Review: Need for Speed: Most Wanted (Playstation 2)

In this review, we race for the all important pink slip in the Playstation 2 game Need for Speed: Most Wanted. We find out if this racing game is worth a play.

This game was released in 2005. Our familiarity only continues to grow in this franchise. We’ve been following this series largely since the very beginning on the original Playstation.

From the original Playstation, we played Road and Track Presents – The Need for Speed. That game got a fairly mediocre score. After that, we tried Need for Speed II. That game wound up getting a barely passable score. After that, we tried Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit. That game did improve on things, but still only got a mediocre score. From there, we moved up to Need for Speed: High Stakes. That game too got an OK score. We finished off the series on the system by playing Need for Speed – Porsche Unleashed. That game ended up bombing for us. At that stage, we wondered if the series offered anything really exciting.

We then followed the series onto the Playstation 2 starting with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2. That game, for us, really turned the series around and earned a great score. Excited for the series, we then moved on to Need for Speed: Underground. That game got a pretty solid score. After that, we tried Need for Speed: Underground 2. That game got a reasonable score. While the scores are heading in the wrong direction, we continue on with the next iteration in the series.

The game starts off with rejoining the protagonist from the results from the previous game. Having succeeded in defeating the underground, the protagonist decides to roll into Rockport City for the next challenge. With Mia joining the protagonist, he learns about the blacklist. This blacklist represents the 15 most notorious street racers to the Rockport Police Department. Apparently, racers prove their skills both by defeating other racers in town as well as rack up a bounty from evading police while causing havoc on the streets. Then, and only then, can they challenge each other to move up the blacklist rankings.

While the game mixes up the storyline somewhat with flashbacks, the storyline is largely this: the hears about the games antagonist Razor. While challenging other racers to get his attention, the police catch up to the player and pull him over. The player meets another antagonist in the game: Cross. Cross pulls the player over and is about to arrest the player. Unfortunately, a call comes over the radio waves and Cross is forced to let the player go, keying the car while leaving.

Later on, the player meets up with Razor and challenges him to a race. Unimpressed, Razor turns down the race and, instead, lets one of his buddies take the player on. After defeating the racer in a head to head race, Razor reluctantly agrees to a pink slip race. Unbeknownst to the player, his ride has been sabotaged. Part way through the race, Mia calls the player to tell him a big oil slick was left at the start line. She tells the player to end the race quickly, but the car breaks down before the player is able to make it to the finish line.

After the race, Razor takes the players ride. The police then approach the area. Everyone escapes except the player. When the police show up, Cross finds the player standing around with nowhere to go. His partner then promptly arrests him.

From there, Mia bails the player out of jail. When the player gets in her car, she explains that the police couldn’t lay charges due to lack of evidence. Evidently, it was hard to file street racing charges against someone who has no car. The bad news is that Razor is now at the top of the blacklist. Evidently, he used your ride to get there. Mia then calls up a friend asking for a favour. Her friend gladly helps the player out by hooking him up with a new set of wheels to compete in the races again.

A long intro, but that’s the gist of it.

Like previous games, this game continues with a number of new features, casts off a few, and remixes in some new features.

The first main feature returning is the open world driving. There are three areas that players can access. At first, only one area is accessible, but as the player advances up the blacklist, the other two areas get unlocked one area at a time. This system is largely a carbon copy of the previous game. There is even a GPS feature that you can set, though know that the GPS can lose connection trying to reach a location too far away or if you travel in the wrong direction long enough.

There are three kinds of places you can find on the map: safe houses, car shops, and tuning shops. This selection largely consolidates a large number of shops from the previous game into a much more easier to follow set of locations.

The safe house is a very useful feature in this game. While in there, you can select which car you want to drive. That may not be all that impressive, but what is more impressive is the ability to quickly jump from race to race and event to event. While players can easily drive from location to location manually, players can instantly teleport to each event instead via the safe house. There are pros and cons to this.

The con is the fact that you won’t be able to explore the roads and learn the area well by just driving around. Since races routinely change routs and locations, there isn’t really one rout you need to know well. Instead, you are more tasked with simply understanding the areas and recognizing what corners you need to slow down on and which ones you can simply take on at the correct entry point. So, knowing this, using free roam is definitely an important learning tool. Additionally, free roam allows you to just get used to the new physics and steering capabilities of your ride.

