You know that saying about pleasing all of the people all of the time, right? Impossible. That's kind of what Need for Speed has faced as it went from a high-end exotic racer to a cop-chase simulator to a tuner's paradise. With every shift, the franchise lost a few passengers who preferred "the way it was." So here's one game with a little bit of everything: the appropriately titled Need for Speed Most Wanted.
You want exotics? Slip behind the wheel of a Lamborghini Gallardo or a Lotus Elise, as well as standard lustmobiles from Mitsubishi, Mazda, and Mercedes-Benz. Miss the police chases? Lead the cops on as many wild goose chases as you like, intentionally taunting them for more street cred. And if customization is your thing, redesign any car as your personal fashion statement, no matter how ugly. However, the cosmetic changes now pay off: If you know the cops are looking for a black Eclipse with red vinyls, change your stripes and frustrate the fuzz. You can tweak the handling of each ride and buy pre-built parts packages to boost performance, but it's literally as easy as picking a new engine from column A and a new spoiler from column B.
The game really shines when the police start chasing you in the middle of a street race; even if you cross the finish line first, the 5-0 don't let go. You'll need to lose them, often by causing so much destruction that they have to stop to mop up your mess. Strong A.I. programming makes for intelligent cops that really make you earn every escape.
Ultimately, the gameplay does devolve into a ticking off a checklist of challenges, but since you're also earning money and new cars along the way, it's easy to stay interested, and the challenge level ramps up appropriately. It's a shame that the multiplayer options don't include a cop pursuit mode, but that's a minor omission in a one-game-fits-all package. If you haven't found any of the recent NFS games to be juuuust right, Most Wanted is the one to own.
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