Need for Speed Most Wanted
If there's one thing that you can guarantee from Electronic Arts it's a sequel or yearly update from a franchise that they know Mr. Johnny Average will go out and buy. You only have to look at the annual or even bi-annual updates to sports series such as FIFA Football, Madden and Tiger Woods to spot the trend, and who can blame them when they all consistently sell in droves? And incidentally, why should they make any effort to drastically improve each game when they know that it'll still sell like hot cakes even if it's rubbish? Need For Speed Underground: Most Wanted is the most recent 'chavved'-up exhibitor in EA's street racing series and, some would say clever, another clever business tactic.
There are two major differences between Need for Speed Underground: Most Wanted and NFSU2's gameplay. First, take a moment to adjust your vision because now the action takes place not only in the nighttime but also in the middle of the day. Secondly, and perhaps the most defining feature of the game, is the inclusion of an increasingly ruthless police force whose sole desire is to stop you in your tracks and bust your ass (please, 'arse' - Ed).
Each of the new additions feature in the game's main Career mode in which, you, a nameless youth, enter Rockport City with the desire to become the hottest street racer around. Of course this task isn't as easy as slipping a fiver into the top pocket of the Blacklist (the name of the underground group) leader's Armani suit. In order to prove your worth you've got to compete in all kinds of races and challenges. These range from simple A-B checkpoint racing, speed competitions and tests of your nerve as you attempt to evade the cops. The story unfolds via a sequence of embarrassingly scripted and acted cut scenes in which you might think you've acquired psychic abilities in being able to predict what the onscreen characters are about to say. This false realisation soon subsides when you know that the lines spoken are those which you've heard a hundred times before in countless movies where car chases play a central role. Furthermore, the cut scenes are played out by real life actors who have been rendered onto a computer generated background. The result is, rather aptly, a car crash pallet of colours that just looks a bit of a mess.
The cop chases themselves are solidly implemented encounters which really do make you feel like you're centre of attention in some kind of World's Wildest Police Videos programme. As is your mindset, the boys in blue aren't going to let you get away without a fight; the longer you continue to flee from them the harder they try to stop you. Whether this is by adding more squad cars to the chase, laying spike strips or setting up road blocks, it's always a tense experience. The fact that all radio communication between police officers is audible throughout the time adds to the desperation you feel as you attempt to escape. And when you do escape you can't help but feel pleased with yourself, this is both the case in the career mode and the Challenge mode which offers much the same with but without the direction of an unfolding story.
Graphically Need For Speed Underground: Most Wanted is sound overall. The thirty or so licensed cars have all been beautifully re-created and it shows as they stand out more than anything else around you. Impressive also is the continued standard of their look in the post-customisation stage, an option available to you in order to personalize your ride with rims, trims, vinyls and paintjobs. The city environments themselves are varied enough to be convincing, if a little grainy and certainly not as pin-sharp in appearance as the vehicles. Occasionally, the visuals are marred by a slight drop in frame rate at particularly busy times - let's call it 'rush hour' for poor comic reasons. Lastly and most disappointingly there exists little or no car damage. Attempting to render your car non-roadworthy results in nothing more than a few cracked windows no matter how hard you try. If looks are your thing then you're better off sticking with Burnout 3. The way Need for Speed Underground: Most Wanted sounds is also impressive. In addition to the convincing police banter are perfect re-creations of each car's engine sound that mean you can, in some senses, experience the power of each motor as you bolt around the city streets. Lastly, whether you love 'em or loath 'em the EA Trax make their obligatory presence felt with a mix of rap and rock tunes.
Need for Speed Underground: Most Wanted's multiplayer supports an online mode that is functional rather than groundbreaking. Up to four players can compete in events that range from basic head-to-head competition to drag racing and checkpoint contests. Successes and losses are tallied the whole time so that everyone can see who is king of the road, giving lesser players an incentive to perfect their skills.
As far as racers go you could do a lot worse than Most Wanted. The only thing stopping it achieving a better score are the aforementioned niggles coupled with some below par AI. Their computer-controlled abilities switch from laughably amateur to 'one mistake and its race over' Terminator-style brutality in a matter of moments which seems more than a little unfair. Saying that, regardless of any of the game's faults it's probably going to be a Christmas bestseller for EA. Whether you can go without a NFS for another year or if you're adamant that you won't budge until EA produce a definitive example of the series is up to you. Otherwise enjoy this latest title that certainly gets more right than it does than it does wrong.