I can’t get enough of this silly thing. And boy is Need for Speed: Most Wanted a silly thing. But as I play, I notice things that Criterion and Electronic Arts didn’t have to do. Cool things. Things that ultimately make a difference for me. Need for Speed: Most Wanted didn’t have to be this good.
But, after the jump, it is
10) Did your friends get here first?
As you drive around the city, you’ll see billboards for EA related brands. Ick. But when you smash through them by doing some sort of dramatic jump, you post your gamertag icon with your jump distance. You never again have to look at that EA brand! However, sometimes your friends got there first with a greater distance. But you won’t know this until you smash the EA branding off the billboard. So is that jump up for grabs, or did one of your friends already take it with some souped-up supercar tuned with long gears and given a long running start? In which case do you go about your business or do you take it upon yourself to claim the billboard all over again? As if knocking product placement out of an open world wasn’t incentive enough!
9) How desperate are your friends to beat you?
As with the billboards, a lot of the draw while playing Most Wanted is beating your friends. You are constantly presented with your friends’ race times, jump distances, and speed trap speeds. Furthermore, your overall progression in the game is measured as your standing on your friends list. You can compare detailed stats with anyone on that list. Any good racing game plays on this spirit of friendly competition. Most recently, Forza Horizon also compared you constantly to your friends. But it did so without telling you what difficulty they were playing, which assists they were using, or even what car they drove. So what if that guy was going 15mph faster than me on this stretch of road? He’s probably not even using manual transmission.
Most Wanted, which really can’t be bothered with nuances like manual transmission anyway, shows the car and configuration your friend used in a race. Furthermore, it also shows how many times he attempted any given challenge. Oh, look, someone has tried this race ten times, and he’s still in second place behind my time. Guess whose name he’s cursing as he comes in a half second shy of my time after ten tries! Conversely, it’s pretty obvious when I’m beating my head against someone’s jump distance. Please don’t look at how many times I’ve gone back and forth over that bridge to grab the speed trap and billboards.
8) No fretting about the color of your car!
Einstein had seven identical suits so he didn’t waste any mental power figuring out what to wear on a given day. I learned that from Jeff Goldblum in The Fly. When I think how much mental power — and time — I waste decorating my characters and cars in The Sims, Assassin’s Creed 3, Guild Wars 2, and any given Forza, I’m sort of grateful that there’s no visual customization in Most Wanted. Instead, when I drive through a gas station to repair damage (cosmetic only) and add a little boost juice to my tank, the color of my car randomly changes. It’s not often I find myself driving a puke green Lancia Delta. All the varied colors, none of the agonizing decisions!
7) So much multiplayer
Okay, so maybe you do want your car to be red all the time. There’s always multiplayer, which uses a whole other set of unlocks, challenges, and upgrades, every bit as generous as the single-player and every bit as open-world. In fact, more generous, because you can pick your car’s color. Multiplayer has all sorts of rewards for sticking with a given car and the color of your choice is among those rewards. It’s staggering how much varied gameplay and detail is in the multiplayer mode.
6) A man, a plan, a car
It is always clear exactly what I have to do to unlock any treat. If I want a car to go faster, or hit harder, or accelerate more quickly, or handle better, I know precisely what I need to do, whether it’s winning a particular race or meeting a specific challenge. Everything is spelled out. This means upgrading a car is sometimes a sort of puzzle. Okay, so I need to win this race to get the reinforced chassis to smash through the cops in the ambush challenge to get the long gears to give me the top speed to meet the speed challenge. The 41 cars in Most Wanted aren’t just cars. They’re long term prospects. They’re to-do lists. They’re miniature campaigns.
5) Hold the cheese
So I unlocked the track tires for my Viper by doing a race. Now I go a little faster and handle a little better. Furthermore, all car upgrades can be upgraded to a pro level by doing some sort of challenge. Track tires upgrade to pro track tires after I drift 5000 yards. So I trundled my Viper into an open area, selected the track tires from the convenient d-pad menu of car upgrades, and started doing a donut. Here’s me spinning pointlessly in a Viper, watching the counter of yards drifted tick upwards. It’s like the opening scene of Sophia Coppola’s Somewhere, but with a Viper instead of a Ferrari and with a much smaller circuit. Since the driving physics are, uh, loosely interpreted, it’s easy to just hold the stick to one side for an infinite donut. I consider getting a rubber band and going to make a sandwich while the drift distance gradually works its way to 5000. But then my tires blow out! I had no idea you could blow out a tire from anything except spike strips. Most Wanted seems to want me to actually play. Fair enough.
4) Farming the five-oh
Ironically, the police add a little anarchy to Most Wanted. Some of the races include cops getting in your way and messing you up. Yeah, it can be annoying. Deal. In the open world, when you break the law in front of a cop, he chases you. But since there’s no money in Most Wanted — this is a game without an economy — what’s the penalty for getting busted? There isn’t one! As cops chase you, as you rack up damage, as you elude them, you build up a point value to add to your pool of experience points. But you don’t bank that point value until you’ve eluded the cops. If they bust you, you’re simply reset to your car’s starting point, no harm, no foul, no points for escaping from the police. The police in Most Wanted are an opportunity, not a penalty.
3) Double boost
Many racing games have a boost. Turbo boost, nitrous, speed juice, Mario fever, whatever you want to call it. Most Wanted has two distinct kinds of nitrous, and you choose which one you want. The burn works as the usual boost. You fill up your reserve and bleed it off as you like for a slight increase in engine power. But the powershot is an all or nothing boost. You can only use it when your reserve is completely full, at which point it gives you a crazy Paul-Walker-in-Fast-and-Furious kick-in-the-pants turbo boost, completely draining your reserves. Or you can just spend it to make sure to ram another car extra hard. This is as close as Most Wanted comes to Midnight Club: Los Angeles’ awesome magical powers. Well, except for the crazy mods you can add to your car in multiplayer. But that would technically belong under #7, so see above.
2) Proper pronouns
EA drives me batty by using plural pronouns to avoid specifying a gender. For instance, if you win a one-on-one race, you need to smash the other driver’s car to add it to your collection. This is where EA would normally flash a message on the screen telling you to “shut them down to win their car!”, even though there’s only a single car. But Most Wanted tells me to “shut him down to win his car!” I’m so proud of you, EA, for accommodating arcade racing fans who are also grammar Nazis.
1) Cutscenes? Cutscenes!
For a while, I ignored the intro movies that play while a race is loading. I at least appreciated that they didn’t consist of some douchebag car culture d00d encouraging me to get out there and win this thing, yo. And once the level is loaded, I can press the back button to skip the rest of the intro movie. But as I did more races, as I started to chase down the “most wanted” cars that unlock as I progressed, I noticed something very strange: these intro movies are wonderful! They’re weird languid trippy art projects that show off the area where I’m racing, or the most wanted car I’m going to chase down. They’re experimental, bold, sometimes even ugly, often mesmerizing, dreamy, with weird filter effects, camera angles, or editing. They’re like crazy perfume commercials cut together by drug addled wanna-be indie filmmakers. Who did these? Why did they do them? Did I just smoke opium? Because this is how you make me not mind load times.
(Read the Need for Speed: Most Wanted review here.)