Need for Speed: Most Wanted U Review

It's not quite the smooth, finely tuned speed machine it could have been, but Need for Speed: Most Wanted U is still an exciting racer.

Late last year, Need for Speed: Most Wanted served up a welcome second helping of Burnout Paradise-style open-world wreckin' and racin' shenanigans, though it replaced that game's imaginary automobiles with the real cars that are a constant of the Need for Speed series. Now, the game has come to the Wii U, complete with a U pointlessly stuck to the end of the title. The features designed exclusively for Most Wanted U contribute little to the game, but Most Wanted is still an attractive and frequently exhilarating racer.

The flying of sparks, the sound of metal on metal, and the sense of impact make trading paint with other cars feel great.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted U takes its name and some of its concept from the 2005 game Need for Speed Most Wanted. Both games take place in open-world cities and involve plenty of police chases, but the earlier game contextualized its action with a hilariously over-the-top story about taking down a crew of illegal street racers. In the new Most Wanted, you still have the goal of defeating a number of street racers, but there's no narrative to back it up. The racers on your list are identified only by their cars--they don't have names or faces or personalities--and without a personal investment in defeating them, doing so isn't nearly as satisfying here as it was in the 2005 game. It is merely a structural hoop to jump through; you do it simply because the game tells you that this is what you are supposed to do.

Well, that and the fact that driving, racing, and eluding the police are really enjoyable, for the most part. Despite the stable of real-world cars, the driving isn't realistic. Cars have a great sense of weight and momentum to them, while still being extremely responsive, and as you'd expect from a racer by developer Criterion, judicious use of the brakes and a bit of practice will have you blissfully drifting through corners at high speed. As in most Criterion racing games, boosting is a big part of racing in Most Wanted. You build up your nitrous bar by doing things like drifting, taking down cops and rivals, and driving in oncoming traffic, and you press a button to spend that nitrous. It's a tried-and-true arcade racing game mechanic, and Most Wanted's terrific sense of speed makes it as reliably exciting as ever.

Each vehicle has five events associated with it. Victory in each of a vehicle's events nets you speed points, which you need to earn a set number of before you can challenge each of the most wanted racers. Winning events also gives you access to modifications for that vehicle, including chassis that make you more resistant to impacts, gears that increase your acceleration or top speed, and tires that reinflate if popped by spike strips.

Make up your own story about playing as someone who hates EA so much, he wants to smash all of their billboards.

In earlier versions of the game, building up your car collection was a simple, unrewarding matter of driving up to cars parked all over the city of Fairhaven. In this release, with the exception of the cars driven by the most wanted racers, you have access to every car in the game from the start. (This includes the five cars that were released as downloadable content called the Ultimate Speed Pack on other platforms.)

Although they can be accessed from anywhere in Fairhaven almost immediately, cars are still scattered across the city in set locations, called jack spots, in Most Wanted U. The upside of this is that if you get the cops on your tail as you're roaming about the city, you can pull up on a car's jack spot and, provided that you've got a bit of distance between you and your police pursuers, hop into the other car, reducing your heat level a bit. Your heat level determines just how much effort the police are putting into bringing you down. At the lowest level, you might have a few cop cruisers on your tail. As it increases, the police start setting up roadblocks in your path, and more and better law enforcement vehicles join the fray. Heavy SUVs might try to ram you head-on, and Corvette Interceptors speed along in front of you, deploying spike strips that, if hit, can seriously diminish your car's handling.

All is not lost, however; repair shops are all over the city, and driving through one instantly fixes up your car and gives you a fresh coat of paint to boot. Like using jack spots, speeding through these repair shops reduces your heat level. Your heat level increases automatically as a pursuit goes on, and taking down police cars with a satisfying shunt into oncoming traffic, a swift T-bone collision, or whatever aggressive, effective option presents itself makes it go up significantly faster. If you get enough distance between you and your pursuers, you enter cooldown, during which your heat level declines. Stay in cooldown long enough, and the police call off the pursuit.

