has spoken at length about changing conventions and doing something different with Need for Speed: Most Wanted
. As a result, there is something a little more meaningful and deliberate about the opening cinematic when Muse’s Matthew Bellamy croons “change everything you know.”
The first, and most notable difference, from what we have come to expect from driving games is that Need for Speed: Most Wanted is an open world game with an open approach. Players can drive anywhere and over 100 cars are available from the very beginning. They just have to be found first. Jackspots are dotted around the city of Fairhaven and can be identified easily as the car has the manufacturer’s badge above it. Once found, the vehicle can be jumped into immediately or can be accessed at any time from the Easy Drive menu. This menu can be utilised to access Autolog recommendations and challenges, select races to compete in, customise the mods on a car, or jump to a new vehicle altogether. Criterion took this approach to shake things up and ensure that players would have different experiences within the first hour or two. From sideways glances over the course of the preview event, that certainly seems to have worked. Players were dotted all over the city in a variety of vehicles and occupied themselves in different ways.
Unlike the original Most Wanted, released in 2005, there is no storyline to go with the on-road action. There is a list of the ten most wanted cars, which are the only ones that players do not have immediate access to, and players must earn the right to compete for these cars. Players do so by earning Speed Points, which can be gained in a variety of ways. Racing is one way to build up Speed Points naturally, but there are also speed cameras to blaze past, billboards to smash through, police to antagonise and so on. Criterion has ensured that practically everything you do in game will earn you Speed Points. After earning the right to challenge a Most Wanted car, there is a showdown as we are used to seeing. However, victory alone is not enough as the Most Wanted play by their own rules. To take their cars, players must shut them down after the race. Only then can they ensure that they stand alone as the Most Wanted in Fairhaven City.
Despite the extra distractions, racing is the focal point of Need for Speed: Most Wanted. Criterion has ensured that it made use of the large open world with a selection of races that take place across the city and on a variety of surfaces. The AI is no slouch and will use every trick in the book to win. Opponents are perfectly happy to send players fishtailing out of control when the time is right. Straightforward races are a challenge in themselves as a result, but the real fun begins when the cops get involved. There are six different heat levels, which alter how many police are sent out to put an end to street races and how determined they are to do their duty. Roadblocks and spikestrips are an alarming prospect at the best of times, but even more so when some of the cops attempt to stop players at all costs. There are times when this attitude works to their detriment as seen after a police car hit a ramp, slammed through a billboard and went spiralling down the street and into a wall. Sometimes you just have to admire their tenacity.
Racing is one part skill and one part setup. The setup part is relatively easy; choose the right car for the right conditions and attach the right mods. You don’t need to be a petrolhead as each alteration is shown as a simple bar graph comparing the current choice against the considered alternative. If you’re particularly adept at using the Easy Drive system, you can change mods mid-race with a few presses of the D-pad. However, this is a skill in itself. Most of my own experiences saw me careening off track, missing checkpoints or watching a cinematic thanks to a nasty collision with oncoming traffic. The more straightforward option is to choose the right car for the event in question. Bear in mind we say, “More straightforward.” There are over 100 cars to choose between, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The Ariel Atom might be quick in a straight line, but if you’re dodging traffic downtown you may want to select something less brittle. Alternatively, the Ford F-150 Raptor handles like a mule when it hits the city streets, but set it free on mud tracks and dirt and it races like a prized stallion.
Competition against friends has been placed at the heart of the Most Wanted experience. Autolog makes a return to Need for Speed, but Criterion has labelled it Autolog 2 as it has been significantly upgraded. Rather than just comparing race times, players will be able to compare their progress against friends, see how many cars they have found, see their speed past cameras and compete for ownership of billboards based on how far through them they jumped. This is stepped up even further when players investigate their own progress. This can be compared against any friend and showcases who is leading the charge under a variety of categories including events played, cars found, security gates smashed, time played and overall completion among many others. With the implementation of Autolog 2, completion is designed to be just the starting point. Everything else on offer is meant to be the source of real competition amongst friends.
There is a more traditional multiplayer offering, but it is quite different to what we know at the same time. Players can host lobbies against friends and setup Speed Lists, which consist of five events. These can feature quick tests of skill such as jumping the furthest, straightforward races, team races or challenges. The challenges are an unusual prospect as they require players to work as a team towards an objective, such as a cumulative distance drifted, but players are competing to be the MVP at the same time. Strategy comes into play as the objective milestone comes into play; do players simply play their role and rack up the distance or do they try to knock one of their rivals off their stride in order to overtake them and pick up the extra points? Criterion has labelled this as “co-opetition” and it is easy to see why.
So far, the multiplayer offering doesn’t sound that unusual. However, players do not spend time in menus or in a lobby. Each player can drive around the city at their leisure between events and can do any of the extra activities that they would ordinarily do. However, once an event is posted players are challenged to be the first to the meet up point. As you would expect, being first earns additional Speed Points. Playing and winning increases your Speed Level, which earns players access to additional cars and mods. However, Speed Points also carry over into your single player progression so you could find yourself coming back to the single player with a few more Most Wanted cars to be challenged.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted isn’t playing by the traditional driving game rules. The single player campaign is just one side of the game, but the real meat will be in the competition among friends. As bragging rights can be competed for across any statistic in the game, it means that it’s no longer a case that the fastest friend will rule the roost. The team at Criterion wants players to be distracted and enjoy all that there is to offer, but they are working against years of convention as they have said themselves.We will soon see if players adapt to the new approach being taken. Players will be set free and invited to go explore the city of Fairhaven when Need for Speed: Most Wanted is released on October 30th in North America and November 2nd in Europe.