It’s hard to believe that the Need for Speed franchise is celebrating its 18th year in existence, dating back to the original in 1994. The series has gone through a lot of changes and variations from the much loved Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit to the more lackluster Need for Speed: The Run. Following on from Black box studio’s restructuring, Criterion Games have taken control of the Need for Speed franchise and is responsible for the latest installment, being Need for Speed: Most Wanted (not to be confused with the NFS: MW that was released in 2005).
The greatest compliment I can give the Vita version straight from the start is how Criterion did not alter or shrink down the open world environment from console to handheld. Apart from the obvious downgrades such as slightly worst graphics and lesser traffic density, it is almost an exact copy of the console counterpart, which is marvellous. The game is set in the fictional city of Fairhaven where the most rebellious drivers come to test their tyres against the Most Wanted list, in hopes of climbing it. Unfortunately for the game that is the entire story we’re given, which is a shame as they could have made more of it.
It’s ok though, because for what there is lacking in the story department, there are literally tons of things to do in every other department you can think of. The gameplay follows on from the 2005 version of Most Wanted where the player picks a car and competes against racers to reach a destination all the while avoiding Cops and the vehicles they deploy to stop you winning the race. Along with the races which can be accessed via the Autolog system, which also makes a welcome return from previous Need for Speed games, you have other various modes of obtaining Most Wanted points such as full on pursuits and finding hidden objectives which range from cars, billboards and jump spots.
A lot of features from previous racing games Criterion have been responsible for making actually return in Most Wanted, such as the aforementioned billboards and other destructibles, along with drive-through petrol stations and repair garages which were present in Burnout: Paradise. You can also see a lot of the influence of Burnout throughout the game such as how the races are conducted, the fact you don’t have to follow a set route to win a race and of course, the depiction of when you crash which can be utterly hilarious if you’re driving a fast light car such as the BAC Mono. Criterion was obviously treading on thin ice by incorporating elements of what made the Burnout franchise so great, but they’ve done it in such an elegant way that it doesn’t overshadow Need for Speed at all, but rather extends and lends itself to the game experience.
As previously mentioned, Autolog makes its return from Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010) but in a much larger role than previous games. Along with providing information for the player, Autolog recommendations are now incorporated into the game world, rather than sit externally on the menu system, making navigating to and from races much easier along with incorporating an easy way to switch between cars and apply modifications to the car of your choosing. Where the Autolog system really shines through is through the new social system called CloudComplete, which allows you to play and increase your Speed points no matter what console or version you’re playing. This type of cross-platform compatibility is rarely seen, especially when one profile is used for all versions of the game, which is a huge feature and works rather well. It also allows you to view friends’ positions on the most wanted list in comparison to you for example I could see a fellow reviewer that was ahead of me despite him having the PS3 version. The Easydrive system also incorporates into Autolog, allowing for users to customise their vehicles while in action.
Unlike previous Need for Speed games, Criterion gave the users the ability to use any car from the start of the game once the player has discovered them. They are hidden all around Fairhaven with some being more obvious than others. This decision, while being risky, I found to be ultimately brilliant as it inherently encourages you to go explore the world of Fairhaven and everything that can be found within it.
The multiplayer on the Vita is also well balanced with nice stable servers and a variety of game modes to play in. Criterion made some good decisions with the multiplayer such as not being able to use supercars, but rather family cars such as a Ford Focus which evens the playfield out. On top of that, Criterion incorporates the open world environment into the multiplayer where as opposed to waiting in a queue, you have to drive to the start point to enter a race or event. The game mixes up between events such as taking out your opponent in midair to score points, and pure races to keep it entertaining.
One of the only negative aspects of the whole game is the lack of races for each car, which is restricted to only 5 per car unless you count Most Wanted races or the Exclusive Vita events. While it’s obvious that it is to encourage you to change your cars and enjoy the variety that is available in Most Wanted, You can’t help but feel disappointed that once you’ve unlocked all your customisations for your selected car that you have to start again on a whole new car.
Other than the lackluster story and the lack of races per car in Single-Player, Need for Speed: Most Wanted is an excellent addition into the franchise. The open world environment seems huge and Criterion provides plenty to do with very little restrictions as to what you can do. While the Burnout styling and influences can be seen quite clearly throughout the game, it doesn’t deter away from what Need for Speed: Most Wanted is at heart, a straight up action racer as opposed to the arcade style racers of the past. With the cross-platform compatibility and highly entertaining multiplayer, Need for Speed: Most Wanted will keep you on the edge of your seat for a long time.
Perhaps the greatest thing about this game, or rather specifically this version of the game, is that it has incorporated everything from the console counterpart with very little taken away as a whole and is a true showcase of what a great developer can do with a system such as the Vita. From playing this version, it has me not only wanted to play more, but go out and buy the console version as soon as I can.