Released on November 29, 2005, Need for Speed Most Wanted is, as of this writeup, the latest in Electronic Arts's interminable Need for Speed franchise of arcade style racing games. It's available on a variety of platforms including PC (to which this writeup refers), Playstation 2, Xbox, Xbox 360, Nintendo Gamecube, Playstation Portable, and Nintendo DS. There are also two different forms in which the game comes - the standard one, and the "Black Edition" which is a limited-run special edition which inserts a few extra things over and above the standard printing, including a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro and an additional challenge-type event over and above the rest of the game entitled the "Black Edition Challenge."

So what's it all about then?

I am led to believe it follows on from the previous title in the franchise, Need for Speed Underground II, and in it, the player, a Hardcore Street Racer™ (that's you, by the way) decides to ride into the city of Rockport, which does not have outlying towns called DC, New Rock, Skechers, and Doc Martens, for the record, despite being named after a brand of shoe, although it does seem rather reminiscent of somewhere in New England. Having ridden in to this municipality in a shiny BMW M3 GTR Strassenversion with a custom silver-and-blue paint job, the player then find out two things about the city of Rockport:

  • The local police do not like Hardcore Street Racers™.
  • Your fellow Hardcore Street Racers™ don't like you.

But the latter group, especially one from among them who's name is Clarence "Razor" Callaghan, likes your BMW. He likes it so much, in fact, that he tricks you into racing him for pink slips having surreptitiously sabotaged it so that, come race day, you'll break down. So he tows that off and leaves you a pedestrian. Then just to make things better, an obnoxious policeman called Sgt. Cross appears, arrests you, and locks you up. Sooner or later, you're released, and a woman in a red Mazda RX-8 appears, named Mia, picks you up and takes you to a safe house and helps you get a new car. From there on in you and Mia have to work your way up the "Blacklist" to topple Razor from his newfound position at the top of the tree and reclaim your BMW (though part of me can't help wondering that if you're such a Hardcore Street Racer™, why you didn't just call on Razor and pry the key to your lovely M3 out his cold, dead hands.) All while avoiding the police, who, being incredible killjoys, want to bust you for trifling offences like driving at 170mph in the wrong lane of a motorway, jerking under articulated lorries and sending all the logs on the back of them flying across the road, and completely causing more mayhem than a black metaller in a stave church.

What this means in game terms is that, broadly, it's extremely similar to Underground II. You have a large, open cityscape with various districts that you can't enter until a certain stage in the game, and various different types of races, most of which are inherited from past Need for Speed titles:

  • Circuit. Drive like a lunatic for a number of laps round a road course delimited by floating yellow glass barriers, scattering peasants in your wake, against three opponents, and hopefully cross the finish line first to gain some money.
  • Sprint. Drive like a lunatic from point A to point B in the game world along a course delimited by floating yellow glass barriers, scattering peasants in your wake, against three opponents, and hopefully cross the finish line first to gain some money.
  • Drag. See above, but it's in a rather straight line and it's sort of on rails.
  • Tollbooth Time Trial. I like this actually. You start off at a motorway tollbooth and drive, in an unhinged fashion, towards another tollbooth, and then to another, within a time limit. Excess time you have at each booth is added on, so you can "save up" time for later on. It reminds me rather of a round of Outrun, or any other old-school arcade racer.
  • Speedtrap. This is like a sprint, but along the course are some speed cameras which you have to pass through as quickly as possible. The winner is the person who, through all the speed cameras, has the highest average speed.
  • Blacklist events. You versus each of the Blacklist Rivals at certain stages of the game, in between two and five separate race events from the list above. Win all of them and you take that person's blacklist spot. An interesting feature is that often the blacklist rival will pick races that fit with the strong points of their car, so the girl with the big-block Ford Mustang insists on doing a drag race followed by a sprint with several long straights on it, and the bloke with the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII picks a long, twisty, hilly, rally-type course where he can dominate with his all wheel drive.

Then there's the customary other items, like car lots (where you can get yourself a shiny new whip), parts shops (which sell just about everything, from aftermarket alloy wheels to a full-on supercharger and nitrous oxide rig) and similar. However, what makes Most Wanted different from the previous street racing themed NFS titles is that it involves police pursuits. These are initiated whenever a police officer catches sight of you and the longer they go on, the more stuff the cops throw at you. So initially it may just be one or two Crown Vics on your tail, but later they start to use roadblocks, Stinger strips, "Rhino" attacks (which is where a pair of SUVs that resemble a cross between a Jeep Cherokee and an Acura MDX charge at you at full pelt and hopefully hit you head on and stop you dead), specially tuned Pontiac GTO pursuit cars, a helicopter, and ultra-fast nitrous-equipped Corvette C6 ZO6 pursuit vehicles. During a pursuit you gain something called "bounty" which is a measure of just how wanted you are as a Hardcore Street Racer™ and which is often a requirement before you can advance up the blacklist. Furthermore, there may be special challenges during a pursuit called "milestones" which bump up your bounty if you complete them. These are things like escaping in under a given time, smashing through a certain number of roadblocks, bumping or immobilising a set number of police cars, etc.

