Ever since that blockbuster import racing movie The Fast and the Furious movie goers and video game enthusiast alike have been obsessed with taking an already fast car and tuning it to their every desire. Not only do people want to change the color of their car (PGR3 anyone?) but now the ability to change things such as body kits, rims, stickers, engines, brakes, etc. are a must for games such as the current best racer on the Xbox 360, Electronic Arts Need For Speed Most Wanted, in my opinion of course. This game has everything an underground racing fan such as myself would want; a very long extensive career mode and an online mode. Firstly I must say a little disclaimer: I am a proud owner of a sunlight silver RX-8 and the entire culture of street racing enthralls me so certain specifics of this game that really made me love playing may not strike the same cord with you but I promise you that if you give this game a chance it will prove to you that it is worth every penny; which seem to be tight with a launch lineup such as the 360.
First lets jump into the gameplay/story of Need for Speed Most Wanted. The games story mode is intense; it actually makes you care about the career/story of the main character which is a rare welcome to the racing genre. The story begins with the main character speeding into the city of Rockport and causing a stir among the racers as well as the local police (which happens to include one tough !&%$@#* cop that has a little racing experience of his own). After we get introduced to everyone in the story we meet Razor, the rough around the edges street racer that already has plenty of street credit too his name. After losing your souped up BMW to him in a crooked race you spend a few months in jail and come out with revenge on your mind. Starting from the ground up players must go through a blacklist that includes the top 15 street racers in the city (number 1 happens to be Razor). To race an opponent on the blacklist you must complete a number of trial races to prove you got what its worth to go up against someone with some credit to their name. After working your way through the list races get tougher, cars get faster, and cops get smarter. The career mode alone will easily take you 20+ hours to complete everything, beat everyone, and unlock all the bonus features. Different modes in the career are there such as circuit race, drag race, sprint, toll-booth, and my favorite the speed ticket challenge (where the point is to drive around and rack up the fastest speed that is being clicked by radar cameras while still trying to win the race). There is also a great free roam mode in which you can check out the city, find shortcuts for later races, and get your groove on with the police; oh the police, what fun we get to have with them this time around. EA did something right thats for sure!
The multiplayer is a double edged sword, the Xbox live mode is great, fun, and plenty of extra time can be spent online earning your own rep or just playing against your friends. My gripe is with the split screen, which in my opinion is so utterly important for a racing game that I cannot understand why EA gave it such little attention. The good thing about multiplayer is that you can load your custom cars from the career mode but as far as the races/modes available I am not impressed. Not only is there only a few modes to race in there is no option for computer AI racers to go against as well as no free roam or way to get the cops into the game. After only playing a few races with my friends via split-screen we found ourselves bored and ready to play something else. Lucky for EA the NFSMWs single player experience and Live modes make up for this obvious oversight.
The cars in this game are what made me notice it in the first place and they are a good mixture. Everything from a Lexus IS300 to my personal favorite the Mazda RX-8 are in the game and even a few Lamborghinis are available if your are good enough to get that far. All these cars are fully customizable and after spending many hours customizing one specific car (you guess?) the limits to this option are nearly endless. There is just something fun about repainting your car once a day or adding stickers, changing rims, upgrading your turbo or amount of nitrous; I could go on and on. The cars handle much better than any of the Need for Speed games of the past, both of the previous Underground renditions of the series were the best up until this game, NFSMW blows anything before it out of the water. Controls are as easy as any arcade style racing game you have played before with the left thumb-stick used for steering, Rt and Lt for gas and break respectively and the other buttons are used for nitrous, camera changes, gear shifts, and other things. The new physics engine that EA used for this game is what really takes it over the top in terms of the feel of the cars as you take turns at 160 MPH, no game that I have played to date has made this feel so realistic. Although the word realistic doesnt show up much in the review of a game like this I am here to tell you that certain parts of this game give you that feeling of being there and I love it.
Lets move onto something I know is important to you next-generation Xbox 360 owners, the graphics. I can sum it up in a few words: this game looks freaking amazing. To expand on this sentence lets start off with the environments. Everything looks good, the game runs at a smooth 30 FPS and never waivers, I would have liked to see 60 FPS but this is still early in the system life so Im sure EAs next installment will make my eyes bleed. The draw distance as you drive around the city is fairly good compared to the other games I have played on the Xbox 360, some things (trees, certain buildings) seem to come out of nowhere but never once did it bother my focus on the road. Other things in the city such as gas stations, large donuts, phone booths, and the occasional Burger King sign look gorgeous and almost everything in the world is destroyable by you, this feature alone gave me an hour or so of free-roaming fun. The road that you drive on looks awesome as well and has a great texture to it. Weather effects in this game are done better graphically than in many of the other 360 titles out there, rain slams down on you from above and your cars tires shoot up water from the wet slick-ridden pavement. Lastly the cars, they shine and glimmer with everything we have come to expect from something next generation. When put side by side with Need for Speed Most Wanteds Playstation 2s counterpart the difference is uncanny, has it only been a few years and now this? I didnt really touch on the full motion video that pops up throughout the game but Ill leave that one to the gamers, like it or not its there. Anyhow to put it simple the cars look amazing, the specifics put into these cars and upgrades are really what puts this game over the top, second to none in this department.
The audio in this Most Wanted is pretty good. The cars sound off the charts awesome, when revving up my own RX-8 in real life then doing it in the video game I could tell little if any difference between the two. As you are chased by the police you can hear them talking over their police radios and some of the things they say are classic; Ill never forget the phrase: The suspect is driving a Silver Mazda as long as I live. This kind of attention to detail is what really makes me want to tell the developers thanks for putting this kind of time into such a great sounding game. Unfortunately not all on the audio side is good, the voiceovers are lame to say the least and the music is easily and quickly replaced with your own favorites via the Xbox 360 hard drive or network. Given the soundtrack isnt bad it just cant stand up to smoking cops at 150 MPH while listing to a grab bag of Eminem, Tupac, and Garth Brooks.
After putting in a good amount of time with EAs Need for Speed Most Wanted on the Xbox 360 any doubt for the system or regrets on the money I spent are put to rest with a quick boost of nitrous. This game is long, if you have the stamina to complete the career mode you still have Live as a reason to put this one back into the 360. The car list, physics engine, story mode, and Live play are my major reasons for recommending this game to any readers out there that either A) like the previous versions of EAs underground series or B) miss games like Burnout and dont like games like Project Gotham; if you fit into one of these two categories this game is a must own for you, no questions asked. The graphics, sound effects, and controls are only a bonus to everything else that makes up a quality racing title. For a first attempt on new hardware I have to commend EA for a job well done. Now I have to go back to my secret life as an Underground racer, my RX-8 is quietly waiting to be unleashed.
Suggestions: Listen EA, first things first, next time around spend some more time with the split screen mode, add it the ability to have the cops chase you for one. Next the FPS in the game bothers me a little bit considering this is next-gen hardware; I expect 60 FPS and nothing less will suffice. A few minor graphical glitches (pop-ups anyone) and a larger car list would be nice but all in all EA made my mouth water with this one.