Tuesday marks the release of Need For Speed Most Wanted – A Criterion Game. As the latest entry into the iconic racing franchise, the game is one of the most anticipated titles of the year and a direct follow-up to the 2005 title of the same name. Considering the developer's intimidating record and current footage, this game is likely to be an absolute joyride you cannot miss.
British developer Criterion Games is best known for Burnout, the arcade racing series that had actually claimed the top spot both critically and commercially over the past few years as Need For Speed seemingly ran out of fuel since its heydays in the '90s. Publisher Electronic Arts tried several developers but neither EA Canada nor Black Box were able to revitalize the franchise, seemingly condemning its good name to a fate similar to Pac-Man or Mega Man: classics that failed to adapt to the modern age.
However, after the continued success of their Burnout license, Criterion Games was finally tasked with developing a Need For Speed title and Hot Pursuit came to fruition. Not only did the game successfully revitalize the franchise, a rebirth even The Run couldn’t stop, it also meant that Criterion would control two of racings biggest franchises. Of course, there’s always Forza and Gran Turismo, but those are more about the beauty of driving professionally. In Criterion’s games, the beauty is in doing everything with a criminal disregard for the law and the safety of others.
Most Wanted is an open-world racing game, meaning there are no actual tracks to drive on. Instead, much like Burnout Paradise, the players have the option to explore the city in its entirety. Fairhaven, the scenic setting of the game, is essentially a playground filled with challenges and destructible items. In a heavily publicized move, all the cars within the game will be immediately available and the player only needs to find them in order to start driving them. Therefore, in true dedication to the concept of speed, the game forgoes arbitrary tasks and instantly allows players a chance to find the car they love.
The game’s primary objective is to earn “Speed Points” by completing challenges within the city, such as races and well-rewarded destruction. Once enough of these points have been unlocked, a player will be able to challenge the “Most Wanted”— 10 computer-operated racers that own the hottest cars in the game. Beating them is difficult but a player can use his points to make upgrades for his cars, modifying his vehicle to best suit the opponent and the racing area.
Possible upgrades for the vehicles include reinforced chassis, reinflating tires, impact protection, powershot nitrous and track tires. If these upgrades are an indication, and they are, the cars in this game are expected to see some crashes. Of course, in true Need for Speed fashion, the city’s law enforcement will attempt to apprehend you for drifting into coffee shops and driving into motorcyclists.
The bread and butter of any racing game is he fact that it is multiplayer and, as can be expected, Criterion is equally progressive in this regard. The game employs a constant approach to multiplayer titled Autolog. Even if someone is taking part in the single-player portion of the game, the progress will be tracked online. Using those statistics, the game will seamlessly integrate multiplayer elements.
Suppose your friend achieves the longest jump ever through a billboard. In your game, that billboard will have your friend's face plastered all over it. In response, suppose you want to shut him up. In this game, you will have the option to challenge him immediately without having to wait for a proper matchmaking system, a dull and long-winded process that plagues most sports games but is thankfully avoided here.
There are some issues for concern, such as the fact that the game is reportedly less hyperactive than any of Criterion’s previous works and although there seems to be less stylized destruction, the speed is still evident in the videos. Also, the game now offers a wide range of car types and official licenses, a variety that is commendable but ultimately means that the core visceral thrill may be compromised. The very presence of muscle cars, for example, means that your opponent’s vehicle isn’t necessarily as vulnerable or volatile as yours, automatically forcing you to shamelessly drive with a little more caution and regard for safety.
Fans have been concerned for a while as to what the return of the Need for Speed franchise will mean for Criterion and Burnout. And while the studio’s creative director has assured fans that they will still be making their flagship title, the crash-happy lunatics are concerned. However, they can rest assured because if someone has two incredibly successful franchises, they probably aren’t going to compromise either one. For now, the concern should simply be whether Criterion can continue its golden run, or whether the law of averages will finally catch up with them.