“Need for Speed: Most Wanted U” is an open-world racing game, developed by British games developer Criterion Games and published by Electronic Arts. Need for Speed: Most Wanted U caught a lot of attention when it was first announced; Particularly when Criterion stated they would be putting a tremendous effort into it and not just throw a game on the system to get some extra sales figures. Criterion has made it their duty to show other developers just what the Wii U is easily capable of. However, is this racer the true definitive version of the game? Let’s find out!
Need for Speed: Most Wanted U takes place in the open-world city of Fairhaven. The city has a healthy variety of locations, with Manhattan-style bridges and parks, and skyscraper sections that mirror downtown Los Angeles. It also has beautiful picturesque wooded areas that take equal inspiration from the northwest country side of the Washington state forest. Inside this extensive union of American urban landscapes are three types of races. Sprint Races are novice point A to point B trials, a single straightaway dash against your opponents where you try to be the first across the finish line. Circuit Races are more customary multi-lap activities, where you memorize the pattern of a course, learn shortcuts and try to achieve a high enough finishing score. Logically, knowing the design of Fairhaven will help you take advantage of faster routes. By getting first or second place in these events, you’ll unlock upgrades that can be instantly applied to the car you are currently using. Upgrades can consist of nitrous boost increase to chassis body kits and off-road tires. Whatever the appetite for customization, NFSMWU has you covered. Lastly, you’ll have Speed Runs, where you try to run a course while maintaining the most intense high speed average possible. While doing this, you must keep from wiping out or smashing into barriers and obstacles at rapid speeds.
If that doesn’t grab your attention, then you have Ambush and Most Wanted races. Ambush jolts you off, fleeing from a pack of the game’s exasperatingly, tenacious Fairhaven police force. In a mechanic very similar to Rockstar’s GTA4, you must escape a flashing circular area and try to lose the police as soon as possible. As your “heat” level rises (due to hitting into police cruisers), it does become significantly tougher to escape the cops. However, when the cops do finally pin you into a corner or sandwich you between their cruisers, you are busted! Understandably, the objective of Ambush is to get away as rapidly and stylishly as imaginable, with extra points granted for those who disable some police cruisers or those who quickly lose a high heat level. There are only ten Most Wanted races in the entire game and with good reason too. The “Most Wanted” list is a roster of rival speed maniacs. If you manage to beat one of these rivals in a one-on-one race and a horde of police in hot pursuit at both of you, then you’ll unlock this rival’s car. And from experience, I can say all these rides are quite sweet! You’ll really need to bring your skills, and your fastest car, to defeat these speed demons. Personal advice from me, I wouldn’t even attempt to try these races within the first three hours of gameplay. Learn your roster of cars first and see how they handle, then upgrade them. Thankfully, all of your unlocked cars, races, upgrades, customization, multiplayer and other options are available from the in-game “Easy Drive” pop-up menu (which fans of Burnout Paradise will notice immediately). Hit Right on the D-pad and Easy drive comes up, making menu navigation in NFSMWU extremely convenient with just a few presses. From here, you can restore your car, alter its color and manage unlocked upgrades for each vehicle. You will also have access to your complete car list. This is constantly updated with any new cars you unlock. Players can also check new races, their difficulty and rewards, and set each one as a specific objective on your map, all with the D-pad. There is also the refined Autolog 2.0 system that compares your every move against your friends, which usually creates heavy competition.
Doing all of this from a simple pop-up menu and a click of one button clearly simplifies life, and makes the game a much more enjoyable experience. It lowers the frustration and lets you see the pros and cons of each vehicle, minute to minute. If you lost a race and seriously couldn’t keep up, then maybe the solution is a different car you haven’t tried yet. The game’s car list can certainly keep you occupied comparing and contrasting. Players can drive everything from a Ford to the Lambo, and even an Aston Martin Vantage. Cruising through Fairhaven, and getting a feel for all the various cars is a true treat. Considering that you can crash into things without any real consequence and repair your car instantaneously, either from the Easy Drive or at one of the many body shops is awesome. The one problem I had is that a good number of the single player progress such as mods, paint jobs, and various performance boosting upgrades, do not transfer over to multiplayer portion. This is a shame because the online is where the true tournament lies. Competing against your friends online is supposed to be the highlight. The semi-solution instead is that players will have to unlock most of the upgrades again in online ranked matches. In multiplayer, you can drop into a random game pretty quickly, which puts you on a playlist of five eight-player events. These are similar to the solo races, sprints, circuits races, but also include stunt/trick competitions, and brief races as you drive from one event to the next.