Fairhaven offers plenty of opportunities for you to thumb your nose at gravity.

You earn speed points during police pursuits, but you get to keep them only if you eventually escape; if you get busted, you earn nothing, so the stakes can get quite high. Escape from the cops, and you feel great; see the speed points you earned over the course of several risky minutes disappear as you get busted, and you may be crestfallen. It's a good risk-vs.-reward system that leads to some extremely tense moments. Unfortunately, shaking off your pursuers can often feel as much a matter of luck as of skill. Police are tenacious in their pursuit of you--maybe a little too tenacious, because it sometimes seems as if no amount of changing direction, catching big air, going off-road, or anything else is enough to lose the cops. In the game's faster cars, speed can often be your savior, but in the more everyday models, it often feels like you don't have a fighting chance.

Additionally, some parts of the city don't have many areas that are off the beaten path; you might enter cooldown but find yourself with nowhere to hide from patrolling police who soon spot you and reinitiate the pursuit. The balance between making it very possible for you to be spotted again during cooldown and giving you good options for eluding the police was better handled in 2005's Most Wanted, which provided you with more spots that cops on the hunt for you might or might not investigate. That earlier game also did a better job with police chatter; here, the police are irritatingly repetitive. Several times during the same pursuit, you might hear cops, awed by your driving prowess, come to the realization that they're "not dealing with joyriders."

The available events for each car come in a few varieties. There are standard checkpoint races against other cars, which sometimes attract the attention of the police. In speed runs, you try to maintain the highest possible average speed on a course. And ambushes start with you surrounded by cops; your goal is to lose them in as little time as possible. Though fun in faster cars, ambushes can be maddening in the game's more ordinary autos.

There's more to Fairhaven than skyscrapers and shipyards.

And then there are the one-on-one showdowns against the most wanted. These races always involve the police, and always follow great routes that have you speeding on numerous surfaces through varied parts of the city. In addition to racing on the road, you might find yourself speeding across dirt, gravel, or rickety beach boardwalks. Your opponents are skilled but fallible, and you never quite know what's going to happen. You might be approaching the finish in first place, only to have victory snagged from your grasp as a police car takes you down, but conversely, you might be trailing behind your opponent when a police car does you the favor of taking him out, leaving you home free. These elements of luck don't diminish the sense of accomplishment that comes with winning; they just add some unpredictability to these races. You must still drive skillfully if you're to have any hope of victory.

Some of the most fun you can have in Fairhaven happens not during events, but just when you're cruising around town. Cameras all over the city track the highest speed at which you zoom past them and show you how your top speed measures up to your friends' top speeds, but these are too inconspicuous and ubiquitous to make dominating any one of them, or all of them, worth caring about. The smashable billboards all over town, however, you will almost certainly care about. Fairhaven is filled with billboards that have the names of EA game studios on them, at least until you drive through them. After that, they become notices about one of the city's most wanted drivers.

If you get more air when crashing through a billboard than any of your friends have gotten, you can take pride in seeing your own Mii's face gracing the sign. However, if one of your friends has soared farther than you when destroying that billboard, it will be him or her you see displayed, and few things are more motivating than the prospect of smashing your friends' faces and their records, and claiming those little pieces of Fairhaven as your own. If you crave more competition, you can always easily access Autolog recommendations, which keep you apprised of events that friends have bested you at, or that you haven't tried yet, so opportunities for friendly competition are never in short supply.

The streets of Fairhaven have the beautiful look of asphalt just after the rain.

You can also hop online with friends or strangers for traditional, simultaneous multiplayer competition, but this is frustratingly uneven. Of course, it's fun to host or join a game with friends and just roam around the city, smashing billboards and taking each other down. You can participate in races, team races, speed tests, and challenges, though you can't just start one of these events as a one-off. Oddly, you must do events in groups of five, which are called speedlists. In public games, speedlists are initiated automatically; in friends games, the host can use premade Criterion speedlists, or build his or her own. Particularly in public games with players who are more interested in messing around than completing objectives, a single five-event playlist can drag on for 45 minutes.

