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Need For Speed: Most Wanted (X360) Review

Editor’s note: Review preformed on a Sony 60” SXRD 1080p TV, ISF calibrated by me. Your mileage may vary.

  Right off the bat, I am going to tell you this game is a total blast, and I highly recommend it. Now if you want a little more in the way of details’, read on. The game takes place in the fictions city of Rockport, which is gargantuan and encompasses three boroughs each with its own diverse topography. You start out in the small town country borough of Rosewood, and as the game progresses, you open up the other two. You are free to drive from one to the other and suffer NO loading times or nary a hitch. This city looks as though it was built with some of the top city planers on the job. It has an 18-hole golf course, university, police station, factories, outdoor amphitheater, football stadium, apartment complexes, houses, seaside boardwalk and a huge city skyline with its own entertainment district, the list goes on and on. I am thinking of moving there in the spring. Ok, so you show up in your blinged out BMW M3 and faster than you can say “garbage can sized exhaust tips” you loose your car to the local cops and find a friend in the shape of Mia, aka Josie Maran, who helps you get a starter car and give to a push in the right direction. Your mission now is to claw your way up the ‘Blacklist’ made up of 15 most wanted street racers. You need to ‘prove’ yourself first before you can take any of the ‘Blacklist’ members.

  Gameplay / Career

  There are over 30 licensed cars from such manufactures as Chevrolet, Ford, BMW, Porsche, Lamborghini, Lotus, Mazda, and Mitsubishi. As you earn money from winning races and defeating the ‘Black list’ members, new cars become available to purchase. You can upgrade each car with performance parts as well as body kits and spoilers to fresh paint and vinyl’s.

  ‘Performance Tuning’ is a feature that I did not discover right away as it is a little hidden. After you purchase the go-fast or look-cool parts, you can adjustment them here in the ‘Performance Tuning’, which is found in the ‘Pause Menu’, by Pressing ‘Start’ while driving in the game. You can adjust Steering, Handling, Brakes, Ride Height, Aerodynamics, Nitrous and Turbo/Super Charger. The default is centered and you can go plus or minus up to 5 steps. You can even make changes during pursuits. There are some on screen instructions as to what exactly changes when you move the sliders. It takes some experimentation to find what works best for you. You are able to save 3 different profiles for each car.

  Before you are allowed to take on a ‘Blacklist’ member, there are three general categories that you must complete or attain a minimum number of wins or completions. The cool thing is you can do them in any order you wish and you don’t have to do them all, so if you are having trouble with a couple of them you will most likely be able to skip them. Also, if later you want to return and beat them for pride sake, you are able to do that as well. First up are ‘Race Events’ that are made up of ‘Circuit’, ‘Sprint’ and ‘Drag Races’, ‘Photo-Radar’ competitions where you have to pass a series of radar checkpoints with the overall fasts speeds or ‘Tollbooth Races’ where you have to make it through a series of checkpoints (tollbooths) within a certain time limit. Second are the ‘Milestone Events’ which mostly revolve around pursuits where you are trying to out run Johnny Law. There are many different types of ‘Milestones’ you can earn such as, ‘Cost to State’, where you have to rack up a certain dollar amount of damage before escaping, ‘Pursuit Evasion’, where you must meet a minimum requirement before evading capture, or ‘Photo Ticket’ where you must pass a radar station at a defined minimum speed. Some of these can be quit challenging, especially later in the game. In addition, the number of events you have to complete grows as well. During a pursuit, there is a meter at the bottom of your screen that lets you know when capture or escape is inanimate. When you do finally do escape the cops line of site, the meter changes to ‘Cooldown’. Now is the time to find a hiding spot, which is now marked on your radar, or just keep driving in the hopes of not running into another cop. When the ‘Cooldown’ meter fills up the pursuit is officially over and your achievements are tallied up. The third category is your ‘Total Bounty’, which is a dollar amount that continues to grow as you progress though the game. You just need to meet the minimum amount before taking on each ‘Blacklist’ member.

  You can jump directly to anyone of these events using the on-screen menu, or drive to them as they are marked on your map of the city. Keep in mind that just driving around, and no doubt reeking havoc, your’ Bounty’ will continue to rise as will your ‘Heat’ meter with the cops. Each car you drive has its own ‘Heat Level’, which is represented by a gauge that encircles your radar. Once it fills up it gets a ‘2X’ appears and it is reset and starts again, and can go up to 5X. The higher the ‘Heat Level’ the more aggressive the police are with their tactics and vehicles step-ups. The best way to keep the cops off your back is to make sure you do not let your heat get too high for the car you are driving. Winning races and evading pursuits will cool your rides ‘Heat’. You can also swap your car out for another ride or change its look by purchasing different paint jobs, body kits, spoilers, etc. Not all changes make the same difference, but they all help.

  Listening to the cop chatter via your police scanner will clue you into to their plans as they try to set up roadblocks, call for reinforcements or simply say they are chasing a moron who refuses to pull over. Another cool feature is that the cops can actually get wind of when you are in a ‘Race Event’ and end up chasing you and the other drivers all the while you are trying to still win. Moreover, once the race is over, the chase is not, so now you need to escape or end up face down on the concrete.

