Need For Speed: Most Wanted (2012) Preview

All I wanted to do was play.

Despite everything planned for us, all I wanted to do was play Need For Speed: Most Wanted. I was looking forward to Criterion's game, even more so considering how much I enjoyed their previous Need For Speed title, Hot Pursuit. As bored as I had grown with racing games in general, Criterion seemed to hit a nice middle ground between three of the genre's tenets.

Hot Pursuit's mechanics managed to hit the sweet spot between depth and arcade reliability. There was a ton of gameplay, whether you were taking down rivals or getting chased by the cops (or chasing AS the cops!). What's more, it conveyed a sense of speed, something many racing games fail to do. As I sat down with Most Wanted, I hoped to see that Criterion had recaptured that trifecta of racing greatness.

In the opening moments of Most Wanted, you're taught that to race is to live. You will literally never spend a second outside of an amazing sports car or otherwise tricked-out ride. The announcer tells you that if you can find it, you can drive it. Listen, lady, I know how this game works. Just stay out of the way and let me go fast.

Oh… oh, she was done already. That's all I need to know? I started driving around Fairhaven City with reckless abandon. Thank God there were no pedestrians around, just pedestrian vehicles. *VROOM VROOM* –CRASH–!

Okay, so I broke the yellow Porsche. I didn't want to enter my first race looking less than my best, so I drove up to another exotic-looking vehicle with the manufacturer's logo hovering above it. These swap spots are littered around the city. Some are obvious, while others require a keen eye. Obviously, the less conspicuous swap spots house the rarer cars.

I traded my Porsche for a Bentley and followed the subtle prod of Most Wanted's GPS system. If you see an event on your map, you can drive right up to it. Otherwise, a few presses on the D-Pad will help you navigate the Autodrive system. Every car has different events available to it, so completionists will have plenty to work on.

Most events will have you racing against rival drivers and many will automatically trigger cop chases, adding to the chaos.That doesn't mean you can't pick up heat from the law by driving haphazardly around the city. As entertaining as events are, you're likely to get sucked deeper and deeper into Fairhaven in free-drive. Yes, much like the beloved Burnout Paradise before it, NFS: Most Wanted features a fully explorable open-world, complete with billboards that track how far you jump through them, speed cameras that record your fastest speed whenever you drive by, and hidden paths guarded by collectible "Restricted" gates.

Everything you do in Most Wanted is tallied and stacked up against your Autolog friends list. Much like Hot Pursuit and SSX earlier this year, you'll be able to compete with friends and see their accomplishments teasing you around the world. I started getting obsessive about particularly high-profile billboards. I leisurely drove around town finding ramps into the air and plastering my face all over them.

Then I realized someone else had been doing these billboards before me. As I began to wipe his scores from the leaderboards, a wicked smile started to spread. I was the Grinch of driving fast cars.

But screw that guy. The billboards were mine. So were all the points. Criterion has opted to reward players with Speed Points. These push you higher up the Most Wanted ladder which contains both friends and the 10 "Most Wanted" Cars in Fairhaven. To earn those cars for your own garage, you'll have to outrank them on the list and then beat them in a race…. and then run them off the road after you beat them.

I mean, they're not just going to hand over their cars. You have go all crazy stalker and wipe them off the city's map. At the end of the day, Need For Speed: Most Wanted is the only racing game I'm genuinely excited for this year. It seems to further Criterion's astounding track record and even brings the full experience to the Vita, albeit with four-player multiplayer as opposed to eight-player on console or PC. We'll find out on October 30 when it arrives for Xbox 360, PS3, PC, and Vita.

Check back later for our experience with Need For Speed: Most Wanted's 8-player online multiplayer.