Criterion’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit reboot was a worthy effort. It had the cars, the styling, and the slow-motion crashes that we’ve come to expect from the creators of Burnout. Most Wanted carries on the same play style with plenty of vehicles and some impressive presentation, but more than a few niggling issues managed to grind my gears on this one.
The open world is reminiscent of Burnout Paradise: there are a few race events for each car located all over the map. You can either drive to the race, potentially inviting the attention of police if you speed over the limit, or you can defeat the purpose of this system entirely and simply teleport to the race directly.
The problem with running an open world for a driving game is that this format is only interesting if there are things to do between races, and Most Wanted doesn’t offer a great deal. You can find new cars along the way, you can try to crash through billboards, you can find new shortcuts, or you can try to get the highest speeds on a speed camera. If you’re especially pressed for activities, you could try and incite the local constabulary and lead them on a merry chase, but the pursuits tend to be long and drawn out, especially if you’re stuck on stretches of highway with nowhere to hide.
An open world would also suggest that there’s potential for multiple routes to a destination, and if not, the routes would be plainly marked so you don’t run off track. Despite giant hovering text saying “CHECK” telling me where to go, there’s still some guesswork involved where you blindly follow the pack for the first lap or two. After the first few blind square turns and subtle off-ramp lane changes, I found myself spending a good portion of my time squinting at the mini-map rather than keeping my eyes on the road. It’s not quite as bad as the constant map-checking in Burnout Paradise, but it became grating.
That aside, the racing has its enjoyable moments. There’s a fair selection of events, so you’ll be alternating between freeway sprints and tracks inspired by off-road rally cross. You’ll be pitted against other similar vehicle classes navigating from point A to B, sometimes with a sprinkling of local law enforcement. Other race modes include evading capture by the police, completing a speed run within a set amount of time, and completing a course while keeping your average speed above a certain limit.
Winning events will net you additional parts for the cars, but modifications are limited, and paint jobs are randomised. If you’re looking forward to fine tuning performance and changing body kits, you’ll be disappointed.
And sure, there are crashes. In fact, the collision detection may be a little too strict. Suffering a slight nudge from the enemy AI or barely clipping the corner of a traffic barrier will be enough to send you skidding dramatically, taking you out of the race for a good few seconds. Crashes also feel far less spectacular than in other Criterion games, and do not look like the result of impacting a divider at 250km/h. I’m sure there’s some brand licensing agreement saying that the cars can’t be damaged beyond a certain point.
For me, Most Wanted is all flash and no substance. The strength of its car brands, the catchy soundtrack, the stylised cutscenes and the impressive visuals can’t hide the fact that the game doesn’t offer a consistently enjoyable experience straight up. The formula of outrunning police and taking out other cars should be fun, and yet I feel more frustrated than exhilarated by the time I’m finished with it for the evening.
I recommend thinking twice about this one if you’re planning on picking it up.