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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.