"You're wasting your time, and my time as well-la-la-la wow, an Impreza"

Have Criterion brought a successful reboot to the Vita or will you be left feeling burnt out?

Criterion Games were behind the successful reboot of the recent Hot Pursuit title in the Need for Speed series. Renowned for their work on the Burnout series prior to their acquisition by EA, and the subsequent release of Burnout Paradise, arguably the finest open world racing game ever it’s fair to say that I was pretty excited when I heard they had been developing this entry, and even more excited to see it coming for the Vita. I must admit that I wasn’t completely blown away with the original Most Wanted, but I guess it didn’t help that I had already played Hot Pursuit or Burnout Paradise before it; such was my late entry into this gaming generation.

I didn’t know whether to make a Royster’s joke or a Die Hard one…

Most Wanted may be a reboot of an earlier title and it certainly has a few recognisable hallmarks from the 2005 version, but it has far more in common with both the aforementioned Hot Pursuit and Burnout Paradise, with a sprinkling of the original title. It takes the open world nature of Burnout Paradise and it’s make your own route up races, billboards and gates and explore everywhere ethos and throws in the raw adrenaline inducing police chases and real vehicles with customisation mechanics from Need for Speed, with a catch them all blacklist of ten drivers. And if you a familiar with one or both you may well feel at home and home in Most Wanted is called Fairhaven. It takes a short while to load up from the title screen which gives you an idea of the size of the city, and every time that you start it’ll give you a little update as to where you currently are and progress and through Autolog a few recommendations for you to get stuck into if you choose to, but that’s on repeat plays.

Who else could say that their first car was a Porsche?

The first time you are eased in by driving to a destination within the city to get used to the controls. The game has a very loose control scheme but it feels remarkably solid at the same time. It’s a traditional method with the right trigger being the accelerate and left is the brake. circle will switch views between in car and behind, the only two options. Square serves as your very useful and efficient handbrake and the X is nitrous, once your car has it unlocked.

Touch controls are limited as Criterion didn’t want to fashion them into the game unnecessarily, and pretty much serve as the way to switch the music tracks. It also is used to switch between different markers on the map screen. After a short drive you reach your destination following which you “jack” your first car.

If only it were as easy as pressing right when your MOT was due.

By pressing the triangle button when near a new vehicle you will switch into it via a short cinematic and it’s yours. And there are more than 100 of these jackpoints throughout the city to switch into a different vehicle with each car having multiple pick up points. Future additions to your garage do not need to be driven first; just activating the jack point will be enough for you to obtain it. The only cars that have to be unlocked as such are the blacklisted drivers, but the others all have to be found first. Once you have unlocked a point you can also switch cars at will through Easydrive without having to drive to it, although you can if you want. Easydrive is activated through the D-pad, and opens an intuitive menu system from which you control everything in game. It will be familiar to Paradise fans and is used to set your races, customise or switch cars, activate the special races or activate the next most wanted driver, once unlocked or even retry your last event. This is also where you access Autolog and multiplayer. Once Fairhaven has loaded, it is active and all happening in real time.

“Characterized by intuition or instinct rather than intellect.”
Sounds about right seeing as I’m driving through it.

As you target your first race, a way point system activates showing the route to the start, and once there you activate the event by holding both triggers. depending on how you fared in the race, you will earn speed points and customisations for your car. Everything is unlocked independently for each car and all the races for the cars are kept separate, except for the races which are unique to the Vita version which can be completed in any vehicle. At times in Paradise it could get quite cluttered with the amount on the screen and there is none of that here. Every jack point, bill board, gate and camera is stored on your map though. Speed Points accumulate for everything you do, drifting, oncoming traffic all the usual suspects that you would expect and also for engaging it pursuits and takedowns of opposing police cars, which I couldn’t help doing at every opportunity. These points are your currency here and are required to progress through the list of the most wanted but also serve as an indication of your own most wanted status in multiplayer.

I could really murder some right now.
Krispy Kreme, the chocolate one with sprinkles.

