As good as the hot-pursuits are in this game, the game aspires to be a movie, which it isn't.
Many such need for speed games also added 'hot-pursuit' mode where a cop(or multitude of them) would chase you down. This feature was in the first, third, fourth, fifth and the sixth game. For some reason they seem to have disappeared from the seventh and the eighth game (the Underground series) but made a comeback for the ninth (Most Wanted). While that is the main highlight of this game and is definitely more exciting than any previous incarnations of it, it alone doesn't make the game better.
The gameplay is awesome like always. Cars handle like they are supposed to. A change from the underground series is that the nitrous now has a regenerative model (it slowly replenishes itself). This mechanism is sleek and is very efficient if we think about it. But takes away some of the challenge of the last game (cool moves and show-offs with your car would give you nitrous instead back then). An added ability called a 'speed-breaker' puts game in slow-motion and makes sudden-turns or dodging traffics easier. Also in drag race mode, this is a must most of the time cause this time the game has a tendency to put traffic in the player's face every other drag race. The only way out is the speed-breaker. It's so-much compulsory to use if you want to win, that it's almost like cheating.
The free world is huge but feels dead somehow. No more little secrets or hidden shops. No more 'banks' lying about that gives you money. No more secret races. And definitely no more out-run racers roaming about. This kills the total purpose of actually needing to explore all that huge 'what's-it-name' city(Rockport really!) except for the reason to memorize short-cuts and routes (which are plenty this time and comes handy during races). You can pretty much access any race anytime from the menu. Heck even cop-chases can be done this way.
Speaking of which, the cop-chases are revamped to be more exciting and thrilling to the very end. When a chase begins the cops get after you and try to stop you as hard as they can. Depending on your notoriety, they may deploy simple road-blocks to spike-strips. There are also those occasional 'rhino' SUVs trying to ram into you and stop you. The cop AI is excellent as they behave smartly, making the challenge harder. There are no 'tickets' this time but a bar shows how close are you to being busted or evading the pursuit. Staying closer to a cop will raise the red 'busted' meter while keeping away from them will fill the green 'evade' meter. If the green goes full you will be given a cool-down meter. If you survive this cool-down phase without getting spotted you successfully evade or else chase beings anew. If you can find a 'hiding spot' dotted all over the world the cool-down will be faster.
Pursuits can happen anytime, even during races so you have to be ready (although most race-time pursuits are scripted). What I did discover is that the cops are always on your tail and never busts anyone else in real-time. Now this is a let-down considering how even Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit cops acted fair. Speaking of which, the racer AI cheats sometimes. Creating the illusion of having a tough AI, the racer AI will ram into trucks in pure daylight and speed past you with impossible speed if you leave them behind (without crashing). Some races are so much scripted and predictable that upon re-races you'd find the exact same opponent always wins if you don't or the exact same traffic cars shows up at the exact same spot every-time or how cop chases start at the exact position in a race every-time. I call this a drawback since it prevents emergent game-play (when many previous installments in the series did not do this).
The game also lacks many customization options those were present in the last game. You can no longer fine-tune head lamps or sport neon-glows under your car. This may seem minor at first, it takes away some of the immersion that Underground 2 (and even Underground) seemed to have.
Let's just say this: the graphics couldn't have been any better. The environment is just beautiful and the sun sprays a golden-tint over the world in a really spectacular way. The weather changes are also nicely done and cloudy racing scenes becomes quickly memorable. Raining however seems to happen randomly because as weird it may seem, I've seen rain falling during clearly bright and sunny skies. The motion-blur effect at top-speeds gives you the familiar sense of speed the Underground series had. All in all, I'm very satisfied with graphics.
Sound effects are nicely done. The engines all feel realistic. And sound of crashes make you feel it happened near you. The voice over for the cops talking over the radios are extremely believable and adds to the feel of being a fugitive. The voice for the characters in the cut-scene is averagely done. All characters behave like they are punks, but in a game like this, I guess that's okay.
The music selection is biased towards the tuner culture. I personally did not like that taste of music that came shipped with the game. Unlike Underground 2 where I actually like a few, all music here is like hearing that annoying song you always avoided to heat. That's just me of course. But EA is pretty biased since it did not let me choose my own soundtracks from my hard-drive or something.
The cut-scenes are no longer comic-esque like the last game and has been replaced with live acting. Now it pretends to put you in a movie but that hardly works with a terrible acting and a cliched way things turns out. The HUD is alright but the navigator arrow is very unfriendly. It's supposed to point you to where you want to go but take one wrong turn and it's gone!
The game also brings back the annoying 'thrill-cam' mode. The game aspires to be a movie or something because as soon as your car leaps from an altitude the game happily shows how cool your car is from the bottom in slow-motion, yet ignoring the fact that you could be very well heading into a traffic next. The sudden camera change may also disorient players when in a tight racing moment (God how games these days are plagued with useless wannabe-movie cams!). Thankfully it can be turned off.
The story is interesting. The player is a newbie in rockport when a local racing punk tricks you into losing your car. He uses that car to go all the way to no.1 position of the most wanted blacklist. Now it's your turn to grab a car (like last time) and 'pursuit' him up the ladder. The ending is however done very well and although I won't spoil it here, you're gonna like it.
[FINAL VERDICT 8/10]
So this wannabe-movie game is actually not so bad. The chases are fantastic and satisfyingly challenging and that's why you should get this game in the first place. If you want pure customization like the good-ol'-times and want to feel being in tuner-culture again Underground 2 is still there waiting to outrun Most Wanted any day.