Need for Speed

Need for Speed Most Wanted (2005) 2021 casual review

Did this for UG2, now I'm doing it for Most Wanted. Before I start however I'll mention a couple of things. For starters, unlike with UG2 I don't have experience with any 6th generation versions of the game. I have only played the Xbox 360 version (a very long time ago, too) and the PC version, modded. As such I can't speak to the quality of the ports like I did for UG2. Secondly, for this playthrough I used a "2021 retouch" mod that improved the visuals and effects. It also came with Extra Options installed. All of this being said some criticisms may be more directed towards the mods specifically. I will point those out when I mention them, however, since it's been quite some time since I played a version of this game with 0 mods whatsoever, I may make some mistakes in assuming issues exist in the original game. Please feel free to correct me in the replies (but make sure no one else already has!) All that being said, let's begin!

The Good
– The map
Rockport is downright iconic. The vast majority of its roads are an absolute blast, and coming off of UG2's Bayview it's both literally and figuratively like night and day. There are a few too many S-curves for my liking, but beyond that this map is nearly perfect.
– Car list
Most Wanted's car selection is the first in the franchise to feature such a wide variety of vehicles. Not only are there far more than in the other three Black Box games of the time, but rather than focusing on one type of vehicle Most Wanted features muscle cars, tuners, and exotics, with an emphasis on the latter. This is what I feel a NFS car list should be like.
– Quality of Life
It's difficult to articulate this but I cannot stress its importance enough. 99% of the things that I thought made UG2 a mediocre experience are fixed in this game. From fast travel to shops selling everything to the better economy to the removal of URL races and outrun races to the removal of the rep system in favor of a much, MUCH more sensible bounty system – it's such a large quantity of little things and a few big things design wise that aren't much on their own, but are a vast improvement over the things that brought UG2 down. There are still a couple of hiccups, but they are small in comparison to those of UG2.

The Bad
– Lack of variety
At first glance it would seem that Most Wanted has about the same amount of event types as UG2. But don't be fooled. Street X and Drift have been cut in favor of Tollbooth (a timed point to point) and Lap Knockout (Circuit but with extra steps). The thing that really hurts the game here is that you play every event type except Drag exactly the same way. Sure, they work a bit differently, but in the end because all of them play the same, they blend together. It makes me question why Lap Knockout is even in the game. I can think of better "elimination" modes that may not have felt quite as samey, but in the end as long as they played the same it wouldn't really do much for the game.
– Drag races
Fortunately, tuning isn't required to win here. However, they still managed to make Drag worse than before. Now, most drag races take place on much curvier roads than before, with more traffic than before. To add insult to injury, whatever programming is responsible for changing lanes is screwed up, unable to stay in the lane it's supposed to.
– The AI
It seems to be a hot topic of discussion, which Black Box game has the worst AI. While I personally think it's UG1, no contest, Most Wanted is second. Extra Options comes with the option to disable Catch Up (rubber banding). In doing so, almost every race became a total cakewalk, including the infamous race against Earl. Now, I won't complain that the game was easy; that's the fault of the mod. However, the game being easy without the default rubber banding enabled highlights a different issue: how utterly horrendous the AI is. Without Catch Up it cannot even begin to keep up with a semi-decent player. And with Catch Up on, sometimes the game mistakenly applies Catch Up to one opponent for an entire race, making the cheats blindingly obvious and the race impossible to win without selecting it from the Safe House again. It's a lose-lose situation; do you want your game to be a cakewalk or do you want it to be frustrating and unfair? UG2's AI does circles around that of this game.

The Ugly
– Presentation
It's the 7th generation! Everything is brown and edgy now! Yeah yeah everyone gets the point. In the words of Whitelight, this game looks like it was fished out of a sewer. Fortunately, the 2021 Retouch mod I mentioned fixes that, but it introduces some new problems, like an infernal time of day cycle that sometimes makes the game so dark I have to play it with muscle memory cuz I can't see a damn thing. It also came with a ridiculously exaggerated and distracting (but easy to disable, fortunately) motion blur. This is another lose-lose situation. That being said in terms of sheer impressiveness Most Wanted definitely is a nice looking and nicely running game. Hence, this isn't in the Bad category.
– Pursuit system
At its best the pursuit system is innovative, fun, and tense. At its worst it's fundamentally flawed and unfair to the point of rage. For a first attempt the pursuit system is stupidly fleshed out and immensely satisfying. But from brain dead AI to physics freakouts to unfair bullshit you could never see coming, the further you get in the game the scarier and more frustrating pursuits become. Cops often win against you not by being good at their job but with sheer numbers. This becomes obvious when you start waiting for backup and realize how easy it is to accidentally lose the one cop that's chasing you. There's also the fact that for every blacklist member (of which there are 15) you must complete certain pursuit milestones, and they repeat often. As fun as the pursuit system is, this does mean you're essentially doing the exact same thing except harder 15 times. And that's assuming you never get busted, which, heh, yeah no. All that being said however, while the system isn't perfect, when it works, holy hell it works and it works good. Escaping by the skin of my teeth at condition 5 with a tire popped is the single most tense and memorable experience I've ever had in a racing game.
– Length
Most Wanted doesn't drag on nearly as long as UG2 did, but due to its lack of variety it still manages to feel too long. It's more repetitive than UG2 was, as objectives and routes frequently repeat themselves. Nowhere near as bad as UG1, but when I have to even say that in the first place, something has still gone wrong. Strangely, a lot of the game's most unique routes only appear toward the very end of the game, buried underneath a large heap of good routes that blend together a bit.
– Miscellaneous (this is a bit of a tangent that I didn't know what to call lmao)
While UG2 felt like your cars were constantly getting faster, Most Wanted feels more like it's divided into stages, where at first you'll have 150mph cars, then 170mph, then 200mph. There isn't enough of a progression in speed throughout the game, which might stem from it being long and spread out. It doesn't help that you'll be driving a lot more cars in Most Wanted. I used every Blacklist car as I got them, except the CLK500 (because it sucks, so I replaced it with my own Porsche 911) and the SLR (cuz it also isn't great, so I got the Porsche Carrera instead). Because you naturally get so many cars, you don't grow as much of an attachment to them as you do in UG2. It also doesn't help that customization is heavily dumbed down. I like the implementation of customization in that by customizing your car you lower its heat because the cops think it's a different car. That's a creative way to make customization worth doing. However, the options available are limited compared to the previous game.

Conclusion
While it may look like I have more bad than good to say about Most Wanted, I honestly enjoy this game a lot despite its flaws. It improved a lot of what was wrong with UG2 and tried a ton of new things, most of which pretty much worked. It's just that a lot of Most Wanted's best points also have something about them that could be improved upon. That being said, it's a more complicated issue than it was for UG2. I'm honestly not sure what all could be easily done to improve the game, as a lot of its issues are more deeply ingrained in the game's structure and programming. As such, I won't list off the things I would change, as I honestly don't know where to begin. However, I will say that while this game has aged quite a bit, it is still extremely fun today, and if you can look past it's worst moments, it is definitely worth a play. I say the same about UG2, but not to the same extent. Unlike UG2, I can easily see myself coming back to this game many times years down the line.

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