A city’s vast expanse, a parade of iconic sports cars, and the distinct smell of burnt rubber are the ingredients for Criterion Games much plauded Need for Speed Most Wanted U.
In essence it’s an amalgamation of ideas, drawing upon the British developer’s expertise in placing players firmly behind a virtual steering wheel. Gameplay mechanics from their work on the Burnout series, and previous Need for Speed entries, clearly apparent here, thrust into the mixing pot to cook up something truly special.
Speeding your way through Fairhaven city’s vibrant metropolis and its surroundings will occupy the majority of your time, as you make your stake on surpassing competitor racers. Collectibles extending play, as you veer through billboards and security gates, whilst hunting Jack Spots across the city that provide you with lucrative cards for your garage.
At any point you can open the EasyDrive menu, granting access to available events from which you can either leisurely navigate your way toward their starting point or begin immediately. There are multiple types here, with core examples being Speed Run, which sees you tasked with maintaining an average speed across a set distance, Circuit Race that has you zip multiple laps around a track, and Sprint Race that sees all racers speed toward a distant finish line.
As street racing is naturally dangerous (not to mention illegal), you and your competitors will soon gain unwanted attention from the cops, speed cameras flaring at you as you pass by at ludicrous speeds. Law enforcement efforts are governed by Heat Level, which increases over time as you continually elude capture. Pursuit vehicles and roadblocks are the crux of their methods, making the racing ever more exhilarating as you weave to evade.
Competitors are another threat, yet grinding rivals along roadside barriers, knocking them into oncoming traffic, or sending them careering into the side of a building are multiple ways for players to perform takedowns, refilling your boost bar in the process.
Although hit detection can feel clumsy in places, with a slight nudge being enough to see most AI vehicles off the track. Players too will soon verge on annoyance, with the game often catching you out causing you to crash yourself multiple times – despite it’s emphasis on high-octane speed.
Event success is multi-tiered as per usual through Gold, Silver and Bronze, with players rewarded with car modifications dependant on their placing. These multi-functional components grant the opportunity to tweak your favourite vehicles to perfection, altering states across acceleration, top speed, and the norm.
Most Wanted U’s biggest song-and-dance is its Co-Driver Mode, an enriching addition made possible by the Wii U GamePad. With Nintendo’s family-friendly audience in mind, this sees one player steering their way across Fairhaven city with a Wii Remote, as a second player uses the Wii U GamePad in a supportive capacity – activating boost, altering car modifications, turning day to night, or hampering law enforcement efforts to arrest you.
Whilst Autolog returns to pit you against records set by friends, Nintendo Network integration should also be commended. Mii characters plucked from your Friend List adorn your Most Wanted list, speedwalls and billboards, whereas a Miiverse feed appears on-screen whenever the game goes idle.
Multiplayer’s similarly available, easily being able to find another five players to race against. Events are largely the same as single player, with the added thrill of being up against real-life opponents. This works well for the most part, despite lag on certain players at times becoming a concern.
Criterion’s boasts of this being “by far the best-looking version of the game” remain undisputed, with the Wii U hardware beginning to truly display what it’s capable of. The city’s skyline reflects across your car chassis, and a remarkable draw distance will often threaten to distract you as you gaze upon intricate surroundings.
If there are any disappointments to be shared regarding Need for Speed Most Wanted U, they only lie with the fact that Wii U owners are unable to expand their experience with downloadable content already available on other platforms. Whilst the Ultimate Speed pack is included on-disc, the Terminal Velocity, Movie Legends and NFS Heroes packs aren’t ever looking likely of making their way across.
Yet if there’s one thing sung loud and clear by Criterion, it’s that this isn’t a half-hearted port simply delivered to expand upon the Wii U software library for the sake of it. It’s an engaging experience that successfully builds upon the foundations laid for its console counterparts. And for that, a most worthwhile purchase indeed.