Since EA bought Criterion Games and the Burnout Franchise on which the developer had built its reputation, fans of that series have been expecting both to be ruined by it.
Surprisingly for the EA of that time, which had a reputation for releasing safe, cynical, annual sports game updates, for years, the Burnout Franchise
continued to flourish under its aegis.
Later, as EA seemed determined to buff its tarnished reputation by releasing new and exciting games and developing new intellectual properties, Burnout
reached its peak with the greatest arcade-cum-open world driving game ever made: Burnout Paradise
At the same time, the newly re-invigorated EA was trying to re-invigorate the tired, and at times even dire, Need for Speed Franchise
So, EA hit on the ostensibly genius idea of combining two of its crown jewels: Criterion and the Need for Speed Franchise
. On paper this is a marriage made in motorsport gaming heaven (not a hellish deathmarch as had been the case
), but the reality has been somewhat different.
Criterion's first Need for Speed
game, a reworking of Hot Pursuit
, was possibly the best Need for Speed Franchise game ever
; although, perplexingly, some fans of the series - apparently habituated to piss poor driving games - disagreed. It was not, however, Criterion's best game ever, failing to reach the standards of pure unencumbered playability established by Burnout Paradise
Now, with the second time at the development helm, Criterion has once again opted to re-imagine a past NfS Franchise
'classic', this time it's Most Wanted
. The result is once again exemplary for a Need for Speed Franchise
game, therefore it still leaves a lot to be desired.
The problems... well, the game is somewhat confusing to play; the control method is clunky and counter-intuitive; much of the in game (not car) control system is controlled using the D-pad. Options cannot be selected using the traditional and comfortable 'A/X' button, instead the D-Pad control is used. As much as I played, I couldn't get used to this.
Additionally, I found it very annoying that during a game, a menu screen would pop up, stopping the action and the flow, at certain points - apparently to inform us of the existence of another race. This may have seemed like a good idea... but it's just not.
Then, during some games at certain points (and as far as I could tell, completely unprovoked by me) the camera would do a full 360 degree pan around my car. While this looked very nice, and is the kind of cinematic flourish I would have loved to see in a replay, during a race it simply left me driving blind, often resulting in a spectacular and frustrating crash.
The problem with Most Wanted
is that it just does not flow. The clunky control method aside, it just seems to be confusing and perplexing. Whereas Paradise City
walked us effortlessly from clueless noob to seasoned racer, without us ever realising we were ascending a learning curve, in Most Wanted
, we are endlessly unsure what is happening, or why it is happening.
During races, the action is so fast and furious that you barely have time to look at the map on the HUD. As a result, you'll find that the cars you are racing or chasing have nipped off down a sneaky left hand turn, and you are immediately out of contention.
As a result, you'll have to race time and time again to learn each course to stand a chance of winning. This is just grindingly repetitious. This is a shame, because when you find a new car, you'll be asked to compete in the same race, on the same course, against a selection of different cars.
Ironically, despite the negative comparisons with Paradise City
, one of Most Wanted's
biggest weaknesses is that large sections of Fairhaven City, are clearly just cut and pasted from Paradise City.
This, if you've played a lot of the latter, lulls you into a false sense of familiarity. False because rather than just set the whole thing in Paradise City, and call it Need for Speed Paradise
, Criterion has cherry picked sections of Paradise, and linked them together with new sections - or possibly sections taken from previous Need for Speed
games; no one in the office can decide.
Part of the reason that I personally remain unsure is that all the meshes, Paradise City
or otherwise, appear to have been comprehensively re-skinned to take advantage of the advances in shader technology in recent years.
The result is even areas that are familiar to me are confusing, because they look subtly different. But different is not the problem, they are also more noisy - because of the increased level of detail available to the renderer, every surface has some sort of pattern or texture on it. On paper, this is more "realistic" but in practice, on screen it is a nightmare. As you are approaching things at 140 mph, it becomes very difficult to distinguish what is drivable entrance, and what is a wall or obstacle.