The game also keeps a record of how high you jumped, how fast you went through a speed camera, how many security gates you have smashed and your own records in each race and lists with your friends in games at each of those locations so that you can try to get yourself top if you choose. It also tracks the various milestones that you complete as said at the start of the review and allows you to compare these through Autolog, which returns for the third time in the series.

The events for the cars come in four flavours with circuit races, which are multiple laps around sections of the city, sprint races which you need to drive as fast as possible, speed runs which measure your speed throughout various points and tracks your average speed and ambushes in which you are to escape from Fairhaven’s finest boys in blue in the fastest time possible.

Easydrive rates these in difficulty for you, from easy to hard and the harder ones certainly are more challenging, so you may want to work on your modifications before tackling them.

“You’re wasting your time, and my time as well-la-la-la wow, an Impreza”

The game is built on Criterion’s Chameleon engine and visually there are many good points and a few down points. But how you will interpret this game will come down to what you are expecting. If you are wanting a full on console conversion of the visuals then there is no doubt you will feel disappointed, but it is important to point out that despite the raw power inside the Vita, it is not a PS3 at heart. WipEout 2048 is an artistic beast of a racer, but it doesn’t have a full city with others cars on the road, all running in real time. Once you can comprehend that Criterion have squeezed all of Fairhaven onto a little Vita cartridge and only really traded off a bit of traffic and a visual tweaks for that then you will see that it’s all pretty amazing. There is no pop up of buildings here, it’s all running so smoothly and effortlessly moves shifts in and out of view as you zoom all over the place.

NO LIKEY, NO LIGHTEY.

The cars look awesome, Criterion have done an amazing job here and every vehicle looks so impressive with the curves, the lines and the detail. The light shifting on the cars is very good. But as I said converting the console version nigh on perfectly to the Vita has come at bit of a cost. The scale and scope of Fairhaven is incredible, but to get it all running the textures on the buildings and more noticeably the opposing traffic have taken a bit of a hit. The buildings aren’t bad by any stretch, and to be honest unless you are stopping to admire the scenery then it will probably go over your head. More obvious examples lie with the headlights at night appearing as pixelated blobs before the pass on the other side of the road. It wasn’t a big deal to me really, and you will be probably be having so much fun with the game and caught up in the speed of it all that it may not be that apparent, but I suppose I do need to mention it.

Now I know why the boy racers do it in car parks.

On the other side you do have tire tracks, smoke and sparks. But when you take all things into consideration, it is simply unbelievable that they have managed it, and I’d go as far to say that it is arguably the most visually impressive Vita game so far, despite the little niggles.

There is an amazing amount of acoustic talent on board as you would expect with a little sprinkling of Green Day, Muse, The Chemical Brothers, Dizzee Rascal, The Who and many more great artists all providing typical driving style tunes to drive along to and really fits the game well. The cars all sound amazing and you really get a taste for them as you speed, jump and crash your way around the city.

This is about a third of the City. And a fraction of the Billboards.

There is so much to do in Most Wanted you can see that it has taken quite a while before I’ve even really got into the core pieces of a Need for Speed title, unlocking Supercars and Police chases! As you continue causing trouble and building up your points, you get to unlock in turn chances to take on the bad boys of the game, and beating them in their race unlocks it on the streets. Then you just have to find it and shut it down to make it yours. Of course, it will be noticed by the cops, and you will nearly always start getting chased, initiating pursuits. The longer you evade being busted, the higher your heat level will rise, up to a maximum of six. Needless to say it goes up faster than it goes down and being busted will ensure that any points earned during the chase will be removed, but if you manage to escape you could find a healthy boost to your score. Repair stations and understanding Fairhaven will really go a long way to helping here.

I’m so going to bust you up. I’m the Alpha Dog.

