PN Review: Need For Speed: Most Wanted U
Need For Speed is back and better than ever in Most Wanted for the Wii U. Back in the day Need For Speed was all about racing fast cars and running from police. As the Need For Speed franchise grew it evolved into a story driven game that involved racing. Criterion has brought Need For Speed back to its racing roots and added some new features that really make this one of the best Need for Speed games ever made.
In my opinion, the Need For Speed games hit a rough patch that spanned over about a five year span of time in the recent past. This could be attributed to the story driven titles in the franchise that brought fans away from pure racing gameplay style that made the series so popular. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed customizing cars in Underground and climbing to the top of the Most Wanted list in the original but I am glad to see the reboot, Most Wanted U, make a return to a series with a game with racing as the main focus. Most Wanted U provides a solid racing experience without story and gimmicks, well maybe just with just one gimmick.
Co-Driver mode is a grouping of options on the GamePad’s touchscreen which allows players to switch between night and day (which the game does over time automatically anyways), turn traffic on and off, change cars, adjust controller options, disrupt the cops, and view the map. While there could be a use for such features when playing with a novice or someone new to the series, seasoned gamers used to the Need For Speed games may not get as much use out of these options. The advantage to using Co-Driver is that players can change game settings on the fly. Don’t let the name of this unique mode fool you though, Co-Driver mode was designed for a multiplayer experience but the mode is available to players when using the GamePad to play single player. Viewing the map on the GamePad through Co-Driver mode seemed to be the best feature but without a way to zoom out or pan around the map it didn’t really provide much information. Instead, the more useful map is tucked away under the pause menu options and this map provides the same functionality with the ability to pan around the entire map. The great thing about Co-Driver is that regardless of if you use the extra features or not, it will not affect the gameplay experience. The Co-Driver mode is just simply an additional set of features in addition to the core game that makes Need For Speed Most Wanted U a fantastic game.
In Most Wanted U the sense of speed experienced when racing around the open world that is Fairhaven City in some of the fastest cars imaginable is incredible. This is only accented by the epic crashes that are experienced when colliding with vehicles and other objects. Each race is prefaced by beautiful cut scenes that throw you right into the racing action. Engine sounds echo about when zipping around in parking structures and tunnels and glass tinkles as it is spread across the pavement during a crash. Police are more aggressive, hit harder, and police radio chatter is not as repetitive as it was in previous titles. The music in the game is one of the few things that’s part of the core game experience that seemed as if it needed a little more attention. The music in the game seemed familiar as if it was pulled from prior titles in the Need For Speed series or is overplayed in other entertainment mediums. The music in the game is not bad but it is the one thing that didn’t sparkle within an otherwise great racing game.
The Autolog and EasyDrive features from Most Wanted U are new to me. The Autolog feature is a great way to track everything you do in Most Wanted U. Also, with the introduction of Autolog 2.0, players can track their progress across multiple platforms rather than tracking stats for individual consoles. Easy Drive is quite possibly one of the most accessible in-game menus I have ever used. With a push of only a couple directional buttons players can browse almost all of the options the will need while playing Most Wanted U. The Easy Drive menu is always on screen and at the ready but collapses down to one tiny bar in the corner so that it is never intruding upon precious screen space. As great as Easy Drive is I was disappointed by how tedious it was to scroll through some of the longer sub menus, like the vehicle selection menu. Especially since vehicle selection is one of the more commonly used features.
The addition of Jack Spots has been an interesting addition to the series. Rather than upgrading vehicles by purchasing from a shop or beating opponents, Jack Spots are spread across Fairhaven City and each Jack Spot has its own unique car. All a player must do is roll up to a Jack Spot and switch cars. After visiting a Jack Spot, the car that was found there can be accessed at any time using Easy Drive. Taking heavy damage after a crash or doing donuts until the tires are worn, all the way down to the rims, is fun way to pass time in the wide variety of cars to choose from but after a while it is time for repairs. Repairs to vehicles can be made within a blink of an eye at any time and without penalty. Changing the paint color via Easy Drive or taking a quick drive by at one of Fairhaven City’s many body shops will restore vehicles to perfect condition. This comes in handy because there are plenty of opportunities to crash in Most Wanted U especially when friends get added to the mix.
The new subliminal social features that can be found around Fairhaven City such as speed cameras and billboards are optional challenges to compete against friends. These features allow players to compete with friends by simply just playing through the single player in Most Wanted U. For instance, get the longest jump after flying through a billboard and a player can see their Mii plastered on the billboard for all their friends to see. Then the players’ friends are tasked to try and top the score and have their Mii on display. While these new social features add a hint of multiplayer into the single player experience, there is also a full-fledged online multiplayer experience that everyone should take for a spin.
Online multiplayer is handled in a mini tournament style within the same open world of Fairhaven City that players will become familiar while playing the single player portion of Most Wanted U. The object is to end up with the most speed points by the end of 5 events. Speed Tests, Races, Team Races, and Challenges are the different event types players can expect to find online. There are some events that will require a player to participate with a particular style of car. I find that this helps level the playing field so that players can not completely dominate using one style of vehicle. The part I liked the most about online multiplayer is the race between events. The players convene at ‘Meet Ups’ and at the end of the first event players must race to the next Meet Up. It is important to try and arrive first because players that are first to arrive at a Meet Up get bonus speed points! So the fun never seems to end during the online multiplayer aspect of the game. Voice chat for the online multiplayer is not great and sometimes the feedback or lag in the conversation is so bad I just turned the volume down on the GamePad. Aside from the crackling sounds coming from the GamePad speakers, I did appreciate the fact that Most Wanted U utilizes the GamePad’s microphone rather than requiring the use of a headset for voice chat.
Most Wanted U allows players a wide variety of controller options including Classic Controller Pro, Wiimote, Wiimote & Nunchuk combo, Wii U Pro Controller, and of course the GamePad. The game can be played entirely on the GamePad using the Off-TV feature. The motion control option for steering using the GamePad was also a pleasant surprise and is actually the best ‘racing wheel’, outside of Mario Kart, that I have ever experienced.
In the end this is the one of the best Need For Speed experiences available to racing genre fans in a long time and hope it is not the last. Most Wanted U is accessible thanks to the new Co-Driver mode, the gameplay is excellent, online and social elements are executed very well, and the developer, Criterion, did a great job capturing the essence of Need For Speed in Most Wanted U. I honestly hope that EA is wise enough to permanently assign development of future Need For Speed titles to Criterion. The future of the Need For Speed franchise is brighter than ever thanks to the team at Criterion and their creation, Need For Speed: Most Wanted U.