The police pursuits are really what the game is all about, if anything; and, to be fair, they are great fun, simply for the sheer amount of havoc one can inflict on the good citizens of Rockport. Indeed, there are an awful lot of smashable objects in the city, and one of the pursuit milestones, called "Cost to State," requires you to cause damage to property totalling a certain value or more in one pursuit.

Physics and all that

Well, the cars all handle appropriate to their drivetrains, be that FWD, RWD, or AWD. However, there's STILL NO REAL DAMAGE!!!! which irritates me no end. Oh, the police cars get a bit crunched up and are considered immobilised if they end up on their roofs or otherwise roll over or go flying. But the actual, named cars in the game are hurt by no more than cracked windows and scratched paintwork. This means you can be tremendously cavalier with one's driving, though it must be said that if you do end up wrapped round a tree you aren't very likely to win that race despite the complete absence of damage, but this is more due to the rubber band AI than anything else.

Thankfully, this time round the people at EA have actually made it so that the cars are all different even with all the performance bits put into them; in Underground II, for example, every car had similar horsepower and torque ratings if you fully loaded them with all the parts. Not so here. The cars in the game also run quite a gamut, from common-or-garden hot hatches like a VW Golf GTI through growly muscle saloons like the Cadillac CTS-V and Ford Mustang, swift Japanese tuners (Mazda RX-8, Toyota Supra, Subaru Impreza WRX), flashy sports cars (Porsche 911 Turbo, Aston Martin DB9, Lotus Elise) to supercars (Ford GT, Lamborghini Murciélago).


  • Limited customisability and tuning. I'll admit freely to being a bit of a geek; one of the reasons I liked Underground II despite its flaws and hideous mangulations of urban argot was that you could put your car on a rolling road and tweak with just about every part of it imaginable, from the ECU map to individual suspension components to the brake bias, and then rag it round a test track to see how it was. Not so here. Here, your tuning capability is limited to a handful of sliders. And on top of all that, there is a seriously limited number of body kits in the game. Usually only three or four per car. And all of them look awful with only a few exceptions (and those are based on race aerodynamic packages or sport appearance packs from the manufacturers.) The vinyls are also exactly the same as those in Underground II with a few exceptions. Now that's just lazy.
  • Rubber band AI. The opponents in races are never permitted to get too far behind or in front of you, and later on in the game, they can get as far enough in front of you as possible, but you can't get similarly far ahead of them. They will literally snap at your heels at 220mph from a cold start if they crash out and you blow by them. This is not only unrealistic, it's making the game artificially difficult.
  • Really awful voice acting. They got someone called Josie Maran to play the obligatory cover girl type role and probably scoured the rest of the EA office to play the other speaking parts. Let's put it like this. Razor, when you first meet him, tells you in a really flat, bored tone of voice how "{he's} Razor, and he's number fifteen on the blacklist." He could have said how he was going to tear out your fingernails one by one and kick sand in your girlfriend and steal your face but with that voice, nobody would have been worried. And the person who plays the corrupt cop Sgt. Cross actually looked like he was staring at an idiot board when delivering some of his lines.
  • Bugs Galore! I made the mistake of getting the game on the day it came out, because I had played the demo and declared it great fun. But the full version bombed to the desktop whenever I tried to enter any form of free roaming play. And when I rang up the tech support line, the goon on the other end told me that it was because my laptop "didn't meet the system requirements" in that it had the wrong graphics chipset (it was an Intel unit of some sort which wasn't "officially supported.") Even though I told him that the graphics were fine and I had an overabundance of processor horsepower, he still refused to help me on those grounds. It wasn't until January of 2006 that I found that this was not an uncommon bug due to an error in coding whereby it doesn't like entering Explore Mode in the viewpoint I was using (in-car style). No, they haven't yet released a patch for it yet.
  • Boring track design. It was not until the final third of the game were there any tracks that made me sit up and take notice. No hairpin bends, no tricky bits, until the final third. Tracks early on especially had wide, sweeping corners and long straights and things.

In Conclusion...

It's certainly not a must have; but it is extreme fun, despite its flaws. Though in my opinion it would have been immeasurably better had they implemented a full Underground II style of tuning - or better - as well as the police pursuits and similar. Another bargain bin treasure then.

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