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Need For Speed returns with a BANG!

Last updated on: November 21, 2012 17:10 IST

Need For Speed returns with a BANG!

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Murali Venukumar, a full-time marketing exec, part-time writer and a life-long gamer reviews Need For Speed: Most Wanted.


Platforms: Xbox 360 / PS3 / PC
Price: Xbox 360/PS3: Rs 2,999 / PC: Rs 1,499
Developer: Criterion Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Distributor: Milestone Interactive
Genre: Open -- World Racing
Rating: 8/10

Remakes are a fine art; as is re-imagining an established franchise. The best course of action is to hive the task off to a proven developer, which is exactly what EA has done with its remake of the much-loved Most Wanted edition of its Need for Speed mega-franchise. With Burnout creators Criterion Games on the job, it's very likely that the end product will be quite extraordinary.

The new Most Wanted retains the original's open-world aesthetic, albeit using Criterion's in-house engine. That it looks quite spiffy when compared to the 2005 original is a given, but especially worth noting are lovely touches such as water spray on your screen and excellent lighting that really take the experience to another level. Unfortunately, it's also counter-balanced by a lack of weather and slightly more generic city than I would have liked. That said, there are gates and billboards to crash through, speed cameras to zip by, and a handful of interesting locations to play around in. Races are also well laid out and exciting thanks to variations in terrain as well as elevation.

It's also apparent from the moment you boot into the game that Criterion has sneakily crafted a variation of Burnout: Paradise in anything but name. You're dropped into the completely unlocked city of Fairhaven from the get go, free to drive around and craft your own experience. Where you'll see the real innovation though, is in the progression path. Rather than lock cars away from players, every car in the game (aside from the titular 10 most wanted rides) is parked around the city for you to find. All you need to do is drive around, pull up and jab a button when you find one and it's yours. The old story mode is jettisoned as a consequence, which is sure to irk fans of its corny but lovable FMV cut scenes. You also lose any sense of car ownership thanks to all the cars being randomly strewn about the game world.

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Photographs: Criterion Games/Electronic Arts

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Each vehicle comes with its own set of five events that you need to complete to unlock modifications for it. These modifications don't carry over between vehicles so you'll have to start with a stock car each time you find one. This can get a tad annoying, especially when basics such as nitrous are only unlocked after the first race. Also disappointing to fans of the street racing fueled original game will be the complete lack of visual modifications (aside from a color-swap when you drive through gas stations in the game world). You're restricted to a handful of under-the-hood tweaks that better vehicle performance and make your duels against the most wanted cars much easier.

You unlock the titular most wanted races as you rack up speed points in regular events and pursuits, but you're left to take them on whenever you care to. The lack of narrative really hurts the game here, as there's no more an impetus to take down a really douchey street racer and steal his ride. The fancy cars are sort of a reward, but only just. What's good though, are the surreal video introductions that play before both ordinary and most wanted events. The soundtrack, as is the norm with games from developers based in the British Isles, is a blast. There's absolutely nothing like racing to the The Prodigy or Muse.

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Photographs: Criterion Games/Electronic Arts

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Things start to improve once you start winning events and unlocking mods. The cars suddenly become more fun to drive and the racing becomes more exciting. Crashing into traffic is par for the course, although there isn't any crumpling of the body thanks to the cars being licensed real-world models.

The lack of a takedown cam when you shunt other racers about is a huge letdown, especially since no one knows their crashes like Criterion. It also wouldn't be a most wanted game without the fuzz. Fairhaven's finest are a hyperactive lot (sometimes overly so), engaging in arbitrary chases and sticking to you like glue.

It really is hard to shake them off, and getting caught in a 20-minute chase is a right pain when all you want to do is move onto the next event.

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Photographs: Criterion Games/Electronic Arts
Tags: BANG , Fairhaven

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Also odd is the lack of any real consequence to getting busted aside from losing the speed points you've racked up during the pursuit. It almost makes sense to slow down and give yourself up just to save time. That isn't to say chases aren't fun, however. The cops throw increasingly stronger vehicles at you the longer the chase goes on for.

Roadblocks and spike-strips show up (praise the reinflating tyre upgrade), but fans of 2010's Hot Pursuit will miss the offensive and defensive weaponry on both sides of the law. There's a characteristic lack of menu navigation in the game as well thanks to the new Easy Drive menu system that's now a part of your on-screen HUD.

You can change cars, switch upgrades, pick and restart events, and perform a number of tasks through this menu. While it's a challenge to use it while you're speeding, you do tend to warm to it thanks to its ease of use.

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Photographs: Criterion Games/Electronic Arts
Tags: BANG , HUD

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Multiplayer is an evolution of what Criterion attempted with Burnout: Paradise. You can crew up with your friends to take on random challenges in the game world or compete in more traditional races. The lack of cops in the online mode is a bummer, as is the reliance of playlists that might not always have the events you like. Thankfully, Criterion's Autolog system is tightly woven into the single-player mode, which translates to billboards, speed cameras and race times being constantly compared to people in your friends' list.

Change is constant. Crtierion's reimagining of Most Wanted is never less than polished. Unfortunately, some of the gameplay contrivances don't really seem well thought out, and fans of the original will feel let down thanks to a distinct lack of Razor Callahan. But even considering the bumps on the road, the drive itself is pure Criterion – which is to say it's a whole lot of fun and then some.

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Photographs: Criterion Games/Electronic Arts

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