Cramming a title as expansive as Need for Speed: Most Wanted is an ambitious task for any developer.  Though developer Criterion has certainly impressed us with the console versions of the newest release in the franchise, could the studio’s lofty ambition of putting the open world racer onto the PlayStation Vita work?  Would the sleekly designed and expansive Fairhaven hold up on the small but beautiful screen, or would multiplayer offerings suffer in the handheld setting?  Not to fear, car fanatics, Need for Speed makes the leap to the small screen largely intact, with only a few bumps along an otherwise smooth ride.

My racing tendencies have always leaned toward arcade-oriented racers.  While some may crave the attention to detail that a title like Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport offers, I have always been right at home with fewer stats and more action-packed races.  Kart racers absolutely hit a sweet spot, but Most Wanted is a title focused on putting players behind the wheel of dangerously fast cars as often as possible.  Right from the start, after a beautiful introduction to the city that will be the home of speed-addicted players, Most Wanted forgoes a startup menu and directly puts players into one of the game’s 41 cars.

I fought the law and the law...did not win.

Fairhaven is a varied and vast world to explore, from seaside docks to more mountainous terrain to a modern metropolis, and though there is plenty that Criterion has put in the world to keep you distracted, I found myself frequently taking leisurely drives through the streets to explore the environment.

And that world is quite the beautiful one.  While the game cannot match its console counterparts visually, the city of Fairhaven still looks great on the handheld.  A densely packed city and towering mountains highlight a vibrant blue skyline that is a thrill to speed through either during the day or night.  Geometry is noticeably more angular than it would be on a console, and when cars are detailed so nicely, it can be disappointing to see the lesser textures of the ground and buildings pass by during a race.

Yet considering the handheld’s capabilities, the title looks quite nice in most regards despite this issue and the noticeably small draw distance.  Objects fail to be truly defined until they appear much closer to the driver, and this can be a little disorienting as the speedometer inches ever higher.  While this rarely becomes an issue during a race, the perspective at times can look awkward at key moments while driving through the streets.

Not every car may be glamorous, but you'll certainly find a few that will suit your driving style.

Thankfully Most Wanted’s simple and sleek design presents enough unique options that this perspective issue proves to be a negligible factor in the title’s rich amount of options.  Each car in the game has five races that can be completed.  New parts, from chasses to off-road wheels to nitrous boosts, are won for top ranking finishes.  Don’t expect a system as complex as in a racing simulator; Need for Speed is more concerned with letting you choose your favorite car, tricking it out with the best parts and taking to the streets in minutes.

The 41 cars all have a unique enough control to them that I could quickly differentiate between my favorites and those that handled poorly for my driving style.  All the necessities are included – drifting, boosting, and powerful engines – allowing races to consistently entertain and infrequently feel like a drag.  Each race also provides Criterion with the opportunity to stretch its artistic muscles.  Introductions to events differ in their aesthetic components, sometimes choosing strange camera angles or trippy visuals that launch players into a race with a welcome flair.

If we reference Xzibit and "Pimp My Ride," does that date us? Regardless, Most Wanted does allow you to trick out your cars with different parts.

I loved the majority of these openings, with a camera rising like an elevator only to crash to the ground before a race begins being a personal favorite.  Though you may skip these videos after a few retries, be sure to watch all of them at least once – there are some true gems in the mix that demonstrate how dedicated Criterion is to imbuing the game with a sense of style.

In addition to these races, Fairhaven is filled with other side missions for players to tackle, in which you’ll naturally progress through the course of your freedriving and challenges.  There are security gates to smash, speed-measuring cameras to trigger, billboards to demolish and jack spots to discover.  Each of these options are tracked as part of the player’s single player progression, and can be just as addicting a carrot to chase as is placing first in all of the races.  These are not necessarily difficult objectives to achieve, but for the completionist racer, it is dangerously easy to fall prey to hunting down where Criterion has placed each EA developer-branded billboard.

Missing a checkpoint can be frustrating, bit the crashing cinematics are almost worth having to restart a race.

In the game’s only sense of story progression, players must challenge the ten most wanted racers in Fairhaven in lengthy and difficult battles.  These races also include some of the most visually stunning introductory videos, and set the stakes for these important races.  Players can only challenge these dastardly street villains after earning a certain number of speed points.  These points are accumulated by completing racers and the optional side objectives, and play into one of Need for Speed’s most exciting features – the Autolog 2.0 system.

The Autolog was one of my favorite components in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, but the mechanic has received quite the welcome expansion in Most Wanted.  The Speed Points players earn are constantly tracked against the points of your friends.  You can always find the scores and times of your friends in each of the game’s races, providing an incentive to not just be number one according to the game’s standards but to best your friend with an impossibly low time.

Need for Speed excels at making this social aspect feel like an ever-present portion of the experience.  Not only does the Autolog track your progress after each event, but the game’s EasyDrive menu system allows you to directly take on the scores of your friends.  Most Wanted forgoes clunky menus in favor of this accessible system, which is accessed entirely through the D-pad while actively driving your car.  The menu is your source for switching cars, beginning races, and, most excitingly, taking on challenges your friends have completed under the “Autolog Recommends” option.  Not only will you earn more Speed Points, but it provides instant satisfaction knowing you have usurped a fellow racer’s proudest time.

Some of Most Wanted's more exotic cars are as fun to drive as they are to drool over.

The menu system is relatively easy to use and a nice way of keeping you in the action, though it can be a hassle to navigate while actually driving.  I found myself more often than not simply stopping my car to choose an event and proceeding onward.  It’s a small contrivance, but when the system feels purposely included as a way of always having your virtual foot on the pedal, it can be annoying to so often halt your movement.

The EasyDrive system is also how you will access multiplayer, which works quite well for this handheld iteration.  Multiplayer will load you into an online portion of Fairhaven with a group of fellow racers.  A different group of challenges comprise each multiplayer match, and in between, Most Wanted keeps players engaged by having them race to starting points to gain the upper hand.  At times it can be a hassle to get every rider together but for the most part this system can make for exciting multiplayer sessions that creates a more intense atmosphere than you might find in a repetitious round of similar races.

Fairhaven's noticeable landmarks will serve as frequent hotspots for your multiplayer sessions.

Lag can be an issue, as I found cars periodically hopping around the streets in front of me rather than smoothly racing along as my own car.  The world would not clip, merely the cars, and the issue never persisted, but knowing a car may be that much further away can make all the difference on the final lap.

Yet for all of these occasional issues, Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a largely successful port of a great racer.  Fully fledged with every aspect of Fairhaven and car you would find in the console versions.  It may not look as beautiful, the Vita’s analog sticks may not be as adept at steering as a controller’s and the online multiplayer has the occasional hitch, but Most Wanted is still a blast to play.  There is such a plethora of options and the racing controls so well that, thankfully, you may be having too much fun outrunning the cops on the go to let these hindrances impede your need for…you know how the saying goes.

 

Here’s the Rundown:

+ No content has been lost in this fully-fledged port
+ Dozens of cars, races and other challenges to keep you busy for hours to come
+  A smart social system makes both single and multiplayer a constantly engaging experience
- Textures can look muddled and the draw distance suffers
- Multiplayer glitches can, infrequently, turn the tides of a race
- EasyDrive is a smart idea, but still required me to often pause while playing 

 

8 and 8.5 represent a game that is a good experience overall. While there may be some issues that prevent it from being fantastic, these scores are for games that you feel would easily be worth a purchase.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted was developed by Criterion and published by EA. It was released on October 30, 2012, at the MSRP of 39.99. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.