Written By Shaun McCracken

Ever since 2002, EA has been releasing a new Need For Speed game each year, always around the fall. Well, here's the ninth installment (if you exclude the V-Rally games EA published in 1997 and 1999) of the Need For Speed franchise, and it's a mix of styles seen in previous Need For Speed titles. In fact, this is pretty much the type of game I was waiting for EA to release, where you have a combination of tuners and exotics racing each other. The game design is somewhat similar to last year's Need For Speed Underground 2, where you have an open free-roaming environment, but this time it actually gets some use. Some things have changed for the better, while others not so much. You might be aware that this game appears not only on current generation platforms, but the first next generation console, the Xbox 360, as well. While everything looks nice on the next-gen side of things, I can't say the same for the current-gen systems. But more on that later.

Let's get to the game itself, which is identical on both current and next generation systems. This installment of NFS involves you losing your prized BMW to some jerk ass after losing a race (because your car was "mysteriously" sabatouged), and the only way to get your car back is to beat 15 people on the police's "blacklist" of the most wanted street racers within Rockport City. Those 15 people just happen to be people who have a connection to Razor, the one responsible for taking your car. To race against one of the 15 people on the list, you'll have to compete in a variety of races as well as meet certain challenges that you have to perform during pursuits. The gameplay, while still racing, differs pretty greatly compared to the last two Need For Speed titles, which seemed to have more emphasis on how good your car looked. The change is nice, and it's actually more engaging, fun and addictive than NFSU 2.

So what kind of races will you have to participate in this time around? Well, you have the typical circuit, knockout, sprint and drag race events that we've seen in past games, but with the exception of drag, there is actually the potential for police presence during the race. New to the series is speed trap and tollbooth races. Speedtrap is basically how it sounds: whoever ends up with the highest speed total wins. But there's a bit of a catch: you have to keep up in front if you want to score high, because if you fall behind, you won't get the full amount of speed in your total at the end of the race. Tollbooth races are pretty damn fun, although it's basically a checkpoint race from tollbooth to tollbooth, without CPU opponents. In between races, you'll have to perform certain goals involving pursuits, which is really half the game. During pursuits, you'll have to accumulate "bounty" points, meet a certain pursuit cost total, evade the police within a certain amount of time, maintain a chase for a given time, run a given number of roadblocks and/or spike strips, hit a given number of police cars and so on. Pursuits in this game are really fun, especially when you have to keep pissing off the police to keep the chase going, and it's amazing on how long some of the chases can last (I had a good one that lasted nearly 30 minutes). At times pursuits have a drawback, especially when your heat meter is high and you're attracting a tougher AI (as well as helicopters), and there's the problem of trying to keep one going for a longer period, or trying to cut one short. But on the whole, police presence in this game is a hell of a lot more fun than what was done with L.A. Rush, where they were nothing more than an annoying nuisance.

The car selection is a mix of domestic and import tuners, luxury cars and exotics. I was hoping that EA would do something like this with the Need For Speed franchise, and luckily they decided to do just that, although not exactally on the scale I imagined. There seems to be less exotics than tuners an luxry cars in this game, and they don't have the same exotics as they had in NFS : Hot Pursuit 2, notably the Ferraris. You can choose from cars from Mitsubishi, Subaru, Volkswagen, Lexus, Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, Fiat, Aston Martin, Audi, Lamborghini, Porsche, Lotus, Mazda, Mercedes Benz and Toyota. In all, there's about 20+ cars, but like I said, there are some omissions from the game that could have bumped up the size of the list; like Nissan, Honda, Acura, and again, Ferrari. Those of you expecting the same high number of modifications you can perform to the body of the car as the Underground games will be disappointed, because EA scaled back a bit in that area. You can no longer change the bumper or side skirts independently, but rather choose from five different body kits. You can choose from a variety of spoilers, rims, hoods and paint jobs, but the decals have been scaled back to a more simpler approach (like Juiced). While there are not nearly as many options as past NFS titles, there's still enough to make your car "yours".