The pro with using the safe house to jump from race to race is that you don’t run the risk of running into police unexpectedly (often a problem approaching blacklist challenges). Additionally, the game speeds up somewhat because you aren’t just driving from location to location. If you know the areas and driving style of your ride, jumping from race to race can easily be a better alternative.

Like the previous game, you can jump to the safe house via the pause menu.

A feature removed completely from this game are magazine and DVD covers. Additionally, sponsorship systems have also been removed. This leaves the only possible way of earning cash with winning races. While some recommend saving your cash and being wise to the fact that there is a very limited supply of cash, this turns out to actually not be true. Via the safe house, you can select a blacklist member (even ones you’ve defeated) and re-race any race you have unlocked. Winning the race will increase your bank. While earning cash can be a slow process, the game actually allows players to earn cash quite easily.

At any rate, rep is earned through the chaos and mayhem you cause on the streets while evading police rather than getting on covers. After every police chase, you earn a bounty. The higher the bounty, the more respect you earn on the blacklist. In fact, bounty is one of three requirements you need to challenge the next member on the blacklist.

The next number to keep an eye on is milestones. Milestones signify certain objectives you need to complete through the chases (with one exception). Milestones can be costing a certain amount to the state for instance. To get this, you need to cause property damage on the streets like knocking over street lamps, trees, pilons, water barrels, whole toll booths, and other breakables you come across.

Another milestone involves trading paint with a police cruiser. Simply ram your car into a cruiser and add that to your total. Evading roadblocks and spike stripes are another milestone you can achieve simply by blasting through them. Avoid the spikes completely or it’s an instant bust.

Infractions is another possible milestone you might be asked to achieve. To complete this one, you need to break different laws in order to achieve this. This can include speeding, hitting civilian cars, driving off road, or any other number of offences you can do to build that number.

Other milestones can be self-explanatory. This includes duration of a chase and immobilizing police cruisers for instance.

The one universal rule is that you need to accomplish a milestone in a single police chase. If you have a milestone that requires $30,000 in costs, you can’t just cost the state $15,000 in one chase and another $20,000 in another chase. It has to be accomplished in a single chase.

Conveniently, you can trigger police chases through the menu in the safe house, so you don’t have to randomly ram cars or drive through shopping malls to get the police attention (though that is one way of doing it in all fairness).

As mentioned, there is one milestone that is handled outside of police chases. That is speed trap cameras. Speed trap cameras (which can be jumped to at the safe house) are very straight forward. You need to achieve a certain speed at the camera. Achieve the speed and you’ll get your photo taken. Arguably, this is the easiest method to achieving milestones, but you can’t rely solely on these to get a blacklist persons attention.

It should be noted that completing achievements is also a very easy way (and quickest) to racking up bounty to your name.

The third number you need to keep an eye on is the race wins. As that suggests, you need to win a certain number of races in a list of races to get the blacklist members attention. Complete all three requirements and you’ll unlock the blacklist challenge. Complete the challenge and you’ll move up the list.

The races themselves is largely where things get interesting if you follow the franchise. Making a return are the circuit, drag, and sprint races. A returning feature not found in the underground games is the lap knockout races. These races work just like circuit races, only whoever is last in each race is eliminated. The circuit continues until only one player survives.

A sort of new race is toll booth. Toll booth is basically a re-imagining of the time trial events in previous games. Instead of getting to the end of a sprint race within a set amount of time, players will actually have checkpoints along the rout. These checkpoints are the toll booths. Get to each one within a certain amount of time to keep racing. If you pass through every toll booth, the last step is to cross the finish line before time runs out. Each leg has a certain amount of time added to the clock. For any amount of time extra left over from the previous leg, that time is added to the overall time as a time bonus.

The most novel new race is the speed trap challenge. Speed trap challenges are basically a sprint race. The difference here is that the track features a number of speed traps along the rout. Uniquely, you don’t actually have to cross the finish line first to win the race (though it certainly helps increase your chances). The goal here is to rack up top speed. As you pass by a speed trap, you’ll be given a score with how fast you are travelling at the time of tripping the trap. When you pass by another, that speed will be added to your total “speed”. The fastest speed at the end of the race wins. Falling behind in this race is bad. If an opponent crosses the finish line, then speed scores are gradually deducted from the remaining players still on the course. So, keeping up is essential as well.

