Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Games
Release Date: November 16, 2005
I feel a need…a need for speed!
Need for Speed has been a long-standing franchise dating all the way back on the PC in the early '90s when I was just really getting into gaming. Since then, NFS has evolved into a fully fledged and honed series and is most recently retold in the form of NFS: Most Wanted. MW takes a nod from the success sparked by Fast and Furious with its quarter mile and drift-racing subculture. Since then, we have witnessed the movement of this subculture (whether it's career street racers to that guy in the Civic you laugh at when he drives by sporting three wings, neon running lights and an automatic gearbox) to the forefront of mainstream media. MW capitalizes on this cultural movement and does so with some risky design choices that ultimately pay off rather nicely. For the record, NFS: MW on the Xbox 360 is not much different from the Xbox version, but for solely X360 owners, that's neither here nor there.
The first thing I noticed with MW was the cinematic nature of the game. There is most definitely a story here, and while it relies on action movie clichés, it's not all that bad. The big shocker came in the form of full motion video; I was thrown back by it and cried, "This game is all the way live '95!" I honestly cannot recall the last time I saw FMV in a game, and for new gamers, I reckon this must be a first-time experience for them. Much to my delight, the FMV works and makes sense, too. With only 3D modeling done for the cars and scenery, the art team doesn't have to worry about trying to awkwardly model people, something the engine isn't designed for.
Thankfully, the actors are done over with some nice coloration and filters to make them fit very well into the scenes, which do make use of the game's rendering engine. The dialogue is trite and expected, and the storyline is basic: evil racer takes your pink slip, and you need to work your way up the Blacklist to get a shot at getting back your car and your girl. Meanwhile, two cops and a swarm of squad cars are after you. There is an assortment of forgettable characters, but you'll be palling around with Mia, who acts as your buddy and propels the story.
The real meat of the game happens across various raceways which span across city streets and highways in a fictional city. The city is characterized in this ever-present amber hue and reminds you of Burnout: Revenge, which is good. Even better is that these streets are populated with some heavy traffic and patrolling cops. NFS: MW is by no means a simulation like Forza, PGR 3 or GT; however, it is also not an over-the-top extravaganza like Wipeout or Burnout.
MW resides somewhere is the normally uncomfortable middle range where it neither drives the safe slow lane or the daring fast lane. MW is laden with E-braking drift turns and insanely fast straights (even with the lower-end cars), but if you nail every corner at top speed, you will find yourself losing races. In this regard, MW doesn't really distinguish itself. There is the obligatory nitro switch for a speed boost, but things get interesting when you begin to get chased by cops and you use your Speed Breaker moves. I did not realize the greatness of the Speed Breaker until I used a tractor trailer as a means of escape.
Speed Breakers function like Bullet Time, which, despite being used in just about every other game, I have not seen it used in a racing game, where time slows down and allows you to do unimaginable things like power-sliding underneath a big rig's trailer. There are also Pursuit Breakers, which come in handy when you've got five cops and a helicopter tailing you. Pursuit Breakers are like Crash Breakers in Burnout: Revenge, only they use the environment rather than your car as a bomb. Hit an overpass and trigger your PB, and the bridge blows up and collapses on your pursuers, giving you a much-needed respite. It's quite cool and ups the cool factor and makes the game fun to watch as well as play.
While most X360 games have been exposed to be simplified ports, NFS: MW proves to be more refined. The game looks great. The high-definition resolutions really make a difference in the game's overall look and feel. Running in 720p or 1080i the game runs at a solid 30 frames per second, and the normal mapped environments look much better than other games using NM to lesser effect. The car models may not boast 80,000 polygons like PGR 3, but they look awesome, and all of the cars are licensed vehicles.
NFS: MW stands as a good game that is a lot of fun. There is really good replay value to be had here, with all of the little things you can discover through performance goals and achievements, and there are a lot of secrets to unlock. You can always take your game on Xbox Live and play other gamers, but I found the single-player game to be more compelling. The graphics will dazzle your friends, and the dynamic gameplay also makes MW a fun game to watch your friends play. For those of you who are looking for a racing game that does not require Skip Barber's Driving School to understand, MW will prove to be a good fit. I would have liked to see a sandbox feature where I could build up and modify my own car with tangible performance benefits. The tracks also aren't very inspiring, but MW does deliver a complete and competent package that looks good, plays well, and is, most importantly, fun.
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