Ten Minutes with Need For Speed Most Wanted

Recently Trod asked me if was into racing games. While I am occasionally argumentative, I am not a very competitive person; Competition usually just means one person will have progressively less and less fun. The racing genre is, at its core, entirely competitive and with a new racing game about to drop this seems like a safe way to ask “hey, here is a game that looks cool but I’m afraid you will hate it.”

So, funny story. The ‘Raven’ in many of my online tags comes from the very first “Need for Speed” game where I spent every free moment honing my skills and becoming a racing god. The culmination of this was in “Need for Speed Hot Pursuit” for the PS2. It was fast, and fun, and the cops loved to try and stop me. Best of all it featured a varied and lengthy campaign, with each race rewarding new options and demanding new challenges. By the time of the last race I was playing on the hardest difficulty and without any of the silly rubberband game aid (rubberband physics being a method of either improving the players car or hampering the computer cars to give the player a better chance should he fall behind. Also, bullshit; you fall behind you lose.). I made it to the last race, with the fastest car on the hardest track.

The race was eight laps and it took about an hour to run because it was super intense. I practiced several times before running it. I got to know the car. I learned every nuance of the track. I ran practice races. Finally the day came and I loaded up a special playlist with inspiring race music. I was ready. In the final second of the race one lone car pulled ahead of me by inches. I came in second. I took the game out of the system and put it away. I have not played it since.

So I told Trod, “yeah, kinda.” and downloaded the demo for the new NfS game “Most Wanted.” Unlike any racing game I’ve heard of before this game features an entire city to run around in with each race implementing at a specific spot and utilizing the structure of a fully realized city. It’s pretty ambitious and a fun concept. It really helps pull you in and also lets you just cruise around if all you want to do is drive cool cars in a very fast manner. The game feels very artsy, with panoramic views of their city and the opening feels like some epic tale of life in the big city. It’s pretty cool actually, though I had already bored of the overly dramatic race intros before I had exhausted the demo. On the plus side, the city is pretty cool, or at least what you get to see in the demo. It looks nice, and feels very real, no doubt the inability to leave your car helps maintain the illusion.

The real problem seems to be how varied will the races feel? Take Hot Pursuit for example; I had races in the mountains, the desert, a woodland drive, and city environments. The map has a couple spots that seem to promise at least a more wilderness climate (also the intro to the game) but will that be the lone example? You have to have the dramatically different courses, it’s what “Need for Speed” was built for. People love getting behind the wheel of a Lamborghini and pushing it to the red line, but when the thrill of going fast begins to fade you realize it’s fun to go out and put the city car to its paces on gravel and mud.

Another double edged sword here is the freedom on display. With tracks existing merely as loosely defined areas of the city it gives the player more freedom to explore and search for shortcuts or simply alternate areas of access. But with this also comes the fact that sometimes you take an off ramp that in no way connects to the course and have now screwed up any chance to complete the race. Rare is the event more depressing than limping to the finish line minutes after even the worst cpu driver.

One huge factor with this game is the constant updates via your friends list. There are numerous stunts, speed cameras, and random races in this game and it tracks the progress of anyone on your friends list. It’s a subtle but effective motivator for real world competition. At one point the game told me how fast someone had ran a race and suggested I try and beat him. With the click of a button I was on my way. It’s fun, you hit a speed camera and it flashes your speed and a friend’s speed, a quick 180 and some nitro gives you a quick feeling of glory.

The ease of this seems to have seeped a bit out of the rewards. For finishing races you get extra bits to help customize your car. It’s a cool idea and there seem to be enough areas to have fun with but not overly complex like a few of the more hard core racing games. On the negative side, the game seems to actually have a ‘pay n’ spray’ which randomly changes the color of your car. I’d much prefer to keep my custom rides in my preferred color instead of being distracted during a race by the fact that I’m now in a yellow car.

By the way, cars now simply have to be found. Maybe I’m complaining over nothing but I preferred to race in a specific class, getting better and pull off a win to get a sweet new ride. There are cars I like in the real world simply because of the effort I put into unlocking them in the older games. You respect and treasure the toy you saved up for.

So, final impression of the demo. It’s a slick presentation and there feels like some obvious love went into it. I’m worried that it will feel to limited or my options will dwindle with actual play. But it’s a blast to race again and the cars feel right. I love the constant competition and honestly the open city does give me the ability to simply drive around when I’m bored. Perhaps it’s cliché or silly to say so…but for the first time in a long time…I feel it, the Need for Speed.


2 thoughts on “Ten Minutes with Need For Speed Most Wanted

  1. Jack!

    I noticed you posted this a day after you told me about getting it for 30 bucks on half.com, so I hope that I am correct interpreting this as a net positive as far as your experience went.

    That and as I wait for Christmas to come so my copy of the game will follow, I do look forward to playing (against / with) you in the time to come.

    I do wonder how the full game will hold up against your reservations. I can speak from some level of experience, however.

    The open city lobby is a concept introduced by Burnout: Paradise (made by Critereon, same guys behind the latest Most Wanted). Through the varied city locales, you could race through the gamut of your standard Burnout / NFS tracks: city tracks, seaside tracks, mountain tracks, construction area tracks, portside tracks, and so on.

    So with that in mind I will just assume that Most Wanted similarly fulfills where track variety is concerned.

    Being less analytical about racing games, I can’t say whether the open city layout actually lent well towards a “find your own path” mentality, versus staying on the main course and occasionally veering down an alley to shave seconds off. However, the mindset it produces is one where you will race separately for two reasons: first to win, second to see how much give the city has for shaving time off.

    For the cars, it may be a slight spoiler, but while you find most of them in the world, some cars actually need to be beaten in a race before you can use them. There aren’t alot of these, just around ten or so, but it’s still there to some effect.

    Lastly, I actually think EA’s best feature in its last bunch of racing games is Autolog, which as you point out not only constantly compares you to your friends — lending to constant competition and fun in beating their scores, even while playing alone — but rewards you for doing so. In this way, I think a group of friends lend structure to solo playing sessions for each other as you retread your friends most recent accomplishments.

    I hope anyway!

  2. I did enjoy the demo, and am enjoying the main game. I’m actually trying to do very little so we can be on even ground. That said, tonight I worked my butt off on one race, finally managing to ace it. Afterwards I actually felt my self ‘coming down’ off my high. I had forgotten how much I loved racing.

    I will say though that the need to connect all the areas of the city together does lend to less variety between tracks (yes there is an off road bit, a seaside bit, and a woodland bit, but they all need to fit together aesthetically.), and on occasion driving across town to get to a specific race does get annoying.

    Still, so far the game is awesome and I am excited for our ensuing driving escapades.

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