  Busting through the numerous police car roadblocks is almost art form unto itself. Some of them do not completely cover the road while others do. Aiming for the rear of a car is a better choice as it is lighter than the front half. At higher ‘Heat Levels’ , cops will lay down spike strips but keep an ear out as they will call out its location to make sure other cops don’t hit them. When things really hit the fan like at ‘Heat Level 4’, they send out their helicopter to help coordinate efforts. He is near impossible to shake, but will need to break off at some point to re-fuel. In all it can make for quite a challenge, a fun and sometimes frustrating challenge.

  ‘Pursuit Breakers’ are objects that can be destroyed when driven into and hopefully cause some damage to the cops who hot your tail. They are sprinkled thought the map and consist of things like gas station pumps which explode on contact causing the canopy above to crash down to giant signs shaped like a donut or a tire, that when provoked turn into ‘wheels of death’. These ‘Pursuit Breakers’ are marked on your radar when you are in involved in a pursuit. They can literally save your bacon when trying to out run the ever-massing black & whites. However, there are times when you are trying to keep a pursuit going to meet a challenge and hitting one of these booby traps too early puts the kibosh on the whole thing and you have to re-set and start all over again.


  To put it in film terms, it appears as though the entire game has been treated using a ‘Bleach Bypass’ process, or in this case a filter, washing over the environment with a monochromatic warm color pallet and adding a grittiness that is quite unique. Textures for the most part are high in quality with the road surface getting a bit more attention. The ‘skybox’, to use developer lingo, is quite impressive with multi layers of clouds changing density and always moving overhead. Steam billowing from large stacks, flocks of bird’s flying overhead, leaves blowing in the wind or being scattered as you dive down a dirt pathway are the little things that all add up to the illusion of a living city. You will however see no pedestrian milling about.

  Unlike recent NFS games, this one takes place entirely during daylight hours. The sun continues to move across the sky with the shadows following suit. You can park your car under the shade of any tree and watch the shadows draw across your shiny hood. You even have the ability to pause the game and pick the time of day of your choosing. Click right or left and fast-forward or rewind the day all in real-time, with dusk and dawn bring up the ‘warmth factor’ by adding a bit more to the reddish hues. The lighting is very realistic like when coming out of a tunnel into the sun with the momentary blooming of the sky as your eyes adjust.

  The dynamically changing weather in the game really well done and goes a long way to breathing life into the environments. At anytime the sky, can beguine to darken followed by a series of deep thunderclaps and rain. The first time it happened it was so unexpected and quite impressive, I just pulled over and listened for a minute. As the water falls from the sky, some drops will bead up on the virtual lens but not so much to obscure your vision. The roads wet reflective surface become a bit slick so you need to change your driving style, just as in real life. Passing cars leave trails of water vapor that glow when backlit from the sunbeams that pierce the shifting clouds above. My only grip and it is a small one is that is does not get very dark when the rain comes in. I just feel it would add a more to the mood if it got darker.

  The physics in the game are very well done, as every movable object has the appropriate weight including your car, which always feels anchored to the road, and not floating above it. There are tons of destructible objects such as light poles that toss up a shower of sparks when they hit the ground or parking meters that spew change when sheered off with the bumper of your Porsche Cayman S. Mailboxes, parked bicycles, metal barriers, wooden and metal fences, phone poles, small trees, soda machines, dumpsters, signal lights, bus stops, tables, benches, fire hydrants, trash cans, shopping carts, toll booths, boxes and crates of various sizes can all be tossed around or destroyed to your hearts content. The list goes on and on. However, the real destructive fun is taking out the other cars on the road, especially of the black & white variety. The police vehicles can be damaged to the point of total destruction. Starting with crinkled sheet metal and smashed windows to smoke pouring from under the hood then completely ‘damaged out’ where they can no longer continue their pursuit. The cars you drive however are nearly indestructible showing only minor scrapes and cracked glass, nor do hey suffer from any mechanical ills. This defiantly keeps the game always screaming at 150 mph.

  Audio / Crank it up!!

  The overall sound design for Need for Speed: Most Wanted is Off The Preverbal HOOK!! I game on a fairly high-end 7.2 (front & rear sub) Home Theater and this game truly tests its metal. Now all X360 games have better sound than the Xbox due to its improved architecture and sheer horsepower, allowing sound designers to create more dynamic and involving soundscapes with less compression. This game just cranks everything to 11. It matches the over the top gameplay, with over the top sound design. You will need a subwoofer that can play deep base and properly placed surround speakers to really appreciate what this game has to offer. Actually, that really applies to most all Xbox and X360 games.

  The car engine sounds take the forefront, as they should in a racing game. Each with its own distinct sound that will change every time you upgrade the engine, and its go fast parts. The tire screeching and blow-off valve purging every time you shift almost become a second heartbeat. Every time you start a race, a deep Boom!! flowed by a series of Whooshes accentuate the countdown, amping up the anticipation. Hearing the screaming engines of your competition bearing down on you, push you to your limits. The Doppler Effect working at its fullest, as passing cars can be heard along with their blaring horns. Air breaks from large semi-trucks shrill above their deep diesel tones. Driving through tunnels, overpasses and suspension bridges are especially enthralling as deep Whooshes pass right over your head as the sound flows from the front to rear speakers. This particular effect never gets old in my opinion and is one reason why the sound in this game adds so much to the overall gameplay experience.

