Editor's Note: The following review pertains only to PS Vita edition of Need for Speed: Most Wanted. Please see Page 1 for GamesRadar's review of the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC edition.
EA has thus far found success with its decision to hand off its uneven Need for Speed franchise to Burnout creator Criterion Studios. In addition to the console version of Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Criterion was also charged this year with crafting a PS Vita installment, and the results play like a Greatest Hits. The beautiful open-world city, which features multiple vistas, slow-motion crashes, and Takedowns, are lifted straight from Paradise City, while the focus on real-world luxury vehicles and intense police chases is pulled from 2010's Hot Pursuit playbook. This excellent design choice makes Most Wanted on the Vita a spirited effort.
Your goal is to get to the top of the Most Wanted list of Fairhaven, the setting for all your exploits. To do so, you’re put behind the wheel of a variety of licensed high-performance cars and tasked with accumulating points that allow you to climb that ladder. To get those points, you’ll enter races for each vehicle you come across or engage local law enforcement in high-speed pursuits; it’s a simple and straightforward process. Autolog makes it even better, as you’re not only battling in-game racers but chasing your friends’ best scores as well.
Many of the races are spectacularly intense, and the variety of modes and settings is impressive. Circuit and Point-to-Point races tend to be the most fun, as you’re pitted against other racers as well as the Fairhaven police in an effort to finish first. You’ll use any and all options to take out your opponents and the cops, whether those are other vehicles or the natural obstacles that present themselves along the route. Other races will charge you with averaging a particular top speed along a pre-defined route, achieving a specific time, or taking on someone one-on-one. Locales are constantly shifting, from heavily trafficked tarmac city streets to twisting mountain roads to dirt-based abandoned airfields.
Each race typically takes a few go-rounds to win, as many of the courses have nuances that take a bit of learning to maneuver. Whether it’s a particularly tight turn with a well-placed concrete barrier that you (repeatedly) crash into or an aggressive competitor that simply won’t give up, it’s clear that each path was carefully designed to challenge you without ever feeling cheap. Conversely, the most challenging races are those where your only competition is yourself, as no amount of assistance can help you achieve a specific time or speed average if you keep smashing into things.
The controls are feel natural and are responsive. Upgrading your car is easy, too; as you win individual races, different options become available for the vehicle you’re driving at the moment. These include multiple types of tires, nitrous boosts, transmission upgrades, and so on. The elegant way to configure your vehicle is particularly welcome as well; a click of a button gets you on your way.
Simplicity is a theme in Most Wanted, as it recognizes that it’s on a handheld platform and uses that to full advantage. One of the game’s best features is the well-named Easy Drive system. Controlled by the directional buttons, you pull up the Easy Drive menus at any moment to change cars, start an available race, modify your vehicle’s upgrades, and more. Many games could learn from Easy Drive’s format to provide instant access to anything you’d want to do. Free-roaming is a fun option as well, which helps to accumulate additional points based on escaping from police chases, smashing through the billboards and fences strewn throughout Fairhaven, and spotting parked cars that you can hop into. In addition to the intuitive navigation, the vast majority of the races are relatively brief and the ability to hop almost anywhere in a moment’s time is extremely welcome in a mobile situation.
Overall, Most Wanted looks and sounds great; the cars have a high degree of detail and sound distinctly different from each other. However, headlights of oncoming vehicles are highly pixelated, a stark contrast to the otherwise crisp visuals. The biggest disappointment, though, is that there’s little momentum to keep pushing forward through the single-player campaign after awhile; the sameness of the pursuits begin to blur together. Without a story or character arc (just why is it you’d want to become the most wanted criminal in Fairhaven, after all?), Most Wanted relies on your competitive nature to make it to the top of the list as opposed to anything else.
With an impressive list of real-world luxury cars, intense races, solid visuals, and a seamless social connection that drives you to continue, Need for Speed: Most Wanted vaults itself to the top of the Vita racing games list. While it gets a bit repetitive after awhile, the astoundingly powerful vehicles provide an impressive amount of racing fun with a great balance of challenge and accessibility.
Score: 4/5 stars