EA kicks out a super-slick addition to the saturated street racing genre in Need for Speed Most Wanted. Using the 360's processing power and high-definition capabilities, it's a fast and furious (sorry… couldn't resist) tale of a street racer who was wronged and is damned if he isn't going to get revenge.
Story time in the Orange City
That's right – unlike most other racing games, there's a "real" story being told here. Your character speeds into town in a souped-up BMW, looking for races, girls, and trouble, not necessarily in that order. Soon after hooking up with a group of street racers that resembles the Poser Mobile crew, the head of the gang sabotages your ride and then steals it from you. You're left buying a low-end car with no frills, tasked with working your way up the "Blacklist 15" to get your shot at him and to get your car back. NFS Most Wanted spins this yarn using old-school techniques – namely full motion video. It's an interesting choice, and it works - despite some ridiculous dialogue (for example, when *ahem* "Razor" snarls to you "First I'm gonna take your ride, then I'm gonna take your girl"), some silly-looking characters, and some questionable choices (do female cops really wear belly shirts?). Even so, it grabs your attention and sets the stage nicely for the upcoming events.
Those events take place in the fictional town of Rockport. The city is huge, full of all sorts of different illicit activities in which you can participate, and……a strange hue of burnt orange. All parts of the town look really great in high definition, but it must have a serious smog problem because blue skies are nowhere to be found. This is even more pronounced in the sweet stop-action moments when your ride is spotted by the police; for just a second, time stops, the skies get bright blue, and you feel like you're in a Quentin Tarantino movie.
Working your way to the top of the ladder is no small feat. You've got to win circuit, sprint, and drag races, blow through speed traps, and boost your bounty by getting into (and, more importantly, out of) spirited cat-and-mouse chase with the cops. This is where the game shines the most – the police chases can get very intense, especially as you move up the list. When you get into the top 5 or so, these chases reach the a point that may illicit a fair share of expletives. So be warned – the game gets very tough and punishes any mistakes at high levels of competition.
Much of Rockport is destructible, by simply driving your car into the dozens of obstacles in your way, or, in a much more entertaining fashion, by smashing straight into designated "pursuit breaker" zones that cause all sorts of pandemonium during the police chases. Gas stations blow up, water towers come down, 50-foot donuts and yachts come uncorked – good, clean fun. These will sometimes get the cops off your back and will always make you smile at the carnage. Nothing is really off-limits when it comes to trying to shake the 5-0, including crashing into them, making them crash into each other or civilian motorists, and so on. While you're furiously trying to stay out of the slammer, you'll hear their eerily context-appropriate conversations on a police radio (what, you don't carry one in your car?) broadcasting their tactics and thoughts. Your heart will be pumping faster for sure.
Other quests to move up the list of the vehicular criminal society offer a lot less thrills. The regular races get repetitive, despite the different kinds of ones out there – multi-lap, point-to-point, and "tollbooth". There are lots of shortcuts to discover, though, and this helps reduce the sameness factor somewhat. Early on, you'll find the races pretty easy to win, but your car is going to need some serious performance upgrades to compete with the big boys.