  As mentioned earlier the rain and accompanying thunder are very nice touches and their sound effects are equally as good. Pulling over and just listening to all the ambient sounds really show you how much effort they put in to the game. You can hear distant traffic sounds of sirens and cars passing by, and when the road is wet, well it sounds wet too. It seems most every movable object in the game has its own unique sound when pushed, smashed or destroyed by your car.

  The games music soundtrack (EA Trax) features both hip hop & rock, about half the songs I could put up with, and some I really liked. The ones that grated on my nerves I simply ‘Skipped’ via the ‘Audio Options’. The remaining songs you could choose to be heard while ‘driving’, in ‘menus’ or both. Another cool feature, which is defeatable, is the ‘Interactive Music’, which dynamically changes during various police actions like pursuits and ‘Cooldown’ periods. Again, it just adds to the over all tension at that moment.

  The final and arguably best part of the overall soundtrack is the cop chatter heard over the police radio and sometimes directed at you over their loudspeaker. For a game with really cheesy cut-scenes and over the top acting, this police speak sounds so legit as if you were sitting home with your police scanner listening in on a busy Saturday night. EA has recorded tons of different dialog that fit the various situations, which makes it all so darn believable. Conversations between the various purist officers and dispatch are very professional with just a pinch of emotion at the heavier moments. What really stands out however, like in a sports game, is what they say fits the moment and continues to change to match what is happening on screen. You make a quick turn, hit a ‘Pursuit Breaker’, hit the cops, whatever, they report back in an instant with near zero lag. Not only that, but they will mention the make and color of your car, and you can paint your car many different colors.


  The game does offer an online mode but it is bare bones and only allows for 4 players, nothing I would call next-gen that is for sure. You can host your own game and choose either a ranked or an unranked game. It only offers up straight up racing (circuit, sprint or drag) with no cops or pedestrian vehicles to be found. While in the lobby, there is a gauge by each racers name that clues you into his or hers connection heath, but there is no way to kick anyone who is sporting poor performance. Even when I was hosting, the framerate while racing online seemed a little bit herky jerky, not as good as offline. So that coupled with dealing with the occasional dill-weed racer, I found myself quickly gravitating back to my offline career.

  Nit Pick Time

  The framerate is ‘ok’ but it seems as though the game has a high ‘shutter speed’ causing a slight jerkiness as if you car is reacting to every crack in the road. Another weirdity is the fact that when you release the accelerator the car acts as though you are lightly pressing the brake. This is most noticeable when driving slowly, in 1st gear, let off the gas and the car stops, even with the brake lights coming on. Hello? I did not touch the brake, the car should just coast. I did mention earlier how impressed I was with the dynamic cop talk, it however is not perfect and can get a little behind or even ahead of itself. Project Gotham and a few other recent Xbox racing games gave you the ability to ‘look around’ while driving via the right stick. I really missed that feature in this game; it would have been so helpful during some of the more hectic pursuits. There is one feature I have not mentioned yet and it is called a ‘Speedbreaker’ which is used by taping the ‘X’ button. A Matrix style move puts the game into super slow motion yet keeping your vehicle rather nimble. The idea is to use it for brief moments when you need help outmaneuvering the cops. Thing is, I just felt it didn’t offer much, so I hardly used it. One particular situation where it was helpful was when a semi truck caring logs was approaching, you could hit the ‘Speedbreaker’, which allows you to pull off a ‘Fast and the Furious’ move and drive underneath the trailer causing the logs to roll off and take out the police.

  Final Word

  Need for Speed: Most Wanted takes the game series full circle, back to the police pursuits while retaining some of the ‘tuner’ aspects from its more recent outings. It makes for an exciting blend of arcade racer while adding a big boost of adrenalin. There were many chases I was involved in that ran for 10-15 minutes and a few over 20. That my friend is a loooong time. I was getting so fatigued my right index finger was nearly fused to the plastic trigger. I found myself just wanting to end it but couldn’t, so I kept at it and finally escaped. I think the city of Rockport simply ran out of police cars. Point is even though it was draining it was a total blast. I would also just find myself exploring and finding new shortcuts and jumps to exploit. EA has a real winner with Most Wanted and I hope their next outing will even better take advantage of the next-gen hardware as apposed to this last-gen port. They also need to spend a few bucks on the Live portion of the game, as there are just so many possibilities here. If you are a racing fan and game on a HDTV and 5.1 system, then this is a no brainer, BUY IT! If you ‘suck at’ racing games but have The System you may want to give it a rent, who knows you might end up having some fun. Point is this game really shines in HD and 5.1. It defiantly will affect your overall experience.

Electronic Arts
Criterion Games
Release Date:
November 15, 2005
Final Rating:

Author: Eric Pfoutz

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