After taking the arcade racing genre by storm with the original Need for Speed Most Wanted back in 2005, EA rebooted the series this year and put the steering wheel in the able hands of Criterion Games, makers of the popular Burnout games as well as the last two NFS games, Hot Pursuit and The Run.
This time, however, the action won’t be limited to the big screen. A mobile version of the game has been released for iOS and Android and although it’s not exactly the same game as the console version, you will find similar races, cop chases and a great roster of cars in what promises to be one of the best racing games on the mobile platform. We put our seat belts on and decided to take it for a test drive.
The original Most Wanted included open world racing combined with frantic cop chases. The story of the game involved competing against expert drivers from a blacklist and racing to the top to get your car back. The new one is somewhat similar although for the mobile version, the open world has been dropped. You have a map where race events appear for you to play. As you win more races, more events get unlocked. After a handful of regular events, you will get to race against one of the blacklist members. Defeat all the ten racers on that list and you beat the game. You can of course go back to playing the unlocked events, of which there are plenty.Gameplay
Race events are of multiple types. You have the simple races where you have to come first to win. Checkpoint races make you go around the track reaching checkpoints before the timer runs out. In some races, you have to finish the race before a specified time. A variant of that involves taking as little damage to your car as possible otherwise you get penalized with extra seconds added to your time. In one type of race, you need to have an average speed above a specific value. Depending upon how you do, you get gold, silver or bronze medals. These medals are at times separate from the actual race results. So, for example, you may win the race but if you did not finish within a specified time you will still get a bronze medal. Ultimately, it’s the medal that counts, not the race positions.
In every level you will have cops to give you company, along with other drivers. These are some of the most ruthless opponents that you will find in any game. Their sole objective is to stop you and they’ll do anything to make that happen. Their most popular trick is to tap the rear corner of your car, which at high speeds, is enough for your car to fishtail out of control. They also try to pin you to the side of the road to slow you down. At times they also drive in front of you and brake to slow you down.
As you unlock more races, the police opposition gets tougher. They bring out faster cars to take you down and you will have multiple cars on your tail at times. But their best trick is using the spike strip. Yes, the infamous spike strips from the original Most Wanted makes an appearance here and the cops are not afraid to use them. When things get out of hands the cops will deploy spike strips on the road while the cars are moving, similar to the way they did in Hot Pursuit (Most Wanted had stationary strips fixed to the road). These are harder to avoid, particularly at high speeds and unless you are careful you will drive over them.
Fortunately, the damage that happens to your car is minimal. You slow down a bit but you can still continue if nothing happened. It takes a bit away from the health of your car but it’s not the show stopper that it was in the original 2005 game.
The cops in Most Wanted are so relentless that they are often the reason you lose a race because they hold you back while everyone else is free to go. I have never understood the logic behind this, which has been the same since the original game. The other racers are breaking as many laws as you are but the cops only have eyes for your car as if it has ‘FREE DONUTS INSIDE’ written on its side.
One of Most Wanted’s most impressive features is basic vehicular damage for the cars. This adds a touch of realism to the game as cars no longer look like they strolled out of a showroom even after hitting a tree at 200mph. It’s not quite as extensive as you find in some console games but the basics are all here. Bumpers come off, windshields crack, mirrors break, the body gets scratched after you scrape against the side of another car, the works. The cars you drive have a health bar so you see how much more damage you can take. Performance is unaffected by the damage, so your car goes from working perfectly fine to out of commission instantly once you run out of health, which is weird.
Funny thing is, Codemasters nailed the vehicle damage model on their cars in Colin McRae Rally for the N-Gage back in 2004, with cars that had full body damage and actual deterioration of performance per part and it’s been years since then but no one has either surpassed or come close to matching the level of complexity of that game, which is quite sad, actually.
In terms of driving, the cars more or less feel the same. The muscle cars and SUVs are a touch lethargic but it’s not nearly enough to drastically change your driving style. What I found a bit lacking was a sense of speed that is so important in racing games. The sense of speed you get from the screen doesn’t correlate well with the speedometer readout. The most you get is some blurring around the edges of the screen as you go faster. It’s not bad but it fails to convey the visceral sense of speed that some of these cars are capable of delivering in real life. Asphalt 7 does this better and things like nitro boost in that game actually make you feel like you’re going faster and not just make the speedometer count increase.
I was disappointed with the limited control options available in this game. There are just two options: in the first one the acceleration is done automatically and you steer using the accelerometer and brake by tapping the left side of the screen. The second option places a virtual steering wheel on the left on which you slide your thumb, along with a brake button on the right. I’d have liked to see an option with manual acceleration so I can lift off the throttle when I want so I don’t go face first into the side of the road (braking is slower and bleeds a lot more speed). The second control option is just bad because the onscreen steering is terribly imprecise and makes finer steering inputs impossible. The first one is a bit better, especially with finer inputs but dial some more effort and your car ends up inside a coffee shop on the side of the road.
Speaking of the actual cars, EA has once again come up with an impressive roster. It’s not quite in the league of the 60 cars that Asphalt 7 has to offer, but the 35 ones that are here are all good. You have your usual variety of Lamborghinis, BMWs, Audis, McLarens, Aston Martins, Mercedes, Porsches, Chevrolets, Fords, Jaguars, Nissans, Bentleys and Mitsubishis here. Then there is a Hummer, Land Rover, a Lotus and an Alfa Romeo. There is also a Tesla Roadster, an electric car that somehow has Nitro Boost. Racing in this, you don’t just break street laws but also those of chemistry and logic. There is plenty of variety here in terms of vehicle options and should please most people. Cars get unlocked as you win races but you will have to buy them using the money you earn from the races.
