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Need for Speed: Most Wanted Multiplayer Hands-on

19 Sep 2012

Two years ago Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit injected a dose of adrenalin into EA’s veteran racing game series.

Top development studio, Criterion, used their expert skills - honed during the production of their own Burnout series - to produce what is arguably the best Need for Speed game of the series.

Two years later and Criterion are back with Need for Speed: Most Wanted. This is not a sequel to the 2005 game of the same name, but a re-imagining. This is Need for Speed: Most Wanted through Criterion’s eyes.

At a recent event held by EA in Sydney, I got to try out the Need for Speed: Most Wanted multiplayer mode on the PS3 and take the mobile version out for a spin on an Apple iPad. The event was presented by the game’s producer, Leanne Loombe, from Criterion and the mobile version’s associate producer Michael Degraaf, from Firemonkeys in Melbourne.

At first glance there’s an obvious similarity between Need for Speed: Most Wanted and Criterion’s 2008 hit racing game, Burnout Paradise. There’s no doubt that the two games share the same DNA; which, I’d say, was a good thing.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted offers players an open world racing environment in a place called Fairhaven. Fairhaven boasts a variety of diverse regions ranging from city, industrial, docklands and open countryside areas.

This outing, Criterion has gone for a grittier and realistic look. Whilst Hot Pursuit is a good looking game, looks like a cartoon compared to Most Wanted. There’s also a little tip of the hat to Battlefield 3 with dirty camera lens effects, similar to the one in DICE’s shooter, adding to the illusion of visual realism.

The Criterion and EA staffers were keen to stress the importance of community racing in the game; with friends competing online to become “Most Wanted”. This aspiration is handled by the game’s Autolog 2 system, which keeps track of player’s progress, states ranking and achievements. Whilst Autolog has been with us for a few Need for Speed games now, this is the first time it has been a cross-platform service, enabling player to continue with their racing career between gaming devices.

I’d been playing Hot Pursuit all weekend so as not to come across as a total n00b in front of my peers. This paid dividends as the handling in Most Wanted needs a steady hand, coming across as a very refined reworked of the car physics from Criterion’s previous game. Most Wanted definitely offers a more satisfying feeling of inertia as your drift your car into the bends than we has with Hot Pursuit.

For the hands-on a series of events were already chosen for us. Each driver was placed in the open world of Fairhaven with a waypoint indicating the meet up area for the first event. Once players were assembled the first activity was to gain the top speed through a speed camera. Multiple attempts were allowed with drivers turning back on themselves to get another go, opening the floor to a series of head-on collisions and side-swipes; accidental or otherwise.

At any time opponents’ cars can be totalled by Burnout-style eliminations. I can see Most Wanted becoming a griefers paradise, as light-hearted knocks gave way to deliberate acts of retaliation.

The second event was a road race around the industrial, dockland and coastal areas. Again, cars first needed to head over to the meeting point. Like Burnout Paradise, whilst the finish point is fixed, the route is up to the driver; although there are checkpoints, so I don’t think you can stray too far (and why would you, unless you want to lose).

As with the Burnout series, and in a similar manner to Hot Pursuit, driving dangerously with fill your nitro giving you that extra burst of speed. There are plenty of shortcuts, off-road sections, jumps and billboards to crash through in order to keep the races interesting. I found myself forgetting to breathe on several occasions during the race.

The next event was a jumping challenge in a coal yard; with drivers competing for the longest ramp between two massive ramps. Again, plenty of opportunity for head-on collisions; the desire to drive headlong into on-coming players being somewhat irresistible.

The final event demonstrated the work that Criterion has put into the driving physics. Beneath two huge power station cooling towers a suitably waterlogged circular track provided drivers with the perfect opportunity to see who could drift the longest. This free-for-all event provided yet another means for drivers so inclined to takedown (I mean eliminate) their opponents.

At the end of the events players scores were tallied and the most wanted players named. As well as speed points player were also awarded tickets for particular accolades. I received the “dodger” ticket for my near misses, “prey” for being the first to be eliminated by a fellow driver and “missile” for being the highest speed wreck. Nothing to be proud about, really.

Following the multiplayer hands-on I got to spend some time with Michael Degraaf from Firemonkeys, as he talked me through his iPad version of the game. I’ll be honest; I’m not really much of a mobile gamer these days and I’m especially not an Apple sort of person, either.

The mobile versions of the Most Wanted have been built from the ground up. They are not ports of the console versions. Whilst Firemonkeys work closely with Criterion to ensure that the gameplay feels the same on the mobile versions, careful consideration is also made to ensure that utilise the unique features of the smaller platforms.

I’d never even touched an iPad before, so using the hardware’s built in motion sensing technology to steer the car (whilst the ipad handled acceleration duties) was a bit nerve-racking. Not only was I over-steering the car, there was a very real risk that I would have someone’s eye out as I waved the thing about, or worse, loose grip and fling the iPad across the room.

To see such a pixel perfect version of the console game running on a wafer-thin iPad was quite a surprise. I’m rarely surprised these days and it was a pleasure to be taken aback by the iPad game. Firemonkeys have done a great job.

Owners of a console and an iPad or other mobile device are going to have a lot of fun taking their Need for Speed: Most Wanted career with them on the move.

Whilst I never doubted Criterion’s ability to produce a decent take on Need of Speed: Most Wanted, I was still impressed with the game. Whilst the hands-on was limited to the multiplayer mode, being a veteran player of the Burnout games and having enjoyed Criterion’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, I’m pretty confident that this game is going to rock.

For Need for Speed fans this is going to be a no-brainer. Also for Burnout fans, they should take Need for Speed: Most Wanted as, at the very least, an unofficial sequel to Burnout Paradise. Expect the same Burnout-style heart-in-throat, racing on a knife edge but also coupled with the racing pedigree of the Need for Speed series. I very much enjoyed the game; both the PS3 multiplayer and the, quite frankly, jaw-dropping mobile version on the iPad.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted is out in New Zealand on 2 November for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3,Windows PC, PS Vita, iPad, iPhone and Android.