Published on November 16th, 2012 | by Travis Fahs1
Need for Speed Most Wanted Review
While many publishers are keen to point out the ways in which the mobile audience is different from the traditional handheld gamer, EA has been a champion of the hardcore, offering surprisingly robust adaptations of their big-name franchises. Their two Australian studios, Firemint (Real Racing series) and IronMonkey (Dead Space, Mass Effect: Infiltrator, and earlier Need for Speed titles) have been especially impressive, and their recent merger into FireMonkey Studios is particularly exciting for racing fans. For fans of handheld driving, Need for Speed: Most Wanted’s pedigree is as good as it gets.
On consoles, Most Wanted is a bit of a relaunch, blending some of Burnout’s sensibilities into an open-world racing package like its namesake. On the mobile side, this is more of a refinement of earlier games, without the open-world elements. It’s similar to IronMonkey’s earlier NFS games, and also evocative of the series’ origins on the 3DO. While this may be a bit of a disappointment to fans of the console series, they’ve put a lot of muscle behind this effort.
Without a title screen, menu, or tutorial in sight, Most Wanted tosses you right into the action, and it’s a stunner. Not only does it boast some really impressive detail and nice technical achievements like real spherical reflections on cars and glistening, rain-slick roadways, but the art direction is top notch. Subtle colored fog and gritty, detailed texture work make this more than just a showcase an artful, but realistic style, as well as a great engine. The low camera angle lends an incredible sensation of speed, which is aided by the smooth frame rate we’ve come to expect from IronMonkey and Firemint, even on mid-range devices. All of this is wrapped up with some slick menus and great sound design, backed by a playlist of licensed electronica, pop, and rock from artists like The Chemical Brothers and Skrillex.
IronMonkey has also earned a reputation for thoughtful control schemes that use the touchscreen well, and this is no exception. By default, there are no on-screen buttons to fumble with. Tapping anywhere on the left side of the screen applies the break, and the right activates a drift for rounding sharp corners. Sliding a thumb upward activates a short nitro burst, which can be refilled by driving, jumping or, most notably, knocking down police cars and opponents. The steering and handling feel phenomenal, and while the sliding feels different than in other racers, it’s easily mastered. An alternate control scheme offers a touch-based analog steering option, but the accelerometer works so perfectly that most players won’t bother.
All this polish is squandered on some truly bland track design. While the levels are beautiful to look at, they consist almost entirely of long, wide stretches of gently winding highways. There are no right turns around busy city street corners or shortcuts through back alleys, just the endless expanses of major roads, dotted with a few inexplicable side ramps that invariably lead to a jump through a billboard for a slight nitro bump. Most of the challenge actually comes from efficient takedowns of police to recharge your nitro, rather than deft negotiation of the road’s curves, and the long, linear stages seem reminiscent of the first three titles in the NFS franchise. Although the stages offer a variety of event types, ranging from old-school arcade checkpoints to one-on-one races, these modes don’t generally have unique strategies and are ultimately just different ways of measuring how fast you’ve gone.
If I’m hard on Most Wanted’s lack of ambition and simplistic levels, it’s only because I know what this team is capable of. As a straightforward old-school arcade racer, it’s in the top of its class, with a huge campaign packed with content, perfect controls, and gorgeous, cutting-edge graphics. A lack of variety is all that stands between this racer and true greatness.
Is it Hardcore?
Summary: Although it’s undeniably a beautiful game with fantastic controls, the decision to stick with linear, old-school design is disappointing, and the repetition holds it back from true greatness.