Need for Speed has been around an extremely long time, in fact a lot of people pretty much grew up with the series as it is one of the best racing franchises around today. Over the past years EA has really caught onto the underground racing scene and ignored the roots of the series. Considering it sold about a zillion copies, they made the right move but they are moving back towards the original style of the series but bringing across the popular features of Underground 2 to the new game. NFS Most Wanted is going to appease the fans of Underground, while bringing the fans of Hot Pursuit back to the series and, from what we've played, it looks like this could be the best yet.
Most Wanted really revolves around one of the main areas of Underground's success and that's the ranking system. Basically the aim of the game will be to become the most wanted street racer in the city by participating in street races, high speed pursuits and generally showing the rest of the AI racers who's boss. This will be done across a number of sections, but thus far we've only been able to see three, but they're three which show the best features of the game extremely well.
The first mode is barrier runner. This is the most arcade section of the game and basically, you have to get from one highway barrier to the other in shortened periods of time. You also have to tackle the traffic on the highway and the police at various points of the tracks. Once you successfully complete the barrier run mode, you have to survive an onslaught of police for a minute and this isn't as easy as it may sound as the police are very aggressive in this game. The second mode is a standard street race complete with traffic and a number of competitors to race. Again, after completing this you have to survive an onslaught of police. One of the most interesting (stupid?) bits about this game, is that when the timer hits zero even if you're surrounded by police, the game says you have escaped. So it's not like the old games where the old radar detector let you know if you're away or not, which seems a tad silly.
The final mode we played is heavily influenced by Underground and it's basically the drag race section of that game souped up with some crazy obstacles to avoid such as trucks. Also in this mode as you would expect manual gear shifting is compulsory and the better the shift, the more power your car gets and the more chance you have of winning. This is the mode that shows the speed of the cars and it also gives you a chance to check out the fantastic scenery as you really only have to concentrate on shifting and not turning at high speed.
The cars in the game seem to be from the exotic garage as opposed to the street racing scene. The build we played features the new BMW M6, Mazda RX8 and another BMW. Of course, given EA's pedigree, we expect to have some of the most expensive cars in the world on offer from the world's best manufacturers. It's interesting that EA unveiled the new BMW in Most Wanted at pretty much the same time BMW unveiled it as a real car.
The engine is of course from the arcade side of things in both controls and crashes. If you crash you pretty much bounce off and can continue to drive. The cars are also very twitchy making them easy to control and at times with the sense of speed, it can feel like you're almost playing Burnout.
The setting of the game seems like a city which features both industrial and commercial areas. Tight winding roads await you and because of the traffic you will have a number of near misses while playing. The tracks break into a series of winding roads once you've accomplished the required task and have to out run the cops. This particular section resembles the city structure of NFS Underground 2 and basically you have to outsmart the cops once again. Visually the game is quite impressive with a long draw distance, detailed cars and not a frame rate stutter in sight. EA really has gone all out for Most Wanted which is likely to be the NFS swan song for the current generation of consoles.
Need for Speed Most Wanted is the best of both worlds. High speed cop chases return to combine with parts customization and cars from Underground 2 to make NFS Most Wanted probably the best in the series yet. We'll just have to wait and see for sure when it ships in a few weeks.