Criterion Games' Need For Speed: Most Wanted made me forget the disappointment of Black Box's NFS The Run from my first virtual turn of the key. Although it misfires on occasion, this over-the-top arcade racer still plants a silly grin on my face, whether I'm racing AI Corvettes, breaching police roadblocks, or nitrous-boosting past desperate online opponents. It does a lot of things very right.
Wanna drive a Lamborghini Countach 10 minutes after starting? Simply find where someone parked the thing.
Set in the fictional city of Fairhaven, Most Wanted offers up a compelling open-world driving environment where you can cruise every corner of a complex network of congested urban streets, high-speed freeways, and narrow mountain roads right from the get-go, without having to laboriously unlock hidden areas as in some past NFS games. Criterion has been similarly generous with a stable of 41 licensed cars to drive recklessly. Wanna drive a Lamborghini Countach 10 minutes after starting? Simply find where someone parked the thing. Acquiring new cars is as easy as discovering each vehicle's "jackspot" location and hopping behind the wheel -- I found this freedom refreshing, but traditionalists may be disappointed in the lack of opportunity to earn their collections.
With reflective wet roads, accelerated day-to-night transitions, and blinding bloom effects (when you exit tunnels into the brilliant sunshine), there's also some serious graphic craftsmanship on display in Fairhaven. I do wish there were an in-cockpit driving view where I could admire that hand-stitched leather Porsche or Maserati wheel, though.
I had a blast playing Need For Speed: Most Wanted, and I expect to keep that feeling alive through many more single and multiplayer dustups. Keeping the Need For Speed legacy alive and fresh is no mean feat, but Criterion has succeeded admirably here. It may not reinvent the wheel, but Most Wanted certainly gives it a nice clean polish.