Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Need for Speed' Veers off Course

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Need for Speed' Veers off Course

Article excerpt

Imagine being dropped into a city of cutthroat street racing. You jump behind the wheel of a brand new Lamborghini Murcielago, trying to tame the 500-plus horses you have in the engine in front of you. Racers are flying past at 200 mph through the city streets. You match their speed. Then it hits you: this is a new city, and you have no clue where you're going.

Herein lies "Need for Speed: Most Wanted's" ("NFSMW") full spectrum. The game has great ideas in theory, but the execution constantly throttles enjoyment. The developers at Criterion, who are best known for their work in the "Burnout" series, capture the excitement of illegal street racing and the awe of being at the helm of a toy made of steel and gasoline. But the problems arise once you enter that toy into competition.

Like "Burnout Paradise," "NFSMW" is a completely open world. There's no story, characters, or even pedestrians, just cars in the city. There are 11 faceless, "most wanted" drivers. It's your job to take them out and become No. 1. It does feel like "Burnout Paradise" with licensed cars, which isn't necessarily theft considering Criterion created both games, but it does give "NFSMW" a wholly uninspired feel.

Events are triggered by driving to their location. Placing second or first grants bonuses for your car, like nitros, a stronger body, better tires, and so on. Each car has its own list of five events, which are of the typical "Need for Speed" variety: sprint race, circuit, ambush (running from cops), plus a new one that requires you to keep a top average speed.

This game's design isn't the problem. The trouble starts once the races begin. Once you get the green light at the start of a race, "NFSMW" does everything in its power to thwart your quest for first, and when it fails, it changes the rules to see you lose. You may be racing against five to seven comparable cars, but the playing field is far from even.

Navigation is one of the most important aspects of racing. You have to know what's in front of you, what the course is like, and what objects that are in your way. "NFSMW" fails conclusively in this most basic of racing categories.

There's a minimap in the bottom corner of your screen and a checkpoint in the form of a beam of light appears on the street in front of you, vaguely pointing you in a general direction. There's no right or left arrow, just the beam. That beam could be obstructed by an overpass or a tree, making navigation even more difficult. By the time the beam was close enough to decipher, it was too late. Smashing into the brick wall I went, after trying to slam the breaks to make the 90-degree turn that was waiting for me.

Rather than follow the beams, you have the option to eye the minimap, but then you have to adopt the unsafe driving practice of taking your eyes off the road, something I certainly wouldn't recommend while driving 200 mph on an inhabited and foreign city street. …

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