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Need for Speed: Most Wanted 2012 Review (X360)

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Need for Speed: Most Wanted 2012 Review (X360)
Criterion Games' first entry in the Need for Speed series, 2010's NFS: Hot Pursuit, is a shining beacon of hope in a series that has struggled to stay relevant over the past several years. 2011's NFS: The Run, from a different developer, failed to maintain Hot Pursuit's momentum. Now in 2012, Criterion is back to save the day again with Need for Speed: Most Wanted. With fantastic presentation, a great car list, and plenty of stuff to do both online and offline, Criterion's Most Wanted is the shot in the arm Need for Speed needed.
Game Details

  • Kinect Sensor Required
  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • Developer: Criterion games
  • ESRB Rating: “E10+" for Everyone 10+
  • Genre: Racing
  • Pros: Nice visuals; solid car list; great sound effects; open world design; online play; great Kinect voice controls
  • Cons: Bland single-player; stiff car handling; poor sense of speed; police chases

Need for Speed: Most Wanted is an open world racer where you are free to explore a large map that includes a sprawling city, mountains, freeways, and more. What makes it especially interesting is that almost all of the cars in the game are open to you right from the beginning - you just have to find them hidden around the city. The hidden cars are usually easy to find, and your first hour or so with the game is kind of exciting since you'll find a number of desirable supercars right from the start that you'll actually want to drive.

Customization is also unique here because each car has to be upgraded separately. Each car has six races that open up new mods like nitrous, different gear ratios, lightweight chassis, and different tires among other things when you win. There are no visual customizations, other than randomly changing the paint color by driving through repair stations spread around the map.

The single-player progression is also kind of interesting. Basically, you just show up in the city of Fairhaven and set out to challenge each of the ten Most Wanted drivers in the city. Beyond that, there is absolutely zero story. To challenge them, you have to earn speed points by winning races, running from the police, and other stuff. When you reach the required points threshold for a Most Wanted driver, you can then challenge them to a race and then, if you beat them in the race, have to wreck them in order to win their car.

When you put all of this together, however, it kind of results in a bland single-player experience. The points thresholds for the Most Wanted races aren't that high, so you can plow through the whole list and "beat" the game surprisingly quickly. You'll still have a lot of other races to do, since all of the cars each have their own set of six races to complete, but once the ten Most Wanted drivers are taken down, there isn't much motivation to keep playing. The game is also surprisingly challenging (not Ridge Racer Unbounded difficult, but harder than most games) - expect to have to retry most of the races a few times so you can learn the course before you have a chance of winning - and trying to finish all of the races in the game is a serious grind since the cars you'll have left are probably stuff you intentionally avoided since you didn't want to drive them. Once you reach the top of the Most Wanted list, which only takes a few hours, it is hard to be motivated to return to the single-player game.

Multiplayer is much more interesting in that you and your friends can roam around the open world and goof off, or set up races where just getting to each event is a race in itself (reach the start of the race first and you have a definite advantage). Multiplayer is seamless and fun and definitely makes up for the blandness of the SP. The game also uses the Autolog, which tracks your best times and other stats so you can compete with your friends.


The gameplay in NFS: Most Wanted takes some getting used to. If you are familiar with Criterions NFS: Hot Pursuit, the cars handle basically the same here - like bricks sliding around on ice. It is very stiff and the cars severely understeer and if you've been playing something like Forza Horizon for weeks (like me) Most Wanted feels awful when you first start. You do get used to it, however, and once you figure out how to drift properly and get your cars upgraded a bit, it feels a lot better. You'll still probably curse the stiff controls quite a bit (seriously, this game makes me swear a lot ... its difficult!) but it is still satisfying and enjoyable and definitely has a unique feel compared to other racers.

The police are present in Most Wanted, but are mostly just a nuisance than anything particularly fun. Getting away from the cops is surprisingly difficult as they are very aggressive. Depending on the car you're driving, actually escaping can take an absurdly long time if you don't have the speed to simply outrun them. The idea is that you can jump through billboards, drive through repair stations to change your paint, and even swap cars in the middle of a chase in order to lower your wanted meter - or even end the chase entirely if you can managed to swap cars while in the "cooldown period" of a chase where the cops lose sight of you - but getting far enough away to actually do that is a serious challenge. Police chases are sort of fun at first, but by the end we were just sick of them.

Also less than impressive here is a surprisingly poor sense of speed. Your speedometer might say you're going 180 MPH, but it sure doesn't feel like it. The game just feels incredibly slow. Then you'll crash into another vehicle, however, and the game goes into a Burnout-style slo-mo replay of the crash where your car flips 10 times and skids 200 yards down the road, which sure makes it seem like you were going fast, but it absolutely doesn't feel that way during gameplay. Also bothersome is that during lengthy police chases the framerate starts to dip and the game feels even more like it is going in slow motion than normal.

One aspect we absolutely loved was the EasyDrive feature that lets you do pretty much anything you need to do without having to jump into the menus. You just press right on the d-pad, and from there you can change your customization mods, change cars, and select races all while you're driving around the city. Even better is that you can use Kinect voice controls to do everything as well, and they work really fantastically well, which means you can focus on driving while changing your mods mid-race with your voice. The voice controls work really well here.

All in all, the gameplay is pretty solid. Sure, we complained about stuff, but when you get used to it and get in the Most Wanted mindset, it is very enjoyable overall.

Graphics & Sound

The presentation is fantastic in NFS: Most Wanted all around. The visuals are great with excellent car models that smash apart nicely when you crash, good special effects for smoke and sparks, and detailed environments to race in. An awesome touch is that every race has some sort of stylized intro where crazy things can happen, but it would spoil the fun if I say much more than that. The game looks great overall.

The sound is also very well done. Most Wanted might have the best engine sounds of any racer this gen as they actually have a great range between idle and full throttle. As you switch gears or lay off the throttle the engine responds accordingly with a little cough or sputter as you get back into the gas, which is entirely realistic and awesome. The soundtrack is also very solid with a good selection of music, and a nice feature is that your custom music playlists (I stream from my PC) work just like the in-game radio, so you can change songs with the right bumper button on your controller.

Bottom Line

In the end, Need for Speed: Most Wanted is another solid NFS title from Criterion. We do have some complaints, but once you get over the learning curve and learn to appreciate the things it does well, it is a very fun experience. It is also definitely unique with unique handling, a fresh upgrade and progression system, and the fantastic EasyDrive system that lets you actually enjoy driving rather than constantly going through menus. If you weren't a fan of Criterion's NFS: Hot Pursuit, particularly the handling, you can probably skip Most Wanted. Fans of Criterion's other racers this generation, however, will feel right at home with Need for Speed: Most Wanted, and we can easily recommend it for a purchase.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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