E3 2012: Need for Speed: Most Wanted Hands-On

A departure for the series, Burnout Paradise turned out to be one of the most addictive, community-based racing games ever. EA was happy enough with the results to assign Criterion their most popular racing series, Need for Speed, where they revolutionized it with the deep “Autolog” system that encouraged players to constantly replay races. After mixed results with non-Criterion “The Run”, the team is back and looking to restore its prestige once again.

The biggest feature of Most Wanted is its open-world setting, where events occur throughout the city in place of confined tracks. Instead of having exact routes to traverse, you’ll be able to choose which roads you take, making races feel much more realistic. Events can be started anytime, anywhere, allowing racers to meet up in specified locations. To make things fair, those who jump the gun on events will have their engine stall out. Once an event is completed, drivers can turn around and attempt to take out other racers, adding a nice dynamic to those who leave their competitors in the dust. In addition to how one places, results are also based on takedowns and driving skill.

Besides racing, drivers can explore the city to their heart’s content. Much like Burnout Paradise, Most Wanted features hidden billboards throughout the city with various competitive studio logos. Smash through one and change it into the Criterion logo. Players who attempted to smash through all the billboards in Paradise know how additive this can be.

The world will feature more useful amenities as well. If you drive through a paint shop, your car will be painted a random new color, while “Jack Spots” feature exotic cars stashed throughout the world you can swap into. Both areas are helpful for avoiding police, or simply upgrading your style.

Though taking design cues from Burnout, the gameplay is much more in line with Need for Speed. The controls are more realistic, but not quite simulation. You can’t simply hold down a trigger to go 200 MPH nor have to carefully corner and control your movements. It’s a balanced, realistic approach that’s a blast to play.

Criterion should start developing every racing game. While not as as unique as other titles shown off at E3, Most Wanted was certainly one of the most fun. Like the best racing games, it’s a world that a group of friends can get lost in for hours. With its open-world and returning Autolog, Most Wanted should prove to be a huge hit when released in October.