Need for Speed: Most Wanted|
I've already been blown away by Need for Speed: Most Wanted on the Xbox 360 and even more so on the graphically superior PC, so I was very interested to see how this racing game would make the transition to the small screen of the PS Vita. Portable race fans can celebrate, as Most Wanted on the Vita is the exact same experience you get on the console and PC; merely shrinking the screen without sacrificing that first bit of content.
While all the content has carried over (plus a few Vita-specific events), more subtle cutbacks had to be made in order to keep the game fast and fluid, but these won’t be noticeable unless you have played the game on console or PC. For instance, the number of computer racers in a game has been cut back by a few cars, and while the cops are still just as aggressive in trying to take you out, you won’t see as many of them joining the pursuit. Also, civilian traffic has also been reduced making races a bit easier to win and cops a bit easier to evade. That's not to say the game is "easy"...far from it. It's just not as chaotic and potentially challenging as its bigger cousin.
While there are obvious concessions to be made when it comes to texture detail and the sheer amount of special effects you’ll see on the screen, the important stuff like car models and the environments are just as stunning and complex as ever. The only truly annoying downside I could find was that menus and Easy Drive text bars were impossibly small and hard to read. If you are going to take a game that is designed for the big screen and port it directly to a handheld you really have to take font size into consideration.
The analog stick and triggers mirror the control scheme of the console and work flawlessly, but I was hoping for at least some sort of accelerometer option for motion-steering, even if it did prove gimmicky and I never used it again. In fact, none of the Vita specific features are put to use like the camera, microphone, or even the touch controls. Sure, you can drag the map around with your finger on the front screen and the rear touch pad changes map filters and EA Trax tunes, but it all feels tacked on just to say they supported “something”.
Most Wanted takes a few daring risks with the way we approach and play open-world racers, and they pull it off with great success. This is easily one of the coolest ranking and progression systems I’ve seen in a next-gen racer. After a brief tutorial you are left to explore the city of Fairhaven at your leisure - go where you want and do what you want. The entire city is open from the start as are all 40+ vehicles…you just have to find them first. These hot rides are scattered all over the massive city map, and to drive one you only need pull up alongside and hit Y to swap cars.
Each car comes with its own set of race events that range in difficulty as well as prizes. The Most Wanted economy doesn’t rely on cash or credits. The only thing you worry about are Speed Points that you earn for winning races, smashing billboards, tripping speed trap cameras, or smashing into cops. Speed Points are the XP of Most Wanted and as they increase, so does your respect level, and when you reach certain tiers you will be allowed to race the top ten most wanted drivers in the city. Defeat them and take their car and their rank until you are the #1 most wanted in Fairhaven.
When you get a new car it will be fairly stripped down, but by winning races you can earn all sorts of upgrades like new tires, nitro boost, specialty gearboxes, weight reductions, and structural boosts to limit damage. Different parts are awarded for placing in first and second and if you come in first you get all the loot, which can then be selectively applied to your car. If you are racing on dirt you might want off-road tires, or if you are racing on the highway you’ll want the long gearbox. It’s a surprisingly easy system to grasp while adding tremendous strategy to many of the events.
All of the car mods as well as race selection and GPS navigation is handled through the nifty Easy Drive interface that drops down from the corner with a few presses of the D-pad to choose and lock in your options. You can also access numerous functions with your voice using the Kinect, but like most games that support this, I usually have my home theater cranked to the point where Kinect can’t hear or recognize what I’m saying. It's still cool and works well enough in quieter situations.
As you might have guessed from the name, cops play a major part of the game, not only in trying to bust up your actual race events but even patrolling the streets while you are sightseeing between those events. Violate a traffic law in sight of a cop and your wanted level moves up a notch and the chase is on. Escaping the cops is merely a matter of getting out of their circle of detection and staying out of sight until your wanted level cools down. This gets harder to do if you created some havoc along the way and got your wanted level up to 4 or 5 and got SWAT involved. Cops get crazy-aggressive and will ram you off the road, setup strategic roadblocks, or lay down spike strips. Your more advanced upgrades will allow you to smash through these road blocks and even re-inflate your punctured tires.
