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Need For Speed Most Wanted review: The opposite side of Criterion’s open world racing

Need for Speed Most Wanted ReviewNeed For Speed Most Wanted starts with all the humor and self-awareness of a Levi’s ad in the back of Maxim. It’s got that same wet-eyed sense of self-importance and put-on sexiness as those horrible “Go Forth” spots. A Muse song simmers in the background as dramatic, hazy shots of the city of Fairhaven and its automobile citizens parade by and a breathy female voice welcomes you to the game. It’s not the invitation back into Criterion’s open world driving that people have been waiting for these four years since Burnout Paradise. If that game was full of youthful guileless and boundless enthusiasm, Need For Speed: Most Wanted comes off like a petulant teen that’s too cool for school. Bright-eyed fun? That’s for babies.

The comparison to Paradise is unavoidable. The sprawling highways and city streets, the industrial parks and massive jumps, all those delightfully crushable billboards and security gates to the side of the road: This is Burnout Paradise 2 in everything but name. As first impressions go, though, the one made by Most Wanted is misleading. It does indeed take itself too seriously, but it is a beautiful and deeply fun machine all the same — the opposite side of Paradise’s coin.

Take It Easy

Before talking about the game’s vehicles, it’s important to talk about Most Wanted’s most distinguishing feature: EasyDrive. Criterion has sloughed off the baby fat that made Burnout Paradise’s beautiful bay and surrounding hills difficult to navigate. No more getting lost on your way back to the start of an event you want to retry and no more hunting for the car you need for a specific race right when you need it.

most wantedMapped to the directional pad on your controller, EasyDrive is a pull up menu that addresses your every need. Pressing right brings up a menu for selecting which car you want, car customization options, your current car’s events (each car has five individual races), access to multiplayer, and the Most Wanted list (more on that in a moment.) Picking which race you want highlights the fastest route to the start on the map below, but after you’re tried it once, you can start the event automatically from Easydrive. It’s hard to overstate how smooth this system makes the game, efficient without sacrificing the do-what-you-will feel of the open world.

Even the game’s odd geographic rules for the cars don’t muddle it too much. Picking a new car sends you off to where you discovered its Jack Point on the map, potentially on the other side of the world from your current location (Most Wanted’s crime theme is pretty loose, having you boost cars in the wild, but since there are no pedestrians in Fairhaven it feels a little silly). I only found that I needed to change cars so I’d have a better machine for a Most Wanted race I’d already lost, so it’s not a huge annoyance.

Incredible Machine

There are ten Most Wanted races in the game, and those are the heart of the campaign. Most cars are discovered tucked away in Fairhaven’s dark corners, and most of your time is spent searching for them then playing their five events. These break down into circuit races on a looped course, sprints on a single path, sprints where you have to keep a high average speed, and escape the cops events. Provided you win, you’re awarded with upgrades (nitrous boosts, lighter chassis, off road wheels, etc.) and Speed Points. Once you have enough Speed Points on your profile, you get to take on the top ten Most Wanted cars; rich man’s machines from Lexus, Mercedes, Lamborghini, and others. You race these machines in a car of your choice — it really needs to be fully upgraded for you to prevail — while avoiding increasingly aggressive cop cars and blockades. Beat it, then take it down to add the car to your roster.

It’s marvelously addictive and more varied than it seems at first look. Sampling exotic cars like a Porsche 911 and an Audi R8 Spyder before taking on the Most Wanted makes it feel like all the races for each car are the same, but hop into stocky beasts like the Lancia Delta HF Integrale and you’ll find the sprint races transformed into jump-filled rallies across construction sites and train tracks. There’s always something new to do, even if it’s just cruising around, hunting for new cars.

Need for Speed Most Wanted Xbox 360 ReviewSpeaking of those cars, they are indeed beautiful, a bountiful collection of real world vehicles that range from the most mundane Ford pickup to the most wild Italian concept. Fairhaven is also beguiling. The spray of mist kicked up on wet roads and the flush of lights on its streets, perpetually shadowed even in daylight, make this the most visually impressive Need For Speed I’ve played. There’s a pervasive sterility in the game, though. All of the cars and city blocks feel too perfect. When you zip around a park, knocking down street lamps and trashcans in a reign of destruction only to find everything perfectly replaced on the next lap, it’s disconcerting. Fairhaven doesn’t feels less like an actual place, as Paradise City did, and more like grownups’ Matchbox playset.

Sexy sterility is Need For Speed Most Wanted’s bag in every regard really. When you’re introduced to a race and one of the Most Wanted cars, it’s through an arty short with weird camera angles and effects like a car being sucked out of what looks like white paint, glimmering as it emerges like a Playboy centerfold for engineers. When you got a new car in Burnout Paradise, it plopped down in your garage like a dirty heap of parts.

