by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on X360
Criterion’s Steve Cuss is a giant. There, I said it. Those who have met him might be confused by that statement and for good reason. He’d be average sized if he were a woman really, and no, he does not possess the booming voice you would expect from a giant either. If anything, he has a bit of a squeaky voice but he commanded it like a general at this year’s Gamescom. Well into the second day of shouting instructions over the loudly roaring engines of Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Steve’s voice sounded as fresh as if he had just started. Respect.
A twenty minute hands-on multiplayer session with the game made clear that there was nothing squeaky about Most Wanted... except for the tires screeching on the tarmac of course. Steve guided us through a quick succession of challenges that ranged from a point-to-point race to a drifting contest and long-distance jumps.
Driving, jumping and drifting
My prowess (or lack thereof) with a controller got in the way of winning anything, but I started feeling comfortable with the controls and car handling quicker than I had expected. The Porsche 911 Carrera that I was gifted for the demonstration clung to the tarmac as I raced through the streets of an industrial town and soared through the skies when I needed to make distance for the jumps. And while initially I bumped into walls so often you would think I did it on purpose, I soon learned how to drift through bends without crashing… much.
My newfound confidence wasn’t received with the same enthusiasm by my peers, however. Winning a multiplayer challenge in Most Wanted is as much about driving and drifting as it is about fending off others and taking them out. The concept of keeping others away from the prize really comes to life during the drifting and jumping matches where disrupting a long drift or potentially successful jump can serve to thwart those seeking to remove you from the top spot. Being in the bottom half, all I ended up doing was annoying those at the top, but it was fun for me if not for them.
Obstacles are fun
Being an arcade game right down to the bone, realism is not high on the priority list for Criterion. Damage to your car does not go far beyond showing bumps and scratches but there is quite a bit of graphical detail in those. Driving off a cliff is actually encouraged, will not get your car trashed and it will net you tons of points if you are doing it during the right challenge.
The minimap may show you the most obvious route but it does not always show the fastest. Going off the beaten track, Most Wanted’s open world offers almost infinite possibilities to get from point A to point B. Obstacles such as gates and bridges are really there to be abused and meant to be driven through or jumped over to create shortcuts where none seemed to exist before. During one challenge, a wrong turn proved to be the right one as – after a bumpy ride through it – a sewage pipe spit me out right in front of another competitor. His efforts to avoid a collision caused him to drive into a wall (those are not meant to drive through) resulting in even more distance between us. Adrenaline pumping, I was gaining on the two still ahead of me until someone else taking a shortcut put his front into my side, stealing any chance of a victory away from me.
Fast, action packed
As the demo ended, I had to agree with what others have said: Most Wanted is not your typical Need for Speed game, it is your typical Criterion game. Given the fun I had and Criterion’s excellent track record creating racing games, this is hardly a bad thing. Everything in Most Wanted is done in the service of fast, action packed racing. What more could we possibly wish for?