While Need For Speed drifts from arcade-inspired antics, to narrative-driven tours of the United States - and everything in between - one thing remains unchanged: Criterion consistently delivers top-tier offerings. Electronic Arts seems well aware of this widely-acknowledged appreciation for the Guildford-based studio, as Need For Speed: Most Wanted's promotional campaign has their name all over it. As it turns out, this intentionally-close association is more than sound business strategy. The latest Need For Speed title, Most Wanted, combines what amounts to Criterion's arguably best work - the open-world design of Burnout: Paradise, alongside the cat-and-mouse chases of Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit.
Most Wanted truly feels like a mash-up of those two very different racers, and that's not a criticism. If anything, adding some consequence, in the form of a watchful police presence, to a sandbox playground makes a lot of sense. While driving around the city - picking up races, finding jumps, and breaking through billboards on the fly - cops will actively take notice of your erratic traffic violations. Toss in Criterion's expertly-designed environments for good measure, and it all comes together into a package that's shaping up convincingly.
Need For Speed: Most Wanted also includes the Autolog stats-tracking, social system, which became a signature feature of Hot Pursuit. However, Criterion is promising Most Wanted's friend integration will be more meaningful and prominent than ever before. The game will constantly track your accomplishments, movements and tendencies, displaying them alongside those of your friend's within the game world. Whether you're involved in an online competition or simply churning through the campaign, evidence of Most Wanted's community won't be far away. Additionally, all of these actions will go toward the game's progression system, allowing players to customize and share their cars. Bottom line: Criterion aims to keep players engaged long after the launch hype has come and gone.
We played through a multiplayer session, which highlighted Most Wanted's playlist-driven approach to online racing. After meeting at one of the launch points scattered throughout the city, our group seamlessly entered into a traditional race to the finish, jumping contest, crash rally, and so on. These events are part of a playlist, which continues without the need of a menu screen. Instead, players are constantly encouraged to participate and be good (or bad) citizens of the game. For example, the first player to arrive at each launch point is rewarded with experience; after finishing a race, players can decide to turn around and attempt to take-down others for additional score; the list goes on and on...
When all was said and done, the common thread I noticed throughout our time with Need For Speed: Most Wanted was the endlessly clever ways Criterion have come up with to keep players on track, guiding them along without it feeling forced or invasive. Combine that with the game's expectedly-solid racing mechanics and world design, and Most Wanted appears to be well on the way toward its Oct 30th release date on PS3, Xbox 360, PC and Vita.