Criterion Games take a fresh look at EA’s arcade racer. Can they make an open-world racing title that doesn’t feel too much like Burnout instead of Need For Speed?
Welcome to a large city full of racing. Unfettered by story, gangs of rivals and unnecessary car modifications, the premise is simple: you want to become most wanted. Earn speed points by evading the cops and winning races and you will be able to challenge a racer on the most wanted list. But be prepared, the police will be out in full force if they know high profile street racers are afoot.
Every car you have starts off as a stock model, making you race for your car mods. Once unlocked, your mods can be upgraded to the pro version by fulfilling conditions, such as using said mod for 300 seconds or driving in the oncoming traffic for 10km. These pro versions remove the penalty, such as retarded acceleration, making the effort to obtain them worthwhile. Doing this for every car does start feeling monotonous, so I recommend only getting the pro upgrades for the cars you really enjoy driving.
The range of vehicles you are able to drive is pretty large. From my favourite roadblock destroying bakkie, the Ford Ranger, to the throaty exotic beast, the Marussia B2, there are several cars worth looking for on the streets of Fairhaven. Due to your character’s ability to jack cars, it is possible for you to skip the ‘slower’ vehicles and go hunt down more powerful monsters for fun straight from the start. That is, if you know how to drive. To get enough points to unlock every most wanted race you will have to switch cars to take part in more races, meaning you will have to drive several cars instead of just picking a favourite. While at first I was irked by this, I started to enjoy driving in vehicles I would normally just ignore or skip, forcing me to adapt my racing style to suit the vehicle I was using. This also shows off the large roster and range of vehicles present in the game.
To break the pace between races, Criterion has taken to showing their cinematic flair, with excellent cutscenes before races. Whether they are just showing off the beautiful city you are racing in, or something abstract like cars driving in the sky or a towering pile of cop cars spinning towards you, there is something worth experiencing before a race. Before every most wanted race, a special cutscene plays of the car that you are up against. Brace yourself for pure car porn, as these displays could easily be used as advertisements for the cars. Invisible cars being revealed by waves of sound-sensitive light, vehicles built from blueprints or coils of metal, I can’t help restarting these events again just to watch my favourite vehicles form in front of my eyes.
The Autolog continues to find new uses and additions, this time making everything you do, from pursuits to races, become part of an online social competition with your friends. Every speed camera and speedwall will contain your friends’ best times. Billboards will even change to show the face of the friend with the longest jump, giving you extra incentive to smash your car through them, again and again.
You are free to roam the world doing races and events as you please. Use the Easydrive system to find a race, then drive to it to get started. Spin your tyres at an event checkpoint to get into the action, meaning you don’t have to break the action by going into the menu. If you have unlocked a vehicle or participated in a race before, you can quick travel to it, saving you from trundling back to the start after a defeat.
Once again we find the Kinect creeping into the controls of a game as a feature. Players can control the Autolog system via voice commands, as well performing really important tasks, such as turning your car’s engine on or off. My Kinect however periodically hears a phantom cancel command, often kicking me out of the nested menu. The controls are also limited to yes, next, previous etc., instead of picking up keywords like race or customise.
There is a lot to do in the massive city of Fairhaven. With 10 most wanted challenges and 41 cars, each with four races, in the singleplayer be prepared for a lot of driving. Add to this ‘collectibles’ like billboards, jack spots, speed cameras and gates into restricted areas and you have hundreds of things to keep you busy.
Multiplayer beefs up the amount of content, putting you into an online version of Fairhaven. While there, your cars of stripped of their mods, which are earned by completing milestones and events in the world. To convey the feeling of illegal street racing, you have to race to a meet up point and wait for everyone to arrive. When everyone is gathered, the race starts, sans starting grid, so make sure you are in a good position for accelerating away from the pre-race jostling. Events here range from normal races to some rather bizarre events, like getting points for sitting on the wing of a cargo plane. The wing is hanging over a massive cliff, making it very tempting to knock your opponent off the wing. Be careful though, if you are the one closest to the edge, it will soon be time for you to go flying off the edge of Fairhaven.
Before I get into this, let me say that I know that games cheat for various reasons. Be it to provide a challenge or because it is easier to code it that way, the AI has always had a few tricks that players don’t. Minor grievances, such as every car other except yours having indestructible tires, are hard to understand but can be lived with. There is no winning a Most Wanted race by shunting your opponent over a spike strip, fine. Live with it and adapt. But then you see the way that the police cheat. That is a completely different story. Besides them being able to spawn anywhere on the map at any time during a chase scene, cops also possess the uncanny ability to see through concrete if you try to hide your car under a bridge or the like. These superhuman protectors of the peace are also master detectives, being able to pick up your scent even after ramping through a billboard, swapping cars and driving away at a stately pace. While performing this lovely string of feats will lower your wanted level a considerable amount, it feels like a real kick in the teeth when a random patroller spawns right in front of you and starts the pursuit again. While I understand that if you swap to a convertible they will probably notice the racing helmet you parade around in, there seems to be no other reason than to prevent players from abusing this string of activities to get away from the cops easily. However, this is exactly what the game tells you to do to avoid police pursuit…
No matter what type of event you are participating in, there are variables present. Even the races without police enforcement will have random traffic, meaning that perfect drift or power slide around the last bend could end abruptly thanks to an oncoming truck, costing you the race. This isn’t about finding the perfect line and powering out of a corner; racing on the street means you have to be ready to adapt, to react quickly to a changing environment and ready to retry after a narrow loss. If you have a short temper or are prone to control throwing, be careful of some of the tighter challenges in this game. Remember that you don’t need to be the best driver to succeed. Just the dirtiest.