Here we get to the weakest part of the game: the visuals. By far, this is probably the least impressive Need For Speed game in terms of visuals for this generation of consoles, and things are not made any better by the superior visual quality of the Xbox 360 version. It's obvious that EA really wanted to put the most effort into the Xbox 360 build to have an impressive game for it's launch, and they succeeded on that level. But I would have thought that the three current gen consoles would have at least seen a "trickle-down" effect for the visuals, where the Xbox version could get much of the details it could pull off on that system, followed by the Gamecube and then the PS2. Oh no. EA sloppily down ported the Xbox 360 version to the PlayStation 2, and much of the textures are a muddy, low resolution mess. It's not that the game looks awful, but it's not impressive. Some areas of the game do look better than others, however. If you drive through the back country, where there's nothing but trees and grass, it looks fine. But much of the building textures within the city look bad up close, and if you compare the current gen versions of Most Wanted to the Xbox 360 build, there's a huge difference. The Xbox 360 version actually has detailed building textures and reflections from the windows. Another thing that this version is lacking over the Xbox 360 version is the atmosphere effects. The 360 version actually has fog and rain, while the current-gen versions have absolutely none of those effects. There's also a major difference in lighting as well, and I think you get the idea on what I would say about that, too. The only thing identical between the current-gen and next-gen versions of the game is the city itself, and the object placement. Other than that, there is a dramatic difference between the two versions of the game. Honestly, though, the game shouldn't have turned out like this. If EA would have spent more time fixing the textures when they down ported the game, I wouldn't complain so much. But the fact is that Most Wanted looks worse than the last two Underground games that came out, and even games such as Midnight Club 3 and Juiced look sharper than this. So is there anything good to say about the visuals? Well, the framerate stays smooth most of the time (which is more than we can say for the PS2 version), but it does slow down with many cops on the screen. The world is large, and like I said, there are areas that look better than others. The cars could benefit from some more polygons, but they're not bad as they are (they actually look similar to the first NFS Underground). I know that you're probably getting the impression that I'm saying this game is awful-looking. Actually, that's not my point, but more of that fact that the current generation version is very disappointing because its obvious that not nearly as much care went into this game as the Xbox 360 version did.

The audio does fare better, at least where half of the music and all of the effects are concerned. Once again, with the exception of a few music tracks, the soundtrack for Most Wanted isn't great. I'm not sure how many games it will take for EA to get it right, but they keep missing with each game they release since SSX 3. How is it that Rockstar can provide such a diverse and accessible soundtrack for Midnight Club 3, and EA still struggles with Most Wanted? Maybe they need someone new to pick out the music. But at least the original music that plays during pursuits is enjoyable and actually adds tension during the game. If you shut off the EA Trax (which would be a good idea after a couple of hours), you can actually appreciate the sound effect design more. The sound effects in Most Wanted are the best yet in a NFS game, and there's a lot of little nuances if you shut off the music. It's not quite on the level of Burnout Revenge, but it's still really good. The engines also have variety with each car. No two sound alike, and at least they didn't cut corners there. Despite the missing logo on the back of the Gamecube version of the game, this game does run in Dolby Pro Logic II, but lacks the THX certification this time around.

Final Thought

If you can get past the disappointing visuals (it took me time to overlook the average quality graphics), the gameplay is very solid in this installment of NFS. The races are actually pretty fun this time around, and the pursuits can be a blast. While I would have liked to have seen more exotics and body modifications, as well as better texture quality, NFS: Most Wanted is a very addictive and fun racer that boasts a great deal of replay value (at least 30 hours of gameplay).


Published By :

Developed By:

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ESRB Rating:
TEEN [13+]



Visual problems aside (and it can be tough to get over at first), but this is a great entry in the long running franchise. There's a lot of gameplay here, and the pursuits are a blast.



Need For Speed : Hot Pursuit 2

L.A. Rush

The Xbox 360 Version Of Most Wanted

2003-2006 SPM

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