Autolog, Multiplayer, and Vita

But wait! There’s more to Most Wanted than the console and PC game’s core! Special mention needs to be made of the PS Vita version of the game. Criterion itself made the portable version of Most Wanted, but “portable version” is something of a misnomer in this case. Most Wanted Vita is the exact same game — same city, same cars, same races — as the one on Xbox 360, PC, and PlayStation 3, plus a smattering of exclusive races to boot. Everything said above holds true, but the Vita version of the game does lay bear how great the racing truly is.

The primary difference between it and the console versions is the look of Fairhaven. The cars are almost just as glossy, but the environment has been stripped of the textures, lighting, and particle effects (sparks, etc.) that make the console versions such spectacles. It doesn’t look bad. Far from it. The Vita city simply looks much simpler. The game doesn’t suffer for it. All the things that make Most Wanted good are preserved and it’s one more precious essential for Sony’s handheld.

NFS: most wanted For those of you thinking about getting the Vita version and the PS3 version for seamless home and portable gaming, bad news: Cross play isn’t supported. There is, however, cross play-like functionality between the Vita version and all console versions thanks to EA Origin and the game’s Autolog. Since your Autolog and its attendant Speed Points are tied to your EA Origin account, that same account carries over to your PS Vita game. You won’t have all the cars you’ve unlocked on PS3 or Xbox 360 accessible on your Vita (and vice versa), but you will have the requisite points to automatically compete in Most Wanted races.

You will also have complete access to your ranking and roster of cars in multiplayer. Multiplayer in Most Wanted includes a variety of unique events as well as the race types seen in the campaign. Competing and winning earns points, which raises your level, which in turn unlocks new cars to use when playing with friends. This being Autolog-specific info, multiplayer is ready to go on both platforms provided you use the same accounts.


Need For Speed Most Wanted is Burnout Paradise’s equal. The driving is pristine and primal, the drifts succulent and the crashes shocking, just as it always is in Criterion’s drivers. The crisp efficiency of EasyDrive makes Most Wanted a more direct game than its predecessor, a boon for achievement-oriented players, but there’s no sense of messy freedom and goofiness here. A winking DJ Atomika doesn’t compliment the greasy pop soundtrack. You can’t press in the analog sticks to suddenly cause a massive pile up on the highway, crashing for points. It’s a matter of taste. Do you prefer the fantasy of the beach or the cool logic of the city grid? If you lean toward the latter, Most Wanted is your game.

Score: 8.5 out of 10

 (This game was reviewed using PlayStation 3 and PS Vita copies provided by Electronic Arts)

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Anthony John Agnello
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Anthony John Agnello is a writer living in New York. He works as the Community Manager of and his writing has…
E3 2012: Need For Speed: Most Wanted almost resurrects Burnout Paradise
e3 2012 need for speed most wanted almost resurrects burnout paradise mostwanted 022

