If there is one name associated with quality arcade racing games it is Criterion. From the explosive joy of the Burnout series to the white knuckle racing of Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, Criterion has released top notch racer after top notch racer. This pedigree of driving titles has culminated with their latest effort, Need For Speed: Most Wanted, a return to one of the most beloved titles in the franchise. I was recently lucky enough to see some of the game’s single player component as well as experience the exciting multiplayer aspect.
Leanne Loombe, a producer from Criterion was on hand to present the single player mode. Taking us through a single player demo, Loombe pointed out what appears to be an amazingly detailed world chock full of activities and races to take part in. The demonstration was only about 10 minutes in length but in that time I spotted no fewer than six cars to access and five races to take part in. If this was indicative of the final product it would seem that completionists and achievement hunters will have plenty to look forward to when the game is released.
Loombe went on to explain that all but 10 of the game’s automobiles are drivable from the word go, they simply need to be found in the open world. The 10 locked cars are the ‘most wanted’ and need to be both raced and taken down to be added to the player’s collection. I am personally excited about getting behind the Aston Martin Vanquish and living out my 007 fantasies. This fleet of cars would mean nothing if there was nowhere to race them, but from evidence I was presented with, there seems to be a large variety of locales, tracks, shortcuts and roads to send these high powered cars careening along.
After the single player demo was concluded, seven of us were led into the next room, appropriately a garage, where the multiplayer stations were set up. Grabbing a controller and settling in I was immediately thrust into the action, driving a high powered Camaro. As the rest of the players joined the game I had a chance to come to grips with the controls. Given Criterion’s genre experience, I expected the game to control well and I wasn’t disappointed. Driving felt natural without ever getting too difficult or ‘arcadey’. It held the perfect balance between realistic and ridiculous. Once I had a handle on the mechanics and everyone had joined in, an onscreen prompt popped up instructing us to head to the meet up point so our multiplayer fun could begin (and fun it was).
We were placed in a six event championship with races beginning once we had each reached the highlighted point. The first race was simply a ‘speed trap’ challenge, with the goal to be the fastest when going past a speed camera. While this sounds simple it was anything but. I had to compete against five people all willing to do anything, including bumping me into a pole, to get the best speed. Nothing brings out the competitive juices like getting shunted into oncoming traffic by the guy sitting next to you. Once we had completed the event we were quickly pointed in the direction of the next test. This time it was something a little more traditional, a simple race, yet once again any chance to take down the competition with a well-timed nudge in their rear bumper was leapt at by everyone in attendance.
The MP demo went on for another four events, each showcasing something a little different. From longest drift competitions to team races, there was plenty of variety on show. I had an absolute blast playing and from the laughter and groans coming from the other stations, it would seem the rest of the gaming folk in attendance did as well. There was just something about the game that had us all wrapped up in this particular brand of racing chaos. A sense of speed crossed with a healthy dose of rivalry and a dash of destruction derby seems to be the perfect recipe for fun with your mates.
Once the six race meet up was completed we were presented with our stats. Crashes, takedowns, burnouts, drifts, environment destruction and of course position finished were presented in an easy to read manner. For each of these categories I was awarded a score which went to my racing total and determined the overall winner. This meant that while I didn’t finish first in any of the events, I came a healthy second overall because my love for taking down other cars and enjoyment of wanton environmental destruction helped me jump a few places in the final standings.
Once I had finished my turn with the game, I took a step back and watched some others play. I think a lot can be said for a title if it can entertain not only the players but the spectators as well and from what I saw Most Wanted fits into that group nicely. Watching the other players race, crash, drift and destroy their way through the courses was almost as entertaining as playing the game myself. A sense of inclusive fun seemed to permeate through the game, a feeling that Criterion really wanted to ensure that everyone was having a grand time.
Then, before I knew it, my time was up. Leaving the venue I found myself counting the days in my head until the game receives a retail release. This demo session has simply left me wanting more. Most Wanted is almost without doubt going to be a high quality game and it wouldn’t surprise me if it features heavily in end-of-year awards. Look out for this one, my dear readers, because (in the immortal words of an infamous midget scientologist) “I feel the need…. the need for speed.”