As I said, and Criterion had already confirmed there is reduced traffic on the Vita. When you are participating in races, or on the highways you will notice an increased flow, and to be honest it is noticeable but hardly an issue. You will be so occupied with everything else, and when it matters you will still find that you have to avoid trucks and vans and all sorts. Additionally if you are after masses of damage and carnage Burnout-style you may be disappointed. The cars get slight dents and scuffs on them, a spray of sparks and minimal debris shower when crashing and the windscreens get a rippled effect when you make crash more regularly, but if you are expecting the full show with fully crumpled vehicles then you are out of luck.

“I told you so” doesn’t quite cut it.

Modification purists may find themselves a little disappointed too. The range of modifications available to you are all unlocked through race progression independently and they do make differences to your vehicle but you are limited to two or three choices for each category, such as long gears or short gears, track tires and off road and so on. All of these little tweaks do make a difference to the handling of the cars but you may feel a little let down if you expected more customisation. You can “pro” the modifications too by completing objectives with them equipped, like drifting a certain amount of meters with certain gears settings and once completed you get a nice little speed points boost and slight improvement to your stats. This has to be done for each car individually too.

If I’ve got a decent speed level, why do you keep spawning me in this Focus?

It also has to be done separately in multiplayer as well for the vehicles, which is accessed through Easydrive. You can join a public game or create your own and you are then put into “freedrive” in Fairhaven. Switching out is just as instantaneous. From here you can participate in different Speedlists, or you can even create your own. The modes that you can experience are Challenge, Race, Speed Test or Team Race. Challenges take on various events against the clock and everyone participating must meet the requirements in order to proceed to the next part. Races begin at a set point on the map with no set starting grid. You follow the route through the check points as quickly as you can and attempt to amass speed points, which will ultimately determine your finishing position.

Especially when I have these available. It does nothing for my credibility.

Speed Tests require you to spend 90 seconds of burning through a speed trap, jump, drift or time whilst hitting the fastest speed and Team Races see you paired off and working together versus the other team and accumulate speed points together and attempt to beat the other team. Some of the events will limit the vehicles allowed to enter and so the cars are graded in Multiplayer into seven classes, Everyday, Exotic, Grand Tourer, Muscle, Race, Sports and SUV. More cars open up as you progress through your Speed Level, which is governed by your Speed Points and ranges from level 1-70. Your single and mutliplayer scoring is all lumped together too.

Spending hours unlocking different faceplates is fun, right Battlefield fans?

Although limited to four players, playing with others in Most Wanted is incredible fun and is something well worth experiencing. Even just mucking around jumping off of buildings, tearing down the street trying to set that speed camera off of whether you are tearing through the park, taking out your opponent as you attempt to get more speed points every session will give you tremendous enjoyment.

Everything you do and tally up will also unlock different license plates for you to customise your look in Multiplayer. Unlocking them all will take you some considerable time, and enable you to show off a bit with your hard earned plate flashing up whilst your friend/rival crashes into a wall.

There is so much for you to get involved with, hunting down every single thing will take you a very long time, and the convenience of this being portable and take anywhere only adds to the equation. This is easily the best portable racer that I have ever played, and if you own both the PS3 and the Vita I would still suggest taking a chance on this version. It may be slightly less pretty but is full of content that can be taken everywhere.

It’s a near perfect amalgamation of both the Burnout and Need for Speed series, Criterion have simply outdone themselves and set a massive bar from which not only racers, but all Vita games will now have to compare to. This is what the Vita can do.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Presentation
Gameplay
Lasting Appeal
Execution
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Paul founded The Vita Lounge and is the Executive Editor, but still likes to get involved with the odd piece of news or a review. 35 years young and gaming since 1990, he has a preference for Action/RPG games, Shooters, Racing Games (despite ironically not being able to drive!) and quite partial to a game of FIFA.
  • Bevin Kutler

    aWW..thevitalounge.com overates NFS on vita. Desperate much, $ony??

    • Thanks for commenting, did you read it? Have you played it? Be good to know your thoughts based on hands on experience.

      And also, this is an independant site, not affiliated in any way with Sony. Just so you know.