Traditional races are great, though the absence of police in online play feels like a missed opportunity, since dodging spike strips, finding the gaps in roadblocks, and taking out cops are defining aspects of the single-player experience. Challenges leave a lot to be desired, however. Though they were great fun in Burnout Paradise, here, their design often makes them a chore. You might head to a specific location only to find that your goal is nothing more interesting than speeding off a cliff a certain number of times, and vague instructions sometimes result in your spending a few minutes just trying to figure out exactly what it is you're supposed to do. Of course, some challenges make coordinating with friends to pull off a strange feat (20 near misses on a bizarre, loopy art installation, for instance) enjoyable, but like the proverbial box of chocolates, until you try one, you never know what you're gonna get.

Online challenges sometimes involve things like parking in hard-to-reach spots, after you figure out how to get to them in the first place.

The Wii U version of Most Wanted includes what's called co-driver mode, which refers to optional buttons on the GamePad's touch screen that can be pressed to turn traffic off or on, to shift the setting from day to night and back again, and, when you're being pursued by the cops, to make the nearest police car spin out. These features may be welcome for parents who want to be able to share the experience with their young children and offer them a helping hand; everyone else can safely ignore them.

Despite its inconsistencies and disappointments, there's a lot to like about Need for Speed: Most Wanted U. Fairhaven is a lovely and varied city that looks gorgeous no matter how fast or slow you're going. Police chases provide plenty of reckless, high-speed thrills, and seeing friends dominate the billboards in your city fans the flames of friendly competition in an innovative and very effective way. Most Wanted U isn't quite a return to the racing paradise of some earlier Criterion games, but it's a mostly exciting ride nonetheless.

The Good
Terrific handling makes driving a pleasure
Police chases are usually intense and enjoyable
Billboards make for satisfying asynchronous competition
Online multiplayer races are fast and exciting
Beautiful and varied city
The Bad
In slower cars, police chases can be a frustrating ordeal
Repetitive police chatter
Lacks any sense of narrative motivation
Inconsistent, sometimes dull online challenges
7.5
Good
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Discussion

123 comments
Citan22
Citan22

i knew this would be a Carl Petit review as soon as i noticed Gamespot's review of the Wii U version was the second lowest score on Metacritic out of 36 reviews..

let's see, it's a racing game so there weren't any puzzles Carl couldn't solve...  the game doesn't feature hot girls in skimpy outfits (which Carl really hates cause it makes him envious).. so that's not it... so where does this bias originate?

why is it impossible for you to give better scores to objectively better versions of games if they are on the Wii U? it doesn't happen often, but Trine 2 and this game certainly come to mind.  is it because Nintendo refuses to cut you fat checks for higher scores?  is that lack of bribe money forcing you to delay your sexual reassignment?

hitheremom
hitheremom

Not being rude, but the reviewer forgot to add to "The Bad": "This is merely Burnout Paradise with police and real cars. No Need for Speed feel."

xxsmoky
xxsmoky

I like the WII U, but i got tired of it fast.

adkcrazox
adkcrazox

I got this game on the wii u and is a hard game i didn't like it the cops are so annoying

Outatomomega
Outatomomega

An excellent review but it's the same game. Perhaps when E3 comes around the WiiU will have some exclusive titles that will make purchasing the system a worthy investment, while attempting to compete with the PS4 and the next Xbox. 

AzatiS
AzatiS

And after the legendary shovelware Wii , we got the Wii U !! Gratz Nintendo!

grasshopper6
grasshopper6

I hate how you have to steer with the pad I'll rather use the thumb stick it's the reason I didn't get this game

NINEINCH-Tool
NINEINCH-Tool

how do you get past the active censors on this site?

NINEINCH-Tool
NINEINCH-Tool

looks like the definitive version to own, tbf.

kingotnw
kingotnw

Carolyn, you really seem to have some sort of anti-Nintendo thing going on. The same score as the 360 and PS3? Really? I just don't understand what Gamespot has been doing with 3DS and WiiU titles. All the scores are too low across the board.