Notably cut are the X-race and drift races.

Eventually, you’ll be able to take on a blacklist member. For most of the game, this involves two head to head challenges. Beat both and defeat the blacklist member. The number of races does increase as you start getting close to the top of the list.

When you defeat a blacklist member, you’ll play a minigame to earn your prizes. You get two markers and six possible items. The first three are mystery prizes. These prizes include cash rewards, extra impound strikes, get out of jail free cards, and the highly coveted pink slip. The pink slip allows players to take the blacklists ride.

The other three items you can choose from are special unique upgrades. These include body upgrades, visual upgrades, and performance upgrades. Since visual upgrades don’t improve things other than give you a different look, this is seemingly a pretty big waste of a mark (unless you are desperate to lower your heat).

There are a number of ways you can upgrade your car which should seem familiar to players of the previous game. These upgrades are found in the performance shops. You can add spoilers, vinyls, and whole new paint jobs. While this doesn’t improve much, this does decrease your heat (a feature we’ll get to later). So, if you have spare cash and want to get the police off your back, this is one way of doing so.

The performance upgrades is where you’ll likely spend most of your time. Money is initially tight in this game, so you aren’t exactly loading up your car with the latest upgrades right away. In fact, most of the upgrades are locked unless you defeat certain blacklist members. So, you can’t really deck your car out early on in the game by any means. Still, you can upgrade things like brakes, suspension, engine, turbo, and tires to name some of your possible upgrades. Like previous games, most of these count towards three stats: top speed, acceleration, and handling.

Expanding on the unique parts feature, this game features a “backroom”. In this area, you can apply unique upgrades to your car via this area. The only way to earn unique upgrades is through the marks you earn by beating blacklist members. These marks can be applied right away or saved for a later ride. It’s totally up to you how you want to use them.

As for the races themselves, a lot is similar to the setup from previous games. If you have a nitro, you’ll have your nitro gauge. Surprisingly stripped out of the game is performance bonuses. So, you won’t earn reputation or nitro by doing things like taking shortcuts or driving near civilian cars. Instead, nitro is gradually increased on its own. The faster you drive on the road, the faster this gets replenished. If you deplete your reserves, you’ll have to wait a moment before it starts replenishing itself.

A new feature is the speedbreaker. The meter functions just like nitro. Also like nitro, this replenishes over time on its own. Speedbreaker, when activated, slows down time. The advantage to this is the fact that your reaction times will greatly improve. While you have a limited amount of time in speedbreaker mode, you can make critical decisions in the blink of an eye (as far as real time is concerned) like guiding the car through blockades efficiently. While not an overly useful feature, this feature is certainly there for players should they want to use it.

During police chases, other features are activated. When an officer has you in their sights, the map changes slightly. For one, you can’t hit speed cameras or enter races. Instead, you’ll have a number of red icons spread throughout the map. These icons indicate pursuit breakers. If you drive through one of these, the police cruiser chasing you will immediately become disabled. If you need a chase to end and you have on officer chasing you, this is often a fast way to end the chase. As you approach a pursuit breaker, a red icon will appear on the landmark you need to hit. This can include things like water towers, scaffolding, and gas bumps.

If you slip out of an officers sight at any time during a chase, your total chase time will pause and you’ll enter a “cooldown” mode. This blue meter will gradually fill up over time. If an officer catches you during this mode, then you’ll get kicked back to the chase mode. However, if you manage to fill up this meter before an officer sees you, then you’ll have effectively escaped the police. An important feature in cooldown mode are the blue icons on your map. These are hiding places. If you park in a hiding place, then the cooldown meter will fill up much more quickly.

Assuming you complete cooldown mode, you’ll be shown the chaos and damage you caused during the pursuit. This screen features the duration of the chase as well as the various milestones you have achieved. After tallying everything up, you’ll be shown the total amount in bounty you’ve added because of that chase.

