Wii U: Need for Speed: Most Wanted

28th July 2013 – 3.39 pm

I like a good arcade racing game, and I really want Need for Speed: Most Wanted (MW) to be a good arcade racing game. Previously on Tiger Ears was Burnout Paradise (BP) on the Xbox 360 and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (HP) on the Wii, both with their good points and bad points. I will find it convenient to make comparisons for the most part, but in ways that will illuminate just how freaking cool MW is.

First, my previous and only other Need for Speed game was billed as an open world, but it was pretty limited. Outside of the courses there was little to explore, and certainly not much to discover. MW touted a big, open city, and this time it has it. I've been driving around for a while and although I recognise some landmarks and areas I am pretty sure there are places I've only managed to find once and don't know how to get back to, and there may still be places I've yet to find. There are twists and turns in the city centre, with side roads and the occasional structure to explore, and different routes to take. The motorway goes everywhere, it seems, and there is even a railway to grind your wheels on. A moving train or two to wrap your car around would be excellent, but it's hardly missing. In this respect, MW is akin to BP and is impressive, immersive, and encourages simply driving around.

BP almost was the perfect arcade racing game for me, but its flaws became too glaring and frustrating to ignore. Having to find a scrapyard to change cars was irritating, especially when combined with needing particular cars for particular challenges. You could open a map and look for a scrapyard, but then you'd have to both remember where that yard is to navigate there and remember the intersection where the challenge is an navigate back, as well as remembering what car you needed to bring back. I found that tedious and unnecessary busywork. MW corrects all of that. The 'easydrive' menu system takes all of the legwork out of getting to the action. Easily accessible, hit the d-pad to open the menu, select a challenge for your current car, then either get directions to the starting location or jump straight in the race.

The directions you are given are a GPS-like guide on the on-screen mini-map, directing your car dynamically. Miss a turn? The guide will recalculate your path and either find a new route or ask you to turn around. Once you are at your destination, spin your wheels (following the on-screen directions if you forget how) and you start the race. This system is good, and used during races too. On top of that, events and checkpoints during events are pointed out in the city by huge but unintrusive markers, so you rarely get lost during a race. Head towards that neatly designed marker and you're nearly always okay.

The mini-map directions are so good, in fact, that early in my game time I thought that the only way it could be better was if obvious signs for unobvious direction changes could be overlaid to the city to stop you driving top speed down the wrong route. One certain race later and there they are, large green arrows directing me the right way along a sharp turn instead of having me barrelling off the circuit. This game has everything!

And driving to the event is not a chore, both because driving is actually good fun and because if you've just logged on then you can benefit from a warm-up sprint before attempting a race. But once you're warmed up, select 'start event' from the easydrive menu and you're away. Even better, you can restart the previous event from the menu too, either because you didn't place high enough or racing that short city circuit was just a whole lot of fun.

But what about car choice? This is also sorted in MW. You can drive around the map looking for car hot spots, where sports cars of all types are waiting to be driven. Just tap 'x' and you swap to the other car. And they are all good cars. Plus you start in a good car and, at least in the Wii U version, have access to just about every car in the game from the start. There's no starting in a Ford Fiesta and grinding your way up. I found the Bugatti Veyron in a not-at-all hidden spot and jumped in for a spin. And don't fancy trying to find that Lamborghini Aventador? No problem. Hit the easydrive menu, change your car, look for the manufacturer, then the type, and you are in the car you want. No hunting, no searching, no building up points. It's liberating.

Still, you're not that great at driving through city streets at 160 mph, so you bump in to the occasional wall. Damage is a problem, right? Not really, and certainly not like BP. In BP, your car would accrue damage until it wrecked, and then it would only be put back on the road in a nearly wrecked state, ready for the next fly on the radiator to wreck it again. You had to find a scrapyard to get it fixed, which meant crawling around desperately looking to get the car back to health, not wanting to go fast lest you wreck again and endure another tedious animation. MW doesn't really care about that.

The repair stations in MW are really obvious, and so easily spotted, numerous, and in many convenient locations, including along event paths. But most damage is cosmetic, even after hitting a brick wall at top speed. Sure, your bonnet is flapping and you have no paint left, but just floor the accelerator, you'll be fine. The only damage that I've seen matter is a flat tyre. Well, running over a spike strip the cops have put down will do that. Even so, apart from a hit to the handling and top speed, you can still race at silly speeds. It's a pain, but not the end of the race or your fun. Drive through a repair station for a fresh set of boots, a refreshed car, and a lick of paint, and you're as good as new.

Driving through repair stations (or selecting the repair option in the menu, although this doesn't fix the tyres) doesn't take away control either. BP had an annoying habit of showing different camera shots when something neat was happening (fixed in multi-player mode, but horrible when solo), which made doing certain stunts impossible because it took control away from the player, as well as making the mistake of making it look like someone else was driving the car for the awesome jump. Naw, I'd like to be in the driving seat for that, which is where MW keeps you, right up to the point where you wreck your car. Much better!

So, MW lets you pick what car you want, what event to do, and even takes you there at the click of a menu, with almost no cars unavailable to the player from the start. That's bloody brilliant, and makes me wonder why the hell games moved away from letting the player have fun the way they wanted. There's also driving, and I'd better mention that it is fast, free, and arcade-like. This is how I like it. It's not as big and outlandish as BP, which is kind of a shame, but it is certainly a lot of fun and continues to keep me entertained. I fishtail a bit, but once I realise I have the pro track tyres on and don't need to drift around the tarmac corners I adapt and drive faster.