In the world of pure racing games, there are two distinct approaches that have proven successful over the years: Ultra-realism (a la Gran Turismo) and arcade-style gameplay focused on speed, massive jumps and a vague flirtation with physics only when it doesn't interfere with a player's enjoyment. Over the past decade developer Criterion Games has been the king of the latter style, and their most beloved effort in that vein was the open-world racer Burnout Paradise. That game combined a giant play area with literally hundreds of different diversions to enjoy, and the result was an intensely addictive gameplay experience for anyone who didn't mind that their car wasn't officially licensed and didn't exactly adhere to Isaac Newton's ideas of how things work.
Since Burnout Paradise was released in 2008, Criterion was brought into the EA family of software developers, which is crucial for two key reasons: first, it gave the firm the money to build even bigger, better games, and secondly, it meant that Criterion would have access to EA's Need for Speed series of racing games, which, at the time, were languishing. The developer's first effort in this new capacity was Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, a reimagining of a title from 1998 that was an instant success, earning a spot as the most critically beloved of the NFS titles.
That's a pretty massive pedigree to live up to, but after playing Need for Speed: Most Wanted a few moments ago, I have immense faith in the developer's latest title.
I mentioned Burnout Paradise above specifically because NFS: Most Wanted feels a lot like that game. It contains a wide-open world, offers tons of things to do, looks gorgeous, and most crucially, has entertaining, accessible, slightly unrealistic, arcade-style controls. That said, it also trumps Paradise both aesthetically and by virtue of its surprisingly large selection of actual, licensed vehicles. Criterion wouldn't tell me exactly how many different models the game contains, but in my short time with the game I saw a dozen different cars roaming the streets.
Granted, the garage won't compete with Gran Turismo's 400+ vehicles, but it isn't supposed to; the cars represented here have been selected because they're gorgeous, expensive, unattainable for the common person, and really, really fun to drive at high speed. Likewise, they're also very fun to smash into things. Criterion made its name with the Burnout series and while NFS: Most Wanted seems far more focused on actually racing than crashing in spectacular ways, when you do smash up your ride (or someone else's) the game enters an exceedingly cool slow-motion cinematic mode that captures the destruction with almost pornographic affection. Then, a few moments later, the camera snaps back into the action and you're racing again. It's a momentary diversion, but this game is at least partly based on spectacle and it has that in spades.
More crucially however, the game offers what seems like months of gameplay. Imagine all the various objectives in Burnout Paradise, but with social interactivity akin to that seen in Trials Evolution. Everything you do in NFS: Most Wanted, online or offline, is tracked to a ridiculous degree and these stats are posted in-game for your friends to see. In lieu of a hackneyed storyline, the ultimate goal of Most Wanted is to become the "most wanted" among your social group by besting all of their various scores. Sure, it's a simple gimmick that's been driving gamers since the days of Asteroids, but as the aforementioned Trials Evolution proves, when coupled with short, spectacular objectives, a race for ever-higher scores can be intensely addictive.
Unfortunately I was only offered a limited amount of time with the game, so I didn't get to explore it to the degree I would like, but given that I'm currently typing this while wishing that I was still smashing through billboards and jumping over freeways in a Lamborghini Aventador should indicate something about the impression it made. The game hits Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on October 30, 2012, and fans of both racing, and elegantly crafted, entertaining arcade-style video games should keep their interest piqued.

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Burnout, Need for Speed studio Criterion working on crossover title for Playstation 3 and Vita

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is delivering the goods on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita this fall. Great. There’s nothing quite like helping a vicious rodent with hook-cane steal things on the go and at home. That’ll be a delight. It looks like other publishers besides Sony will finally support the Vita with games for both the console and the handheld though. New job listings with Criterion, the studio behind Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit and the Burnout series, point to the company’s next game hitting both PlayStation 3 and Vita.
The Sixth Axis reported on Wednesday that the studio is hiring a software engineer for a project that will involve “implementing interoperation between the PlayStation 3 and Vita.” The engineer will also work on “optimising and tuning the game resource system for the PS Vita” and “interfacing the game engine with several parts of the Vita OS.”
That Criterion is working on the handheld at all is reason for excitement because, frankly, Burnout Paradise is spectacular. Any game that lets you freely roam a city in the Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters causing mass destruction at intersections is a glorious thing indeed. The posting is also inspiring because it means that Electronic Arts is going to offer more serious support of the handheld. Encouraging indeed.

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Need For Speed: The Run Review
need for speed the run review

When I first heard that EA and Criterion had called on Michael Bay to film a trailer for Need for Speed: The Run, it felt like little more than a gimmick: Get a big name Hollywood director and set him loose on a trailer, and thus make headlines outside of the normal gaming circles. But Need for Speed: The Run and Bay go together well. They are cut from the same mold, and both produce entertainment that offers glimpses of something straight from the adolescent minds of teenage boys, then throws it at you so fast that it's hard to do anything but react.
In some ways, for consumers who play video games as an alternative to movies Need for Speed: The Run is the perfect game. It takes an adrenaline-filled, action-packed idea of an illegal cross country race, and offers it up in a way that could never realistically be filmed. Barring a Congressional bailout, even Boom-Boom Bay wouldn’t be able to film a movie where 200 racers in some of the best (and most expensive) cars in the world ripped through locations like Las Vegas, New York, and Chicago.
This is The Fast and The Furious without the apologetic undercover cop angle. It is a balls-to-the wall race, with no stops for adventures, sick kids that need money for an operation, or other character pieces to humanize the action-driven narrative. Unfortunately it strays a little too far in that direction by introducing interesting characters and possibilities, but then it does nothing with them.
Many of the characters are chock full of personality in the way the dress, they move, and the cars they drive, but most of them are introduced via an on-screen description that is typically just a few sentences. Then once you beat them, they disappear. It is a missed opportunity, but it doesn’t take away from what these games are all about—the driving.
This is the 18th Need for Speed title, and the various iterations have given EA and EA Black Box plenty of time to fine tune the controls. The game moves extremely well, and — based on the car you select — it handles well, allowing some white-knuckle passes and insane drifts. There are a few issues that plague the game, but none of them are technical. The biggest issue with Need for Speed: The Run can be summed up simply with this one sentence: This game is an a**hole.
Meet that guy…
The story is a casualty of The Run’s desire to constantly assault your senses with fast-paced and thrilling races, but the overall setting, and the reason for you to be doing what you are doing, could (and one day should) lay the basis for the ultimate driving movie. You are a guy named Jack Rourke, a man marked by the mob for his problems with gambling. They want him dead, but his friend Samantha “Sam” Harper has a way out. For 10 percent of the $25 million purse, Sam enters Jack in an illegal, underground, 3,000 mile cross country race from San Francisco to New York. If he wins, the mob will leave him be, but to do so he will need to beat out 200 of the best drivers in the fastest cars, all of whom have no problems slamming him off a cliff to his death.
As you tear across 10 stages as Jack, each containing multiple race events, and each exposing you to a different type of environment, your opponents will not take kindly to you overtaking them. In fact, they will repeatedly try to murder you. And if that weren’t enough, the cops aren’t all that pleased to see 200 people burn past them, either.
Along with the races where you try to climb the leader board, there are also a handful of instances where you are part of quick time events that take place outside of the car. These moments might have actually meant something if you cared about the character -- or at least knew something about him -- but you don’t and you won’t.

