Wii U Hands-on: Need for Speed Most Wanted U
On February 8, I got the chance to play Need for Speed Most Wanted U for the Wii U. Alex Ward, VP of Criterion, talked me through the features that make the Wii U version unique. Let’s get started!
Alex was really pushing the paired playing experience. He said that they had built the game for the other consoles, and had the vanilla Need for Speed game done well before they had the hardware. Then on December 27th they got a copy of the hardware. They sat down and discussed what they could do with the game tailored to the Wii U experience. Their deadline to ship the game was January 14th, and in that time they got the chance to introduce all the GamePad specific gameplay as well as the Miiverse specific content within the game. You could tell he was really proud of the extra effort they made in that time to make the game feel like it belongs on the Wii U and isn’t just a standard port.
Need for Speed Most Wanted U covers the full gamut with its control options. You can play it with the standard Wii remote/nunchuk, GamePad buttons, GamePad motion controls, or the Wii U Pro Controller. You can also play it on the GamePad screen for Off-TV functionality. As for the controls themselves, everything seemed pretty standard for a racing game.
The game feels like a high quality NFS title. The game takes place in Fairview which is roughly twice the size of Paradise city from the Burnout series. The city was largely inspired by Boston, and while driving there are parts that you can get that feeling of an aged city with some modern details.
Co-op was an interesting attempt to differentiate the racing genre. I’m not sure it hit the mark square on, but it’s a good first attempt given the new technology made available by the Wii U. I asked Alex what his main takeaway from Most Wanted was and what he was hoping to accomplish with his next take on a Need for Speed game. He said it was to broaden the demographic of the game and make it more accessible to less hardcore gamers. It seems to be a pragmatic ambition considering the franchise is over a decade old and the people who are inclined to play a high speed racing game are more than familiar with the Need for Speed franchise.
You can tell this ambition influenced co-op significantly–they originally called it “Father Son mode”. Basically, in single player mode, the player with the GamePad can modify the gameplay experience. Both controllers are directly ported to the car. So if one player can’t get out of a corner, the other person can simply direct them out. The GamePad also has options to change out the car on the fly, toggle traffic on and off, stop police cars currently in pursuit, toggle night and day and view the map with relevant game data such as billboards and speed cameras overlaid.
The concept was to let one more experienced player easily help a less skilled/experienced player enjoy the game without that frustrating “just give me the controller” feeling. While I think this might make the game more accessible to girlfriends and children, it doesn’t provide much of a fresh experience for the hardcore gamer. It felt a little forced, but seemed like the obvious approach to try to make use of the new technology of the Wii U GamePad. You can tell it’s their first foray into using the new technology to come at this genre from a new angle.
Alex said that Autolog and Miiverse are joined together to provide the same multiplayer experience NFS players have had in the past while being influenced by the new Wii U multiplayer experience. From what I can tell, that means that most of the matchmaking or player organization is done by their Autolog 2.0 system and then small details from Miiverse appear in game. While playing I crashed through a couple of billboards which had my friends’ Miis on them with various records for the jump.
I think the game was a solid showing on the Wii U. I don’t think it’s going to be anything particularly new for current NFS fans. I asked Alex if he thought the same co-op feature would have been successful on another console and, as expected, he said that it’s well suited for the Wii U demographic. I think for a lot of studios like this that have felt the stagnation of a decade old title, like NFS, see the Wii U as the most viable opportunity to broaden their demographic. Features like co-op speak to that and I’m guessing will make an experienced player less frustrated while playing with a more casual one. However, I don’t see it leading to an actual larger invested NFS audience. The more casual player requires the more experienced player to be present and helping to enjoy the game. Even if that first gameplay experience is a bit more enjoyable, I don’t see my girlfriend then becoming an invested NFS gamer on her own.
Alex said one of his main goals was to make a game that people played start to finish, and less of a one-off race experience. This seems to be at odds with the goal of making it appealing to a broader audience. That being said, I’m happy to see the experimentation with new technology and I think the “Father son mode” will actually be nice for just that, parents helping their children play. Ultimately, this can only help attract a new generation of NFS players.
Need for Speed Most Wanted U releases on the Wii U, March 19, 2013.