      • andy

        It is a really good game! I think the review does a great job pointing out the flaws the game has.

        Sure, the game isn’t perfect, but it succeeds immensely where it counts – Gameplay. The game visuals fall apart when you stop and stare at them, but while the game is moving, it looks beautiful. And thats how the game should be seen!

        I think the negative reviews for the game are a bit harsh – granted I haven’t played the ps3 version. But to say its a pale attempt at porting the ps3 version to vita isn’t fair the game. If this was the only version of this game that existed, It would forever be a phenomenal portable racing game for the vita.

  • Alisdair Mills

    i’m interested to find out the download size for the game (running out of memory card space). any ideas what size it is?

    • Hi Alisdair, it’s less than 2.5 gb to download. There is also a small day 1 patch too.

  • Bobby

    I’m so glad it turned out good. I have it pre-ordered and should arrive this week! I’m afraid that Asphalt Injection won’t see the light of day anymore. 🙂

  • kris

    @Kevin mate,please do you researches,watch some videos,play the game on a friend’s VITA then post your comments especially when saying the game is overated.No its not ,its a great game which you can play in your bed ,in the bus ,walking your dog etc

    • Stonedcold

      You play your vita while walking the dog??

      • I wouldn’t trust myself to not drop it whilst trying to control mine personally, but I suppose it is possible. 😉

  • TL;DR
    😉

    Great review, Paul. I’m looking forward to picking this up.

    Anywho guys, AC3: Liberation review will be up on Thursday (if you’re lucky, tomorrow; depends on what my thoughts on it are).

  • Buramu

    Excellent in-depth, fair and balanced review Paul. A great read… and I can’t wait to try this game for myself.

    Thanks for the extensive write-up!

  • Szayel

    This review…Brought tears to my eyes.

  • bcfc545

    nice review,
    Think you may have pushed me towards getting it… 😉
    BTW love the site, I only found it tonight via twitter btw I’m going to recommned it to my Vita friends to take a look aswell.

  • MarcoM

    Long read, good read.

    Hopefully it will be available in the psn store tomorrow. Together with WRC 3 the Vita finally gets its propper racing games!

  • MarcoM

    by the way, can you change the controls?

  • Vitalogy

    This is a well written review like I haven’t seen in a very long time though I have to disagree with the given score and the reason is simple, no game game deservs the maximum score if they’re pointed negative points, doesn’t matter if is something small or not it still a negative so that means the game isn’t perfect (nothing is actually) and so it can’t be rated max score.

    That’s why I rate this review 9,9/10 because of that 😉

  • Thank you all for reading, I hope you all enjoyed it. Must have hurt your eyes!

    There are a few cynics in the world, and just for clarity, if nearly 3,000 words and much time over three days doesn’t convince your MY passion for this game then I don’t suppose very much will. 😉

    It gained a perfect score becasue of the way I feel games should be scored. It’s a must have title and has minor flaws which in no way deter from your experience. It’s a must have title. It is extremely polished and I think a few of you have now been able to play it yourself now and look forward to hearing your thoughts too.

    You can also find myself and many of these here commenters on PS Vita Forum on this thread to further discuss this game if you wish too.

    psvitaforum.com/threads/need-for-speed-most-wanted-autolog-2-0.7245/

    If you have any questions that are not covered by the review then I would be more than happy to answer them for you.

  • MarcoM

    Owning both the ps3 version and vita version of MW I am really amazed with the game on the Vita. It feels so similar. Shame you cannot change the controls on the Vita version. But that is the ONLY inimini minor thingie 😉

  • Great review Paul, getting my copy tomorrow hopefully. Can’t wait.

  • Vincent Deseers

    I am getting both PS3 and Vita versions.

    You seem to have missed out the cloud compete thing in the review. From what I have read it means you can give your SP a massive boost by playing both versions. I am hoping I can get recommends over 3G as that would be awesome.

    • I emailed Criterion and EA whilst writing the review about Cloud Compete as it wasn’t live at the time and I didn’t want to write about things I hadn’t experienced.