If this were done properly, it would make for one of the most epic movies ever made. As it is, it should easily have enough going for it to tell a compelling story with the most meager of plot points, but it hardly even tries. Jack is in trouble for reasons that are never really explained, the opponents are generic and not fleshed out in the least, and the races lack any real emotion because of it. For another racing game, that wouldn’t be a big deal, but a huge emphasis is placed on the cross-country race. With even the simplest effort, the story could have made this game something special, but instead it is an afterthought, which places the entire burden of the enjoyment factor on the racing. This would be fine, but again: The game is a prick.
Elasticity in reverse
The Run is a difficult game. At times, it is extremely difficult. It can be controller-breaking, jaw-grindingly tough. You could call it challenging, and a challenging game is fine, but that would make it seem fairer than it is.
In many racing games, a common complaint is that the opponent AI is irrelevant due to a forced elasticity, which is wedged in to make races more competitive. You can utterly smoke the competition, laying down your dominance upon them with a near perfect run, only to glance in the rear view and discover that the nearest car has almost magically defied the laws of physics in order to be right behind you. It's meant to make races more exciting, but it does so at the cost of removing the rewards of driving well. In The Run, the elasticity is there, but in reverse. 
Basically, the game cheats. It knows you have it beat, and it refuses to be humiliated. If it could delete your saver game data, it probably would out of spite. 
The majority of the races in The Run have you starting from behind, with your goal to pass a certain number of cars in the allotted section of track. Despite the car you have, you will almost always be just a bit slower than your opponents, who seem to be able to use you as a slingshot when you pass them to rip past you at insane (and unnatural) speeds, forcing you to bide your time and wait for the right moment to break out. In itself, that is fine. But then the game hits the cheat codes.
In one particular race, on my fourth or fifth attempt, I drove perfectly. I am not a diehard racing fan, but the game's car physics make sense, and if you have played any solid racer you should be familiar with the way the game moves. After barely losing repeatedly, I raced a near flawless run without touching another car. I used drifting, took my corners with only the most minor loss of speed, and almost hurt myself while vigorously patting myself on the back. I had long since passed the last car and was cruising to an easy win.
With the final stretch in front of me, I used my full nitro reserves as I headed for the line, then cast a look back to see what was happening. Even while I was hitting close to 170mph, the entire pack of opponents was not just gaining on me, they were travelling at what I would guess was close to 200mph. Then, at the last second, I was hit from behind by one car, as another beat me by a nose. At that point I considered loading up the car, throwing on a diaper and driving down to have a talk with EA Black Box about the AI.
But after I screamed and cursed the heavens, threatening the universe in general and no doubt terrifying my neighbors with my stream of profanity, I took a moment and tried again.
The Run is a frustrating game. Insanely so at times, and it also blatantly cheats, as enemies will suddenly defy the laws of physics and shatter land speed records in order to pass you, and it never stops. Even if you wreck early on, you still have a chance to win (albeit a slim one), yet if you race flawlessly you can still lose at the last second by a virtual opponent not hampered by the same game rules. There are also numerous trigger events, so in certain races, no matter how well you do, a trigger event will occur and negate everything that came before it, allowing opponents back in the race.  
Bad AI, good controls
Making the challenge of the game bearable is the gameplay, which is tight and intuitive. The actual act of racing is fun, thanks to slick controls that are quick and responsive. There are multiple cars to try out, and each has some differences, but many of the rides all feel very similar. Compared to other racers, there aren't many vehicles to try, though, and the lack of customization doesn’t help that.

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