Criterion's racer from last Fall gets tuned up for the Wii U and impresses.
Last year, our own Eric Layman reviewed Need For Speed Most Wanted and really enjoyed it. I had only briefly played the new game, but I was a huge fan of the original from 2005 and played it to completion. Now in the drivers seat of the Wii U version, I'm finding it to be very well represented on the Wii U, and possibly the best version of the game.
What astute players of the 2012 version may notice first is that the visuals have received some improvements. A great looking game has even more visual flare (not lens flare mind you) now, and I have yet to see the game stutter at all -- the framerate is silky. So, score one for the Wii U version already. A second bonus is the inclusion of the Ultimate Speed Pack DLC. This includes an additional twenty-five races, over seventy new milestones, more rewards and unlocks, and five new cars. Interestingly, the other DLC packs already available for the other platforms (Terminal Velocity, Heroes and Movie Legends) are not included nor planned to be released at this time. So if you're like me and you see a re-release, especially as a delayed port, as the golden opportunity to release the most complete version of a game, NFSMWU may give you pause for concern.
Of course the other obvious feature of NFSMWU is Gamepad integration. Players can mirror what is on the TV or use it to display a full screen map. The map can be easily set to show Jack Spots, Races, Billboards, and Security Gates. Police cars pop up and move on the map as well. Obviously, the map is most useful when you are looking to get from A to B, but if you aren't used to looking down at your screen or drive too fast and loose to be able to take your eyes off the road, the map may not be all that useful to you.
The more impressive and useful way to use the Gamepad is with the cooperative Co-Driver mode, which isn't so much a mode as it is an option that available to you at anytime. Even if you are playing alone, you can press - and be taken to a screen with six buttons. These buttons allow you to, say, turn traffic on and off instantly (well, you can make all the traffic disappear, but if you turn it back on again, vehicles do not instantly appear in front of you, but they are at least active elsewhere again). You can also switch between night and day mode instantly, which is pretty cool. A "Disrupt Cop" button is available too to help give you a edge over the law. A Change Car button brings up more buttons with the emblem and name of the twenty-plus licensed car manufacturers featured, ranging from Ariel to Maserati to Porsche. You can tweak car settings, including tires, chassis, body, transmission and so on, although this seemed to only be available with an actual Wii Remote or Pro Con connected, and not something I could do with just the Gamepad active. The idea of course being that one person drives with the Pro Con or Wii Remote, and the other handles these tweaks and things for the driver on the Gamepad. However, I could switch cars instantly with just the Gamepad connected. Surprisingly, you can even switch cars during an active pursuit, which I guess is pretty cool for really, really casual players, but it goes against the challenge of the original game...
Beyond these additions and tweaks, NFSMWU keeps the core experience of the 2012 version intact. This is perhaps the most open racer I have played, given that every car is available to you immediately -- all you have to do is drive to its marker which is clearly found on the map. The map icon even tells you the name of the car that awaits you at that marker. The currency in this NFSMW is Speed Points, which you need about a million of to challenge the top Most Wanted racer, but only about 60,000 points to challenge number 10. Online integration is strongly encouraged with an Origin account each time you turn on the game, connected to the internet or not, and social features like sharing recommendations and comparing points are included. The ability to race your friends is here, although I did not test this. Dozens upon dozens of speed cameras, security gates and billboards (to smash through), and miscellaneous milestones are to be had across a very open and fun fictional city known as Fairhaven.
In most ways, this is a very fun arcade racer, but there were several things that I didn't like about it when taken in comparison to the original game. I know, it may be unfair or even outright irrelevant to compare this Most Wanted to the 2005 one, but the original was released on the 360, so it is technically of this generation too. Anyway, I found the structure of this new Most Wanted to be too flat. I don't mean in terms of the terrain; I actually like the varied heights of Fairhaven and the crazy ability to jump from one road down onto a lower one, for example. No, what I mean is in that every car is available to you from the start. Every arrest is just a slap on the wrist, and is penalty free. Huge wrecks are just another minor five second inconvenience. The Most Wanted just seem like numbers; in the original, they were characters, and yeah, they might have been somewhat cheesy, but they were at least more developed than what's here. In 2005, you started off with like a Ford Fiesta or VW Golf -- you had to earn your stripes, and money was a big factor, including paying for repairs if memory serves. Racking up damage totals to the city during pursuits was awesome, too -- here you just rack up Speed Points for taking out the pursuit cars. There's no Rap Sheet now either, and failing a pursuit isn't nearly as upsetting as it used to be -- there's just not a penalty for it. In fact, I unlocked a "milestone" and like 250 Speed Points for getting busted three times -- I thought the point is to not get busted at all?
Controls are simplified too -- where is my manual transmission? Playing the original and being able to flick the right stick up and down to shift gears was a huge part of the experience that I miss. There are also only two view modes -- the default third person view, and the third person view that sits too low -- it's about the height of the bumper, rather than, you know, the height of a driver sitting in car. I wasn't very comfortable in either view, but reluctantly settled on the third person one for the most part as I found my preferred first person view too low to the ground to be very useful. The HUD looks good either way, though. I found it annoying that when you play in "Spectator mode" -- where the HUD is placed only on the Gamepad and the TV screen is completely HUD-free -- that a message pops up every few seconds on the TV reminding you this is spectator mode. I'm not sure why that is and I didn't see a way to disable that.
To conclude, NFSMWU gets an awful lot right despite some of my complaints and yearnings for features the 2005 version had. It plays extremely well, there's lot of races, unlocks, and things to do, online integration is handled well, and it's fun. Wii U owners don't have a lot of choices for racing titles right now anyway, so this is clearly the best available on the system, and quite possibly the best version of the game on any platform.
To the summary...