E3 2012: Need For Speed: Most Wanted [Preview]

6 Jun 2012  by   Peter Parrish
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It may share exactly the same name, but don’t expect Need For Speed: Most Wanted (2012 edition) to share everything in common with its 2005 counterpart. With Criterion once again handling development duties on a Need For Speed release, this one is likely to take its cues from things Criterion learned from titles like Burnout Paradise and Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit.

Like Burnout Paradise, this version of Most Wanted will be transposed to an open world city (named Fairhaven) and make full use of the Autolog feature present in Hot Pursuit. Criterion is all about social integration, so everything you do in the game will be tracked by the Autolog feature and compared against the activities of your friends. During E3 only a handful of the total number of challenges were referred to (activities like longest jump, or fastest speed when passing a speed camera) but Criterion has stated they’ll be aiming for two hundred or more before release in October.

The basic premise remains is that you, Mr Prospective Driver Man, are aiming to become the Most Wanted amongst your cabal of friends by undertaking races, chases and exploration across the length of the city. Unlike Hot Pursuit which used Autolog on an event-by-event basis, Criterion says this title will track activities across the entire game. In effect, the developers are taking what they know about open world games and smashing it into their considerable experience with racing titles.

A philosophy of “as few rules as possible” is being adopted, to allow players to dick around unheeded in the open city and find their own level of play while still having fun. The developers have explained that after a race ends, for example, those who finished towards the rear of the field can still roam around to a degree and attempt to take out other players. Doing this will earn them some “speed points”, which sound like something that would give narcotics agents cause for investigation but are actually the nebulous units of currency players must earn to become Most Wanted.

This anarchic approach even extends to where, exactly, races begin. None of them have a traditional grid, but instead are reliant on a general race starting point. If you happen to show up late or skid across backwards the race will still kick off.

Criterion demoed a ‘Race and Chase’ mode, in which a Porsche 911 weaved its way through the traffic in an effort to finish atop the podium. It’s been stressed that there won’t be too many barriers placed in the player’s way during these races; a statement backed up by the demo driver merrily crashing his way through a whole host of objects like street-lights and bins. Player knowledge of checkpoint locations and the city itself will be key to exploiting shortcuts and little tricks to earn yourself that extra smidgen of distance. It’s encouraging to see that Criterion doesn’t seem to want to funnel players down specific paths, but is letting them find unique routes for themselves.

During the same demo, several rival cars were taken out with nudges and side-swipes. The slo-mo cutscene which kicked in whenever this happened did have a certain style to it, but it does have the potential to get rather old if it’s not skippable or possible to switch it off somewhere.

It should be no surprise to learn that there were a number of cops involved in the ‘Race and Chase’ sequence too, and in fact the demo merged from a race into a full-on pursuit. Here, the Porsche 911 was chased by a handful of irate police (possibly a little ticked off at the number of billboards the driver had smashed through, or miffed that he’d driven up the steps of a footbridge) and had to duck down a side alley in an attempt to escape. Again, knowledge of the city streets will clearly prove useful here.

Handling is a key element in any racing game, and Criterion says the team has “gone back to the drawing board” to an extent. As in the Burnout titles, you should still be able to throw the back end of the car out and pull off some fine drifts, but the updated handling will be tailored more closely to the open world environment. Only a full hands-on with the game will reveal just what this means.

Need For Speed: Most Wanted stood out from EA’s press event, and the extended gameplay demos have maintained that level of promise. We still need to know a lot more (customisation of vehicles is an unknown quantity at present); but if Criterion can deliver the breadth of competition they intend, across all manner of challenges that don’t necessarily relate to ‘pure’ racing, then Most Wanted should find favour with those who value anarchic, multiplayer racing antics.

Need For Speed: Most Wanted is due for release on 30 October.

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