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Coming close to paradise with Need for Speed: Most Wanted (review)

Need for Speed Most Wanted 3

WHAT YOU WON’T LIKE

The racing has no personality

The problem is that the really cool and artsy stuff starts and stops at the beginning of the race. The rest of the game certainly looks great, but it’s all too slick and polished to give Most Wanted any real visual distinction. It’s not that I’m expecting any sort of forced “attitude.” The Fast and the Furious-style gritty street racer trend ended a while ago (thankfully), but everything in Most Wanted is so uniformly clean that it all blends together; nothing onscreen pops out or catches your eye as much as it should.

If you put Most Wanted up against similar racing games, the only way it would really standout visually is by being so indistinct that it loops back around and becomes distinct for that. “I don’t know what this is,” you’d say, “so that must mean it’s Need for Speed.”

It’s not fair to judge a game as something it’s not, and Most Wanted is not a Burnout game, but when Criterion has shamelessly lifted so many other things from their franchise, why not bring over even a fraction of its playfulness? This game feels like Criterion was given enough control to make whatever they wanted, but all of the flavor got watered out so it would feel like a proper installment of the historically ill-defined Need for Speed franchise.

Kinect makes Most Wanted worse

This is a very particular problem, and by design it will not affect everyone who plays Most Wanted. Only Xbox 360 owners need to worry about this, and even then, only those with a Kinect. The voice commands in this game are great in theory. You can navigate all of the EasyDrive features using just your voice, freeing up both of your thumbs to focus on driving. You call out “change car” and the options to switch to a new car pop up; call out “retry” to start a race over; manage all of your unlocked mods; and pause the game without having to touch a button. No stupid hand gestures or modes where you play by steering an invisible wheel; it’s all just basic voice commands. I wanted so bad to put it up in the previous section of good things so I could highlight how developers could put things like the Kinect to good use … but then I started playing with someone else in the room.

See, the Kinect can’t distinguish who is offering voice commands to it. That means someone else in the room could be the one yelling out “pause” or “look around” (which swings the camera around your car in the most disorienting way possible) at an inopportune moment that could cause you to crash or miss a turn. That could be very bad, but some people probably have friends that won’t actively try to make them lose. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the Kinect functionality for Most Wanted works in such a way that it interrupts words and phrases completely unrelated to playing as “pause” or “retry.” I ran into this issue multiple times, with the Kinect pausing the game and trying to customize my tires while I was having a conversation with my girlfriend or listening to a podcast.

Again, this is not a big deal for anyone but Kinect owners, but when a feature like this is highly touted in special trailers and on the box art, it seems important to point out that it has the potential to actually make your experience with the game worse.

CONCLUSION

Need for Speed: Most Wanted wishes it was a Burnout game. It has the right developer, the right approach to open-world racing design, and the right gameplay to make it a worthy sequel to 2008’s Paradise. Unfortunately, it’s not a Burnout game. It lacks the punch and thrill of that series, replacing it with something that can’t fairly be called “blandness” but is still too generic to set it apart from other  games in the genre. Most Wanted is a good game, and it’s still a lot of fun. It just doesn’t feel enough like its own thing, simultaneously too similar and not similar enough to those that came before it.

Also, if you have a Kinect, unplug it.

Score: 85/100

Need for Speed: Most Wanted was released Oct. 30, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, and PlayStation Vita. The publisher provided GamesBeat with an Xbox 360 copy for the purpose of this review.

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