Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ten Best of 2012: Need for Speed Most Wanted

Between Hot Pursuit and The Run, the Need for Speed series always nails down the feeling of high top-speeds while weaving in and out of obstacles. Need for Speed Most Wanted did this taking the police chase model executed in Hot Pursuit and applying it to the open city of Fairhaven, while measuring players up against their friends for nearly every single thing they do.

While it’s less of a remake or reboot of the 2005 version of Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Criterion’s version takes the feeling of an open-world driving game and realizes it fully with little to no loading screens as you drive from one corner of Fairhaven to the other. Rather than unlocking cars through races, it comes down to a game of hide and seek as each car is parked somewhere in the city, waiting to be discovered.

The singleplayer mode feels a bit empty as you drive around looking for cars and races, but at any corner could be a cop waiting to give chase. Pursuits aren’t as easy to escape with high-tech gadgets as they were in Hot Pursuit. Police will chase you for miles if you don’t use the city to your advantage, barreling down narrow alleys and finding hidden U-turns. But for every drift and speed-cam you pass, the new version of Autolog records it and challenges friends to beat your times and speeds.

Where Most Wanted opens up and feels alive is in its multiplayer. When I first played it back at E3 2012, the multiplayer instantly reached out and grabbed me. It felt like a mix between a racing game and deathmatch mode of a first-person shooter. It encouraged players to screw each other over for the top score, either by eliminating them from a race, or pure through brute force of earning the top score for each event.

Unfortunately, the police chases, the most exciting element of the singleplayer, do not make a single appearance in multiplayer. That, however, may be because of the hidden subtext scattered through Most Wanted. This might be a crazy conspiracy theory on my part, but Fairhaven might be an alternate reality than what we actually see. Before each race, you’ll see striking intros usually with bright, contrasting colors and cinematic camera angles. When specifically police events begin, these intros turn into gravity-defying acts of bending time and space. Whether it’s forming a wheel of police cars, slowing down time, levitating vehicles, or a tornado of flashing lights, they all have a supernatural feel to them. Maybe it’s an extension of the Matrix, where the cops are agents and the player has abilities similar to Neo. Either way, I can only assume Criterion had a lot of fun making those sequences and they are great to see.

Most Wanted doesn’t make the same mistake of being short like The Run. With over 120 cars to drive, finding and racing each one could last over 30 hours. Your score from the singleplayer transitions into the multiplayer where events can range from getting the biggest air from a jump halfway across the city, to balancing your car on a steel beam the longest. The singleplayer may feel isolated, but the multiplayer race starts, I found myself taunting other players to see if they could catch me.

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