Right: upgrades. This is where playing the game rewards the player with extras. Each car has events available, ranked by difficulty, and placing second or first unlocks upgrades, such as different tyres, gear ratios, body types, and chassis. Sprint races go from point A to point B, circuits have you racing laps, speed events need you to average a certain silly speed, and ambushes have you running from the police. Complete them to earn the upgrades, then equip the upgrades and perform additional specific challenges—drifting or jumping a certain distance, boosting for a certain amount of time, wrecking police cars—to get the 'pro' versions.

There are only maybe five or six events for each car, with similar upgrades available, and events can be repeated between car types. But each car feels and sounds different, and the difference in the upgrades seems noticeable enough to warrant winning the events in order to progress to the harder events. Win the earlier events to earn and equip the longer gears and track tyres so that you can average 150 mph on the sprint. And upgraded cars will let you better chase the 'Most Wanted' cars, which are the only vehicles you need to beat in races to unlock.

The most wanted cars are really just another event, even if the title places them as the focus of the game. I don't mind this, as there are so many great, valuable cars available that having a few to race against at least gives the player a solid goal. My criticism about the most wanted cars is that the first of them seems overly difficult! I raced against that Venom GT Spyder when I gained enough points to let me, and it kicked my arse. I raced my car through more events, upgrading its gears, tyres, body, chassis, and boost, then tried again. Still not good enough. I tried again and again, but I didn't quite make it around the course perfectly and the car got away.

And so I gave up on the most wanted cars and just had fun driving around, finding other cars, racing the streets. When I had unlocked the opportunity to race a couple more of the most wanted cars I thought I'd try again, if only to check a suspicion I had. Sure enough, the 9th most wanted car was nowhere near as difficult as the 10th. I beat it on my second attempt, once I had a vague idea of the course and didn't, for example, do a mad handbrake turn instead of crashing in to building that turned out to be a tunnel.

I subsequently beat the 8th and 7th most wanted cars too, just because they are new races and the game is a whole lot of fun. But I don't understand why the 10th most wanted car has such a high difficulty for completion. Maybe I've got better at the game without realising and going back to that first event will have me waste the Viper. I should try that. It's a peculiarity, though.

I should also mention the police more than in passing. There are police in the city, like in HP. They will notice you if you hit other cars or go stupid speeds the wrong way down a road. They particularly notice illegal street races, like the events you take part in. Then they will give chase, set up roadblocks, and drop spike strips. If you can evade and lose them, you gain points.

Having the police adds an extra dimension to MW. Their cars show up in blue on your map, so you can drive to avoid them, or just slow down to not stand out, or you can taunt them and get on the wrong side of a chase for shits and giggles. And they will pursue you. I was being chased when I found a stretch of road with some billboards I'd not crashed through. When attempting to make the jump I span out, which let me see three or for police cars follow me doggedly through the jump, wrecking their cars too. It was like watching The Blues Brothers.

But the police can also be a bit of a pain. I start a game, choose a race, select my destination, and I'm off, spinning up my tyres and gently nudging slower cars out of my way and in to trees. All of a sudden, some copper takes notice and I'm in a chase. But I'm in a chase whilst wanting to start a race, because I want to race, not try to shake some cops from my tail. When reaching the starting point for the event I'm out of luck if I haven't lost the police yet, which changes my current session from racing an event to trying to flee the police.

The issue with the police interruptions is a minor quibble, really. You can just give up, get busted, and reappear back in the car's spawn point. Nothing bad happens. You just don't earn points for evading the police. And although You're now nowhere near the event you can always start it immediately from the menu rather than having to navigate there again. But note to self: when racing an event where the police use spike strips that I never manage to dodge, equip the re-inflating tyres!

Other little touches include: changing between day and night-time conditions at the press of an option on the Wii U controller, which is near-instant, brilliant, and welcome; speed cameras recording the fastest speed along specific sections of road, so you can compete with your own crazy driving or that of your friends; police radio chatter coming through the controller, including spotting you getting a respray or changing cars. And, mind-bogglingly, you can play the whole game on the Wii U controller if the TV is in use.

But, really, it is the player-controlled nature of Need for Speed: Most Wanted that deserves the most attention. No grind, no wasted time, no frustration. Play what you want, when you want, where you want. I want to give the developers a hug for making a game that begs to be played, instead of one that demands to be endured. If you like arcade racing games, you should quite seriously consider buying a Wii U just for this game.

  1. One Response to “Wii U: Need for Speed: Most Wanted”

  2. Addenda: I dunno what the Venom Most Wanted challenge is, as it's not the 10th Most Wanted car. It seems to be special. As in, specially difficult.

    You can turn traffic on and off as you can turn the time from night to day, using the Wii U gamepad, which can simplify driving a bit.

    I don't think there are any cars that need to be unlocked. The Most Wanted cars are available in jack spots around the city, as with other cars. If you find them, you can drive them, and they'll appear in the easy drive menu as normal. If you don't find them, defeating them in the Most Wanted race will do the same. I found the Aventador and drove that around for ages, eventually unlocking the Most Wanted race against the Aventador.

    It's worth driving not just the supercars. I jumped in to a Lancia to see what it's like, and it's not only a robust bit of fun, but the races are quite different, with more dirt tracks and some crazy jumps to negotiate.

    By pjharvey on Jul 28, 2013

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