      🙂

  • MikeRox

    I’ve not played too much of the game yet, but maybe you could school some other reviewers on mainstream sites about the achievement this game is running as it does on Vita. I’m blown away!

    Vitalogy, I think games can have negative aspects and still get a “perfect score” so long as they’re not detrimental to the core experience.

    The negatives mentioned in this review I don’t feel take away from the game itself and the customising is purely a personal preference. I prefer Burnout’s pick it and drive approach to Gran Turismo’s tweaking and bolting etc.

  • Just been playing online tonight with a friend for about 3 hours, making our own play lists, the game is incredible.
    Then we just picked a speed camera on a long straight and tried to beat each other through that, amazingly that took up 45 min’s alone, time just flow by.

    Anybody who compares this to the PS3 and doesn’t recognize what this is doing on the Vita is a complete, well you can guess!!!

    Best Vita game so far 🙂

  • Bobby

    Game is really good. One thing I don’t like is the very pixelated headlights from upcoming traffic. Question, the very first race I didn’t get the first position. Is there a way to race it again later on? Or will it just randomly show up in the Easydrive list?

    • I did comment on the lights in the review.

      You can also re-visit any race from Easydrive, and if you don’t finish where you want you can immediately restart it from Easydrive too.

      • Bobby

        Hi Paul. I must have mist the point of the headlight in your review. Thanks for your quick reply!

        • No worries, thanks for reading! How far into the game are you?

          • Bobby

            I read again trough your review and I didn’t miss it. That part about the pixelated lights I just misunderstood. I thought you meant the headlights of your own car and not the upcoming traffic.

            I just played it for an hour or so. I received it today together with WRC 3 in the mail. I had to make my girlfriend choose which I should play first because I couldn’t decide! 😛 They are both really good!

  • Micke

    Having bought the PSN version i have a litte problem.

    I notice when your speeding the framerate stutters when the game loads in more scenery i think. I think i drops from 30 to 25-26 fps.

    Anyone else notice it? Look at the building when youre driving to notice the stuttering

    • It does now and again but I’ve stopped noticing it now I’m playing it a lot.

  • Galvatron

    Excellent review, Paul.

    I’ve been frankly exasperated by the worrying trend of down-scoring Vita games by both mainstream and independent reviewers, on titles I myself have deemed fantastic achievements on Sony’s portable. As a very happy Vita owner, I place Gravity Rush, Wipeout 2048, MGS: HD Collection, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation and now Criterion’s Most Wanted as must-haves.

    The scale of Fairhaven represents a leap forward for a handheld with a true sandbox experience, and I’m loving the games’ equivalent of boss battles, the campaign’s 10 Most Wanted drivers.

    Clearly the actual playing time pays-off long-term as you learn the games route’s, tricks and nuances. The graphics are impressive and playability high.

    Yet so-called ‘critics’ deem that by having to avert your eyes to the mini-map is bad design, that it isn’t the same quality as PS3; yet many of these reviewers fail to mention EXACTLY what Vita-owning buyers constantly reiterate – on a handheld machine, such titles are ground-breaking. Laughably, and including podcasts, these guys state they prefer similar titles on an IPad, completely shooting themselves in the foot by ignoring again EXACTLY what actual Vita owners appreciate; the dual analogue sticks, which will always beat purely touch controls, hands-down 🙂

    So kudos to one of the most positive and contextual reviews of a fine product on the Vita. When including titles I mentioned initially with the release of this & Liberation (equally if not more impressive than Criterion’s in-house effort), plus LBP Vita, Sound Shapes and future titles like Killzone, I look forward to reading a well-written review and subsequent replies here.

    • I agree fully. I felt that AC3: Liberation’s score on MetaCritic is on the low end. It’s probably the Vita shooting itself in the foot; it is so close of being able to perform on console level, but just falls short compares to the HD twins and thus is compared in a negative way.

  • Ordered this game, hope it comes today. I’m not going to regret it.