There is also a customization option available for vehicles but it comes with its own restrictions. First of all, you can only make three modifications per car before every race and one of them is the paint job. The other two can be any of the item from a list of customizations, including stronger body to withstand damage, better tires, faster engines, better or longer nitro boost, etc. Since you can only choose two you have to carefully consider what you want to use for the race. The best thing to do is just get the more powerful engine and nitro options as they give you the biggest kick in the back while driving and that’s often all you need while racing. However, they can be quite expensive at times, depending upon the car, often nullifying the money you’ll be earning after winning the race. Assuming you do win the race.
Now here’s something funny. The customizations are not permanent and are limited to a race. After the race is over the car gets reset (except for the paint). What’s worse, if you lose a race and you choose the restart option, you will have to pay for the customizations again or else choose to play without them (as if that’s going to increase your chances of winning the second time). If, however, you restart the race before it’s over, you can replay without having to pay extra, so that would be the best thing to do if you think you’re going to lose a race.
As many options you have in terms of cars, you don’t get nearly as much in terms of tracks. The tracks are surprisingly few and what’s worse, most of them look quite similar. The game does throw in a new track every now and then but the number of times it makes you go around the same ones in every direction makes it seem like it only has one track to offer.
I’d like to make a note of the traffic in the game, which is ridiculously annoying. The traffic cars are placed so that you only see them at the last moment. They’ll often spring up on you while going through a blind corner. What’s more, they are placed so that they only appear in the exact line you place the car while going around the corner, making them even harder to avoid. Unless you go out of your way to screw up your corner, you will find yourself staring down the headlights of a lorry and eventually getting intimate with its radiator. Fortunately, crashing into traffic does not total your car immediately but it does slow you down considerably.
The game has a multiplayer element courtesy EA’s Autolog feature, which requires an Origin ID. You will need friends with Origin IDs to play multiplayer against. You can see each other’s rankings and race against each other. Since it uses Autolog, you can also play against someone from a different platform. I couldn’t find anyone with an Origin account and a copy of the game and the game doesn’t let you play against strangers so I can’t say how good the multiplayer experience is.
The Android version of the game still uses the archaic installer method of downloading the game. You download the installer through the Play Store, and then when you launch the game it downloads the rest of the files, all 560MB of them. Problem with this system is that unless you have a ridiculously fast connection, there is no way you can download all the files and still have time left to refund the game, if, say, it does not work well on your device. This method may have made sense when the Play Store did not allow files over 50MB but now it can take up to 4GB so there is no excuse to not use that space and scam users out of the refund option.
Graphics and Sound
Visually, Need for Speed Most Wanted is one of the best games right now on the mobile platform. The game just looks absolutely stunning. The cars in particular look incredible and almost photorealistic at times, save for the usual aliasing. The tracks look impressive at first, especially the wet streets, which have been captured perfectly, but then you realize pretty much every street in the game looks wet and start wondering if you accidentally drove off into Mawsynram. Still, the game looks fantastic and is almost as good as its console counterpart.
Unfortunately, the visual quality comes with a framerate penalty, which oscillates between “This is not bad.” to “Is that you, Crysis?”. The framerate is never super smooth and this could be one of the reasons for the less than impressive sense of speed (the view out of actual cars isn’t at 20fps). I must note here that I tested the game on a Galaxy Note 10.1, which has one of the most powerful hardware around, at least on Android. Asphalt 7, in comparison is very smooth on this hardware, even though it does not look much worse.
Don’t get me wrong, the game is not unplayable by any stretch of imagination. In fact it’s quite playable. Just don’t expect a silky smooth framerate, at least on Android (I can’t speak for the iOS version).
As for the audio, Most Wanted sounds great. First of all, there is a decent collection of licensed tracks, something you often see on EA titles, which makes it feel that much closer to the console gaming feel. The tracks are pretty great, most of them at least, and don’t leave much to complain about.
In terms of sound effects, the vehicles all sound loud and powerful, especially the thrumming of the muscle cars with their big engines. However, the engine notes often sound off compared to the speed they were doing. When you are going down the highway, pedal to the metal with the car running close to its limit, you don’t expect it to sound like you’re cruising down the road on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The engines sound unnaturally relaxed even when taken to their limit and the exhaust notes don’t carry the fierceness that they should have at those claimed speeds, which makes a frantic cop chase sound like a trip down to the store to buy a loaf of bread.
Need for Speed Most Wanted is not without its flaws, but none of them is tragic enough to prevent you from enjoying the rest of the game, which is one of the finest racing games right now on the mobile platform. The races are fun, the graphics look great, there is a large variety of cars and a ton of replay value. And if you find someone with an Origin account and a copy of the game, you can also play multiplayer. At $6.99, the price is a bit on the higher side and although I can’t say it’s worth every penny, it is worth checking out if you’re feeling a bit indulgent.
Pros: Enjoyable gameplay, excellent visuals, impressive roster of cars, good list of licensed soundtracks, tons of races and plenty of replay value
Cons: Needs more control options, unimpressive framerate, not much variety in tracks, visuals lack a sense of speed, engine notes inconsistent with the speed, silly vehicle customization restrictions, Android version uses archaic installer method to download additional files