Need for Speed Most Wanted preview

By Ozzie Mejia, Jun 07, 2012 12:30pm PDT

QUICKTAKE: Becoming notorious is the name of the game in Criterion's second entry to the Need for Speed series. A new open world gives players a chance to drive around, wreak havoc, and get into bone-crushing car wrecks. The only ones standing between you and hitting the top of the Most Wanted list are your friends.

THE DEMO: Criterion's Craig Sullivan showed off some of the game's mechanics and police-evasion methods. Afterwards, I participated in a multiplayer race through Most Wanted's large metropolis.

DETAILS: Criterion's reps emphasized that Need for Speed Most Wanted's story would be minimal and inconsequential. The focus here is purely on driving around and causing mayhem across the city. The object of the game is to hit the top of the Most Wanted list and stay there. This is accomplished by earning Speed Points (SP), the game's equivalent of experience points.

Sullivan spent a large part of the demo getting into hot water with the local police. Police would respond to Sullivan's hooliganism with increasing hostility to the point that police set up barricades to try and stop his progress. While police could be persistent, they could be ditched in a number of ways. The first, obviously, is to simply outrun them with pure speed. Sullivan also showed off several "jack spots," in which the player could switch to a neighboring parked car. This not only served to get rid of the cops, but also resulted in a sweet new ride, since Sullivan's yellow Porsche was damaged severely in the chase. Cooldown spots do just as their name implies and offers players a sanctuary until the heat's off. For those that prefer to lose the police while on the run, the world is filled with paint shops that change vehicle colors and reduce notoriety.

In the midst of the police pursuit, Sullivan got into a number of crashes. This served to show off the Burnout-style hits that make up a bulk Most Wanted's appeal. One instance called for Sullivan to jump off a ramp on top of a bridge. Sullivan's jump wound up being short and he hit the front of the bridge, leading to a slow-motion rotating camera angle of the damage caused by colliding into the structure at over 130 mph. The car then ricocheted and bopped a police car in front of it, leading to a second spine-tingling camera angle. The hits in Most Wanted are intense and will appeal to fans of Criterion's Burnout series.

After Sullivan's demo concluded, it was time to hit multiplayer. Multiplayer offers a playlist of different racing types. The eight of us in the public demo room were put into a checkpoint race. Taking place atop Most Wanted's open world, the race would begin as soon as everyone hit an arbitrary starting point. Unfortunately, one person got lost in the open world and literally held up everyone else in the room. I can see that being a major problem in online games, as there was no way to time-out the straggler.

The checkpoint race itself was a frantic sprint through various parts of the city. Players were free to reach each checkpoint as they pleased, but most players in this game followed one another. This led to several collisions, with players sideswiping each other and plowing into each others rear bumpers at full speed. Crashes were immensely entertaining to the point that players who reached the finish line opted to turn their car around and purposely slam into oncoming traffic.

Need for Speed Most Wanted will feature a number of multiplayer modes, all of which take place in the game's city. Given how many times I was reminded of Burnout, fans of Criterion's work will likely not be disappointed. Look for Most Wanted to arrive on October 23 on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.

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