Your car has a certain amount of damage it can take before you wreck or are taken down by the police. This can be restored by driving through garages, which also fills your nitro and repaints your car. If done while no one is watching you can lower your wanted level a notch, otherwise you’ll hear the police chatter calling out your new car color. And if you don't keep moving the cops will bust you and you'll restart back at the police impound lot.
With great freedom comes great responsibility and it’s up to you to seek out the cars and the races. There is no hidden back-end menu of events. You’ll want to drive over every square inch of highway, city street, and back alley, and find all the cars and at least hop in them for a moment to mark their location on the map. Exasperation can even turn into frustration when you think you found your perfect ride in that Lamborghini then turn the corner to find a sexy convertible Audi waiting with fresh new events.
There is so much to do with 200+ events, not to mention speed trap cameras that will log your top speed and compare with your friends on Autolog. You also get to smash billboards that will get replaced with your Autolog photo as well as crashing special security gates for bonus SP. There is great emphasis on social competition thanks to the brilliant Autolog system and all of these mini-challenges. And by using EA Origin as a universal backend, all SP earned in any version of the game contributes to your singular Autolog profile score.
Co-op and competitive multiplayer are seamlessly integrated into the single-player world, allowing you to carve you own private version of the city and compete with up to four racers in special lists of races and challenges, and when you are racing in a series of events you even get to race to the starting line of the next event. Bottom-line; there is a lot of social competition available, even when your friends aren’t online.
The presentation for Most Wanted is striking with a visual style that embodies The Matrix and Inception. Each race event is prefaced with an intro movie (that you can skip on future replays) that shows off the city in some mind-tripping fashion and always ends with you starting the race at full speed. Graphically, the city is massive and densely populated with traffic and loaded with architectural diversity and detail. Like most open-world games, the more you drive around the more you start to learn the lay of the land and discover hidden routes, ramps, tunnels, etc. Much can be smashed and there is cosmetic car damage and slow-motion wrecks that come close to the carnage of Burnout fame.
The music selection is equally as visionary with techno and club beats as well as the now-obligatory dubstep. There are no radio stations as such, but you can adjust the track list in the options or even swap in your own custom playlist. Sound effects range from diverse engine noises to earthshattering wrecks that explode in a shower of glowing particle effects all seal the deal, but you will definitely want some good headphones or earbuds to enjoy this game as it was intended.
My one and only complaint that carries over from my previous reviews from other formats is that Most Wanted only offers two driving views; a chase camera and a bumper camera. There is no cockpit camera and no hood camera. This is totally unacceptable in this day and age. I can't remember the last racing game that at least didn't have a hood camera. I find it completely impossible to drive from behind the car – the steering is too twitchy and imprecise, and while the bumper cam has been okay in past racing games, the camera in Most Wanted is so low to the ground it is nearly unplayable. With a camera that is mere inches off the pavement, the sense of speed is so exaggerated, and your view is so limited that cars and objects literally appear out of nowhere. The smaller screen on the Vita doesn't help matters.
I didn't see any rubber banding and racer AI is just as aggressive as the cops, so any wreck in the later part of a race will almost guarantee you won’t come in first. Restarting a race is not as quick as I would have liked, with the initial reload and then you have to skip the race intro, so expect 20-30 seconds to restart a race. This may be shorter if you have the digital download version of the game.
Other than the limited race views that needlessly impair the playability of the game, Need for Speed: Most Wanted is still a great racing game and easily one of the best racers for the Vita, especially when you factor in the competitive social aspets of the game. For those of you with amazing eyesight and those who have somehow managed to learn to drive from behind the car, you won't have any problems at all. There is so much to do in this game, and the fact that you can do it alone, online with friends, or just socially compete using all those Autolog challenges makes this a great game to take with you when you have to take your gaming on the road.