I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting too much going into Most Wanted, Criterion Games’ follow up to their 2010 NFS: Hot Pursuit. On paper, it was already striking a lot of sour notes: the game takes place in an open world/fictional city with a full day/night cycle. There’s nothing fun about being lost in a repetitive, boring city. There’s something soul-crushing about having to do that while squinting at the TV trying to figure out where the road is.
Happily I can report that Criterion solved both of those issues. While you’re able to drive to your next race to start it, you’re also able to pick it off a simple menu (made slightly annoying in that you can’t pause the game to use the menu - you have to find somewhere to park first). Also, if the pitch-black night turns you off, you can switch to daytime with a tap of the touchscreen (made slightly annoying by the fact that the menu is only accessible on the touchscreen - so if you’re playing off-TV you have to find a place to park, switch displays, switch to daytime, then switch displays again).
What I didn’t expect out of the game was that I would absolutely hate it for a myriad of other reasons. For starters, the game is nigh-on uncontrollable. There’s a good solid half-second delay on steering input (not present in gas or brake) and the cars are unpredictable at best. Every turn starts with extreme understeer which then quickly shifts to extreme oversteer and/or drifting as soon as you release the gas. Braking before a turn and taking it properly almost always results in an understeer crash, as Criterion have decided they’d rather keep the cartoonish fake drifting that was the signature of their amazing Burnout games. It feels wrong, though, when you’re driving a licensed car with AWD that you know shouldn’t handle like a RWD car.
Thanks to the reverse camera angle I was able to see how the front wheels reacted as I played and I can confirm that (A) the game screws with your steering sometimes (you may have the joystick at full lock, but once you hit the gas the wheels go straight anyway) and (B) Criterion are in no way modeling the actual physics involved (since your tires slide around on the ground at speeds as low as 5 MPH).
The difficulty in the game is more frustrating than it should be. Things aren’t hard because they’re especially challenging. They’re hard because any mistake will cost you the race, and most mistakes are unavoidable. You’ll either get crushed by oncoming traffic around a blind corner or over a hillcrest, or you’ll get thrown into the wall by the competition driving twice your speed. Rubber-banding in this game is stacked against you at a pretty extreme degree. I think I’d rather lose to a blue shell than to be rammed into a building by a 300 MPH Porsche 911. Once you’re behind, don’t count on that rubber-banding to help you out, though. It’s gone by then.
Criterion have opted for an after-the-storm design motif for the entire game which only feels weird once you realize that it never rains but everything’s always wet. What becomes increasingly annoying is the cloud of mist that obscures your view (since you always start in last place, natch) as you try to navigate a track with absolutely no visual cues. And I mean that, too - except in extreme circumstances, the race route isn’t marked at all. You either have to stare at the map (which means you’re not looking at the road) or you have to race the race several dozen times over to try to memorize things. And, like most open-world racers, memorizing a track actually works against you - pitting your memory against a new configuration of the same roads each race.
I was, at the very least, hoping to get a little car porn out of it - but even there NFS:MW falls short. It’s rare you get any sort of good view of your car (the only time the game shows it off is when you crash) and the unpredictable controls mean that you’ll almost certainly be covered in dents and scrapes within 1 block of the repair shop. You only get 2 camera views in this game, bumper-cam and chase, but they’re at such an extreme FOV that I’ll refer to them as “completely unplayable” and “I hope you have a giant TV.”
Positive things I can say for the game: the pre-race cinematics are really cool and somewhat avant-garde. Thankfully they’re skippable since they wear out their welcome quickly after the 3rd or 4th time you’re forced to restart a race after missing one turn. Also, the game does manage to look very good. The cars aren’t up to snuff for a GT or Forza game, but they’re not that far off either. The road reflections are stunning to look at as well, even though they ultimately hinder gameplay.
It was also neat that I could use Miiverse to collect the images for this article. It was a lot easier than hooking the WiiU up to a capture device, and would even give me access to the contents of the touchscreen.
In summary - don’t buy this game. If you have Gamefly or Redbox then maybe it’s worth a rental to satisfy your curiosity. As for me, I’ll be trying out GameStop’s 7-day used game refund policy.