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Need for Speed

Most Wanted

(Electronic Arts; US: Jul 2007)

In 1994, Electronic Arts introduced the world to the Need For Speed series and the thrill of the (computer-created) police chase. But several instalments later, with NFS: Underground and its sequel, EA refocused the series on street racing, added a storyline, and gave us the option to customize our vehicles.

And although the Underground series proved incredibly popular, I’m glad EA has brought back the police chases for Need For Speed: Most Wanted. The police chases have always been associated with the NFS experience, and have always distinguished the NFS games from other racing titles. And thankfully, we gamers now have the best of both worlds: angry cops and the chance to customize our rides.

And we have a storyline. You, a street racer, have just rolled into Rockport searching for a group of adrenalin junkies like yourself. But the local racers aren’t too pleased by your arrival, and one of them—Razor Callahan—challenges you and your M3 to a quick race. You accept the challenge, and the race goes fine until you realize that Razor has sabotaged your car. He goes on to win both the race and and your car.

Now you need to get your car back, get your revenge, and become the top racer in Rockport along the way. Helping you is a mysterious girl Mia, played by model and actress Josie Maran. Let me remind you of Josie Maran: the vampire in Van Helsing who uttered the unforgettable line “Too bad, so sad,” David Blaine’s petite arm accessory a few years back, and the brunette from the Maybelline commercials.

As the new and recently upstaged boy in a hostile town, you face several problems: you have no street cred; you have no ride; and to rub salt on the wound, Razor has risen to the top of the Blacklist with your M3. Meaning that he is now the most infamous racer in Rockport. So before you get the chance to challenge Razor for the pink slip to your beloved Beemer, you’ll have to start at the bottom and challenge each of the 15 racers individually.

By far, the Milestone challenges—which may involve breaking through a set number of roadblocks or causing a designated amount of damage to the state, for example—are the most exciting, most enjoyable, and most addictive part of the game. Initially, cops will roam around unintelligently in primitive cruisers until your alert level starts rising. Then undercover vehicles start showing up. Then SUVs. Then helicopters, federal Corvettes, and the ultimate cop, Sergeant Cross.

Don’t worry if the police are slow and boring for the first day. It’s not them, it’s you. Maybe you just don’t deserve a seriously intense chase just yet. But try smashing up traffic with a million dollar bounty and you’ll have not two cars on your tail but 20. And once things start getting hectic, you’ll be treated to some very authentic police radio banter, some truly thrilling chases loaded with unexpected consequences (enjoy those 10-car smashups at those surprise U-turns while SUVs perform somersaults over your careening vehicle), and some truly insane cops who don’t mind taking you on in a 100 mph game of chicken. The awesome chase music, the police radio, the helicopter flying three feet from the hood of your car… this is why I play video games.

For the most part, the soundtrack to NFS:MW is absolutely top notch, especially in the police chases when we hear Nine Inch Nails’ drummer Chris Vrenna teamed up with Paul Linford, who wrote the soundtracks for Gone in Sixty Seconds and Con Air. The music really does add immeasurable depth to the driving experience and is perhaps the best soundtrack for a racing game yet.

As for the terrain: Rockport feels like a city, and after a few days it’ll feel like your city—you’ll learn the important U-turns, the lead-roads to the highway, and where to hide from the cops. Initially, it might seem strange to roam around a place with no foot traffic, but hey, let’s not get picky. The map is awesome.

Interestingly, the introductory cutscenes were created by filming real-life actors and then adding a load of soft lighting and Jerry Bruckheimer-type orange sunset camera filters, possibly for two reasons: first, to help the cutscenes fit better with the graphics of the driving portion of the game, and second, to mask some of the incredibly cheesy ham-acting that’s taking place. When Razor ‘disses’ you, you’ll probably just burst out laughing. But still, for all the cheese, the cutscenes do lend a certain welcome attitude to the game. And of course, there’s Josie Maran.

Overall, NFS:MW is one very solid package, but sadly it didn’t take long to complete and the races started getting repetitive. And I’m wondering whether the NFS series is reaching its limit. After all, it’s been through several reincarnations already, and this latest instalment is actually just a collection of ideas from previous iterations. But if EA can produce another instalment as enjoyable as NFS:MW, then I certainly won’t be complaining.


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