The last Need For Speed game I really enjoyed was 2010s Hot Pursuit, developed by Criterion Games, who are best known for their work on the Burnout franchise. In fact, Hot Pursuit is one of only two Need for Speed games in this generation that I’ve enjoyed at all – the other being 2005′s Need For Speed: Most Wanted, which, incidentally, also happens to focus on police chases.
With this new Most Wanted (seriously though, can we stop giving sequels the exact same names as their predecessors?), Criterion is greatly expanding upon the work they did with Hot Pursuit. Though Hot Pursuit had a free-roaming mode that allowed you to explore the game world, it wasn’t really structured as an open world game. Most Wanted presents a true racing sandbox, and I got to try out its multiplayer component for myself.
Autolog, the innovative social competition feature that debuted in Hot Pursuit, is once again at the core of Most Wanted’s competitive nature. Instead of just tracking individual races, it now keeps track of all event types – jumps, speed traps, broken billboards, etc – and compares your times and scores with your friends’ times and scores.
Most Wanted does not feature a traditional lobby system to govern its multiplayer. Instead, you will simply be dropped into the game world, or other players can drop into your game. Every event begins by following a waypoint to a meeting spot where you’ll congregate with anyone else who happens to be around. You can then initiate a playlist, which will generate various race types on the fly.
During my playtime, the first event was a basic race. Simply sprint to the finish, taking down anyone in your way. The interesting part is that when you finish the race, you can keep on driving, and even turn around to try and stop others from finishing. After each event, a new meeting spot will be designated nearby, which then begins another type of event. The second event involved making a big jump, and as an added twist, anyone taken down was eliminated from the event, though you could still drive around and try to screw up everyone else. The next event entailed driving through a speed trap as fast as possible, and, like the jump event, anyone taken down was eliminated.
Most Wanted is a blazingly fast game. For anyone familiar with Criterion’s past work, this should come as no great surprise. Still, it can not be understated – it is part of their identity as game developers. Unfortunately, the sense of speed seems to come at the cost of precision controls. Steering felt a little sluggish, while e-braking and drifting felt very touchy and slippery. However, I only got to try out one car, so these control inadequacies may simply be the result of using a low level vehicle.
After about 20 minutes and a team race that pitted the US against the UK (the US won, of course. America!), the demo was over. Most Wanted has a lot of potential, though I can only hope Criterion handles the open world set up better than they did with Burnout Paradise. Need For Speed: Most Wanted launches on October 30th, 2012 for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.