle of the game you don’t have much of that to spare. Give up more than a few seconds to crashes, and you’ll be replaying the race.
But my shiny paint job!
You can mod your car to eke out a little more performance in tight situations, but each mod costs a substantial fraction of your prize money, and the mods only last for one race. That’s a little too expensive, but you can mitigate the cost by restarting the race you’re running if you fall behind.
Otherwise, Need for Speed Most Wanted gets all the details right. The controls use what has become a standard set of tilts and swipes. The interface gives you all the information you need without distracting you from the race, and there’s a handy “Easydrive” button that automatically takes you to the next race you should run.
The scenery looks good as it zooms by, and you get regular opportunities to jump your car and crash through billboards. The soundtrack also adds to the mood, with songs by Dead Sara, Green Day, The Who, and enough other artists that you won’t get too tired of hearing them. The multiplayer isn’t much more than a leaderboard, but that’s not a bad way to compete with friends.
This isn’t a game for racing sim purists. But with dozens of cars to unlock and plenty of tracks to race on, Need for Speed Most Wanted will satisfy anyone who loves cars and the sound of a roaring engine.