Most Wanted U is perhaps the most accomplished version of bunch, with the GamePad functionality being fully utilized in this title. The gyroscope feature (which is used to drive with motion controls) really doesn’t help in high speed chases, but is rather something used for a fun free-roaming ride. With the GamePad, players will have more control of the environment and objects within it. Having a God-like ability to remove traffic or police off the streets of Fairhaven with the press of a button is truly incredible. It has created greater possibilities and convenience. Whether you are using a GamePad, Pro controller, or Wii remote for Co-Driver mode, the gameplay remains a thrill ride. It’s the same great game we saw last year, shifted to Wii U. All of the control options work well, but personally preferred the Wii U Pro Controller over the GamePad. Overall, these new additions have created a deeper experience for Most Wanted on the Wii U.
Graphically, NFSMWU is one of the sweetest looking titles on the Wii U, hands down. Taking the PC version’s textures (due to the Wii U’s superior RAM to the PS3/360), everything looks ultra-sharp with enhanced lighting effects optimized for the console. The city of Fairhaven absolutely glistens with sparkling sunshine and reflections. The world itself is immaculately modeled and drawn out. The main highlight are the cars though. Each vehicle, from the BMW M3, to the Audi S8, has been rendered in devoted detail with some truly gorgeous images and terrific mapping.
The whole experience was refreshing and much welcomed on the Wii U platform. Considering the Wii U has been inundated with some underwhelming ports thus far, I have to ponder what secret development skills Criterion is using to make such a boldly stunning game run so effortlessly on the Wii U. On second thought, this should be a wake-up call for other developers not exploiting the power of this console. If there was one complaint that detracted the visuals for me, it certainly was the frame rate. Throughout my 10+ hour single player campaign, every now and then I would notice dips in the frame rate, but very few. However, once I would jump online with friends of mine, the ugliness would rear its head. Frame rate drops were every couple of minutes or in some cases, seconds, depending on the amount of crashes going on at once. I could not overlook the frequent visual drops when playing online, being that the large draw of this game is to be competing online with friends.
The good news here is that audio design is just as good as the graphics. First off, I must state the soundtrack does an overall decent job of aiding in the excitement. However, it certainly is not the highlight of the game. There are a couple of licensed hits that give you a charge while playing the game but they are few and far between. For those really struggling to find a good track, you can shuffle through the songs with a tap of the R button. Unfortunately, there’s no way to customize the playlist of songs in-game. The sound effects are where the audio thoroughly blossoms, and as you’d imagine, Criterion has authentically captured each car’s signature sounds perfectly. From the silent purr of the Maserati to the powerful roar of the Aston Martin, it’s all here. Lastly, it’s worth mentioning the addition of hearing the police scanner via your GamePad, which really lends to the thrill of the game. Blasting through the city, I had a level 4 wanted level, and all throughout my GamePad is firing off crystal clear police chatter. It was very reminiscent of playing ZombiU (read our review here) and hearing the “Prepper” speak through the pad with the booming, yet clear audio.
Replay Value: 5/5
Most Wanted U’s campaign will keep you busy for well over 15+ hours, on top of tackling the Milestone objectives, free-roaming Fairhaven, and competing with friends over Autolog. NFSMWU’s online multiplayer flourishes in the most imperative side of any modern day multiplayer title. The game replicates the old school atmosphere of playing online with buddies. Creating bitter challenges and on the opposite spectrum, creating teamwork to take down a challenge. One minute you will be neck and neck during a tight race, and simultaneously trying to form some wild rooftop jump the next. It’s great to have this kind of online experience on the Nintendo’s Wii U, and I am truly excited to see the Miiverse community for NFSMWU continue to grow.
If that wasn’t enough, the off-TV play on the GamePad is truly a fantastic way to play the game as well. Couple it with Co-driver mode and I feel the hours can be endless into this game. Letting that second player jump in and affect your gameplay, while the first player drives using a Wii remote or Wii U Pro Controller, is addicting and dubious. You can aid your first player friend or try and destroy them. No matter what, the attractiveness is there.
Overall Score: 18/20 = 9.0 out of 10
In the final analysis, Criterion has brought NFSMW to Wii U in a seemingly painless way. Behind the scenes, I know there was a great deal of work put into this version and they deserve a giant kudos for that. The game looks and feels better than the prior home console versions, standing side-by-side with the PC version in terms of graphics, if not better at some points. Coupled with the added Wii U features and it just sweetens the overall package. Need for Speed: Most Wanted U screeches into your home like a muscle car drag race. Criterion has once again set a standard, and I hope other developers learn how to mimic this success and bring their talents to the Wii U as well. Bottom line is, Need for Speed: Most Wanted U is a true delight full of motoring anarchy, an exciting landscape and the sexiest garage for any arcade racer out there. It’s one of the superior Wii U titles, and a class act on how to bring a multiplatform title over to Wii U with both quality and horsepower.
+ Fun and varied multiplayer racing modes
+ Challenging racing system that values skill over luck
+ Great Autolog stats and rivalry
+ A visual powerhouse delight
– Soundtrack is underwhelming
– Frame rate takes a hit when playing online