Another feature worth noting is the radar. If an officer is near by, the radar will light up green and start flickering. The closer you are to the officer, the faster it will flicker until you catch the officers attention. Additionally, if you are near a speed trap, the radar will light up orange. The faster it flickers, the closer you are to the trap. This can be used during races and is useful for warning you ahead of time if cops are on the road (races are given a “minimum” or “maximum” chance an officer is on the road, so you can find out ahead of time).

A final feature in this game that is worth noting (and is new to the series) is the heat meter. Throughout the chase, you’ll notice a ring around the map. As you commit crimes in the presence of officers, you’ll increase your heat meter. If you complete the ring, you’ll move up a level in heat. The higher the heat level, the more aggressive officers will be to not only track you down, but also try and stop you. For instance, if your heat level is 1 and you are near an officer, if you park your car before the officer sees you, that officer might just drive right on by without a second thought.

At heat level 1, officers will try and nudge you off the road or chase you down. Moving up to heat level 2, their aggressiveness increases to include ramming you, boxing you in, and deploying blockades to stop you. At heat level 3, police vans are used to ram into you head on. At heat level four, officers will deploy spike strips and even bring in a helicopter to track you.

While evading the chopper sounds near impossible, there is two things to know: they can’t observe you in tunnels and buildings and they have a limited fuel supply. Unlike in real life, the tanks can run out in minutes, so as long as you keep the police busy, the chopper will eventually fall onto reserve tanks and be forced to land. Unlike in Hot Pursuit 2, the chopper doesn’t appear to have the ability to deploy smoke bombs or spike strips. Instead, it can kick up dust and keep the heat on.

One good thing about this game is that it has plenty of different features. This is great because there is a lot of ground to cover in this game. Clearing out the 15 different street racers means you are in for a lot of racing.

Additionally, this game features a lot of ground you can cover. With plenty of highways, side streets, alleys, and even a few offroad areas, you’ll constantly find new areas throughout the game.

One aspect of the game that is somewhat mixed is the fact that each race is largely unique. The features may overlap after a while, but each race has its own unique rout throughout Rockport City. The good news is the fact that the variety stays up pretty well from beginning to end. The bad news is that the difficulty increases, eventually demanding near perfect driving in order to keep up with opponents.

A positive element is the fact that traffic density does fluctuate. On easier races, there is very light traffic. On some of the later races, traffic gets very congested at times. This gives races an added element of challenge both for you and the computer racers. Crashing into other vehicles slows down racing cars for obvious reasons, so this can be used both to your advantage and to your detriment.

Now, a nearly game breaking element is the difficulty. In this game, the difficulty scales to suit your cars specs. At first, this isn’t all that noticeable because beginning races not only are quite easy to win in, but the specs gradually increase both for blacklist cars and the cars that are available to buy.

However, later on, you might notice that blacklist members (and regular opponents for that matter), will have this knack of either catching up to you, adding distance on you, and even blowing past you as if you are standing still at times. Later on, if you beat the blacklist member, you may notice certain members have rides with stats poorer than you. How exactly does this happen anyway? As it turns out, with the exception of possibly the pursuit challenges, the cars stats really only matter very little – if at all.

Instead, your cars performance is more closely tied to the race you are in. As such, if you have a car souped up to the max, you’ll still find that blowing opponents away is an accomplishment largely left at the beginning races. To some degree, there is an elastic effect on computer opponents, but this only applies if they are behind you.

For example, if you manage to wedge an opponent under a truck, this crash, if it happens to you, will very likely be the end of the race. For opponents, however, their ability to catch up can never be topped because their cars performance improves the further ahead you drive. As such, you are looking at a reprieve for, at best, about 20% of the race if you completely screw over your opponent. Unless you are near the finish line, your opponent will catch up to you no matter how flawlessly you race.

As such, your ability to block opponents becomes a very important aspect to your driving. If you can keep your opponent at bay and stay just ahead of them, you’ll find yourself winning more races. Additionally, an opponent pulling ahead of you doesn’t necessarily mean the race is over immediately. Sometimes, you’ll be able to take certain corners better by getting a better line or finding a shortcut your opponent doesn’t take (opponents do take shortcuts too, though). This can allow you to catch up and pass your opponents, but don’t count on this all the time.

