Need For Speed: Most Wanted opens with a split-second transition from a cinematic to in-game action. Pop-rock blasts out of the speakers as you struggle to keep your Aston Martin under control. Rays of sunlight bounce off asphalt. The engine roars, and your heart pounds. It’s an astonishing technical display, sure, but it’s also a reminder of the crux of Criterion’s race-and-chase epics: seamlessness.
Continuing that philosophy is Easy Drive, the latest shot fired in the war on friction. It’s an in-game tool operated via the D-pad that stitches mission selection, car customisation and Autolog recommendations into the fabric of the HUD. It means no more front-end menu hopping, and no more pausing for breath. It’s a slight innovation with numerous benefits, and one that feels essential after mere minutes. When you’ve discovered and collected a handful of the 120-plus cars hidden around Most Wanted’s world, Easy Drive offers instant access to them. Likewise, when you’ve unlocked mods such as re-inflatable tyres, nitrous boosters, or a reinforced chassis for your favourite ride, Easy Drive is your means for selecting a loadout on the fly.
You need to choose carefully, of course, because each of the game’s challenges – which include sprint races, cop chases and one-on-one showdowns – has a number of variables, most obviously the terrain, to plan around. It’s a shame there’s no shortcut to an optimal setup for each vehicle and event, though, since D-pad tapping during the heat of battle can be frustrating at the best of times, and car crushing at the worst.
Criterion has been capturing the speed, sound and sensation of driving exceedingly fast cars for over a decade; it brings Most Wanted’s heaving collection of motors – which spans from well-known classics to more obscure beasts such as the Ariel Atom – to life, with handling pitched perfectly between simulation and the arcade. Each vehicle responds differently and requires its own approach as you guide it around smooth curves and drag it down the labyrinthine backstreets of Most Wanted’s deliciously varied setting, Fairhaven.
It’s not just the local terrain you need to bear in mind as you blast from location to location. Day and night cycles, along with the weather, can drastically change the rules of the road, requiring careful consideration of your loadout
The map blends the geography and style of the team’s previous crash ’em up masterpieces into one flowing, coherent whole without feeling like a patchwork. It manages to weave together the high-altitude mountain ranges of Burnout Paradise, the downtown alleys of Burnout Revenge and the wide-lane highways of Hot Pursuit. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a developer peppered with cineastes, Fairhaven is also an amalgam of some familiar movie locales. Whether you fancy recreating car chases from ’70s classics à la The French Connection or Vanishing Point, prefer the more modern city-wide carnage of The Fast And The Furious, or even favour a popcorn action-thriller from the past few years, there’s a place on the map for that.