Also, it is always possible the opponent will crash into a civilian car. This will slow them down to some degree, but nowhere near as badly as when you hit one. This all depends on momentum based on the elastic effect because sometimes, they can be rebounding from a larger deficit. In one instance, an opponent blew past and achieved a 3 second split over me. That opponent then proceeded to have three consecutive head-on collisions with civilian cars. This allowed me to merely close the gap and be neck and neck with them. If you end up in a head on collision, you are looking at a very likely drop to last place or a split time of somewhere around 4-10 seconds (a nearly insurmountable deficit to overcome under a vast majority of circumstances).

While this does make the game unfairly favour computer opponents, there is one way you can abuse this scaling feature to your advantage. As your car becomes more powerful, you’ll actually travel faster down the road. Because of this, your actual reaction time windows to evade obstacles shrinks. so, instead of thinking that the highest performing car is your saviour, pick your lowest ranking car to take on races and even blacklist members.

In a game where stats seem important just to keep up, picking a low level car is an extremely counter-intuitive thing to do. However, you’ll notice that your reaction time windows increase, making it easier to navigate around courses and hug the corners much more easily. In response to your cars low level of performance, your opponents will actually slow down (your speedometer does a poor job at showing this) and readjust to make the race more fair.

As a result, I was able to take a lightly modified VW Golf and take down high ranking blacklist members in their Porsche’s and Corvette’s tuned to max out their stats. In fact, the performance of opponents seems to decrease slightly as if the AI has a hard time compensating for the performance difference. This leads to more crashes and rolls by opponents who otherwise would execute a flawless run on the tracks. Be warned that this may not apply to actual police chases, so if you are expecting trouble on a track, you might be better served to use a high end car to evade the police after the race is over. Even the hardest toll booth races were beatable in the VW Golf for reasons I’m not quite sure about.

This admittedly allowed me to reach much farther into the game than I probably would’ve expected to. While this breaks the game somewhat, it doesn’t make the game a slam dunk by any means. The opponents still have pre-programmed levels of difficulty. So, if they are giving you a really hard time on a particular race, that won’t necessarily change by switching to a low performance car. It just gives you a marginal advantage to perform slightly better in the race. This is largely why I wasn’t able to complete the game even though I half broke it part way through.

As the game gets closer to the end, the races end up becoming largely repetitive. With the higher difficulty in play, it becomes much more difficult to be motivated to finish this one. As such, I ended up calling it quits shortly after defeating blacklist member number 5.

At any rate, the half broken game difficulty and elastic effect does cheapen play by quite a bit. It’s a little disappointing that stats really mean so little, though it does feel like the car is improving anyway… somehow. On the plus side, there is variety throughout the game and a lot to explore. The police presence does spice up the action nicely and will keep you busy for hours.

Graphically, this game is decent enough. It has some halo effects and special effects to indicate locations. The daytime atmosphere is a pretty nice change, though the single time of day does get repetitive after a while. The occasional rain shower does add some variety, but because the rain only lasts about a minute, it adds very little to the visual variety. There is blur effects, but this sort of thing has become pretty standard fare in games by this stage. The cutscenes are decent enough, but there is a big gap between the beginning and ending, leaving only random intro scenes for the next boss to defeat. So, it is decent enough, but not something I would jump up and down in excitement over.

The audio seems to continue the trend since Hot Pursuit 2. That is, a gradual decrease in overall quality. The engine sounds are nice as well as the other effects. The police radio and voice acting is arguably the strongest part of the game on this front. Unfortunately, the music only goes as far as adding a certain ambience and mood to the game. It is not really something that excites necessarily and the soundtrack does become a bit dull after a while. So, it is decent enough, but largely carried by the voice acting.

Overall, this is a reasonable game. While it is a bit easier to get into than the Underground games, the repetition and cheap difficulty curve ends up making this game more of a grind than anything else. So, long term play does leave a fair bit to be desired. Still, the re-introduction of a police presence adds some nice spice to the overall play. The different modes and large open world gives this game a lot of variety. It’s just unfortunate that the stats are so borderline meaningless that it gets to the point of breaking the game itself. The graphics and audio is decent enough though. So, an overall decent game.

Furthest point in game: Defeated blacklist member number 5 and completed 2 races in the next level.

General gameplay: 17/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 7/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 68%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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