JustPlainLucas
JustPlainLucas

For the love of fucking god, 7.5 is a good score!  *strangles kittens*

martindosantos
martindosantos

I cant see any good argument on your comments. Clearly all of you are X360/PS3 Fanboys. I have a wii u, and believe it or not, I cam assure the wii u is excelent. Obviously it hasnt a good hardware, but if I want something more powerful I will buy a ps4. I think Nintendo has other gamer's target. I have a Ps3 and a Pc and Wii u Games (btw look so childish) are very funny. Ps3 looks like "Oh Dude you're an adult. You are shooting Zombies/Aliens/Humans(Nazis, etc)." I played lot of games on Ps3 like Gow, Uncharted, and Killzone... they are my fav games indeed. But Wii has another touch... simplicity touch, you dont really need great graphics to have fun.


Sry for that. This review is Bul***t. Obviously gamespot doesn't like Nintendo at all. The game is almost good as PS3 or Xbox version and it has more graphics (and 1080p ;D ).

IllegallyAwesum
IllegallyAwesum

You know, Carolyn might give "low" scores (though I recall 7.5 as being rather good), but her reviews are fairly top notch, if you take the time to read them.

nintendoboy16
nintendoboy16

Is it me, or is Carolyn taking Tom McShea's place with the most controversial reviews on the site?

PinkSpider79
PinkSpider79

Surprise Surprise another Nintendo game gets a low score from GameSpot, Carolyn stop reviewing Nintendo games

JJMY
JJMY

Not fun at all... A.I cops are too good, just like homing missile never get lose....This make my interest in continue playing be no more

Arab_Spring
Arab_Spring

Wow I was almost gonna say holy crap but am atheist, I don't believe in crap. Anyways, finally a Wii u release. This should be on CNN. I have the utmost respect for Nintendo and Sony (and sega back in the day when they had consoles) but this is a bad effort from Nintendo. Inexcusable and lazy. The storage space, game lineup, the controller gimmick, the name, the graphics engine, the processor and it goes on and on. What happened Nintendo ? And also I know that I could get an external hard for the space issue. But believe me a lot of people don't spend money on something that's 200$ so they could go home and spend even more on things to get a normal experience they should have gotten in the first place. It's like 20$ dlcs for 60$ games. Only in this case you have to buy the dlc.

BrutalPandaX2
BrutalPandaX2

Carolyn you suck, stop reviewing all games on all Nintendo systems.

mario1028
mario1028

Please, GameSpot, find someone else to review these games. Look at how contradictory it is...how can online be both fast and exciting, while inconsistent and dull? How can police chases usually be fast and enjoyable, but frustrating with slower cars? And why is the latter even a negative at all? Of course slower cars are going to have a tougher time evading police...that's the point. And lacking any sense of narrative motivation? It's a RACING game...what motivation does one need to have? Do we really need a lame story tacked on?

Seriously, it seems the wrong reviewers are scoring these games, and it's a disservice to gamers AND to the developers.

translucent17
translucent17

dear nintendo, what the hell are you doing?

signed everyone....

ahpuck
ahpuck

Hey, look! the Wii U gets a game, hurray!!

NINEINCH-Tool
NINEINCH-Tool

this statement keeps getting deleted for obvious reasons: gamespot is a jizztrap

Da_Skull_King
Da_Skull_King

@kingotnw functionally the game is given the same score as the other versions, which they low balled reviewed anyway 

DennisWZH
DennisWZH

@kingotnw perhaps because the games is bad, and just an extremely slight graphical upgrade does not reckon a score increase

blackace
blackace

@martindosantos  

Frame rate drops on all of them, but like 90% of the time it's at 30%, so it's not that big of a deal really. 

kabalzer0
kabalzer0

 @martindosantos its running in 720p -.- get you facts right.
but ya the wii u version looks and performs better. thisreview is bullshit.

JustPlainLucas
JustPlainLucas

@PinkSpider79 The 360 and PS3 versions got the same score... Point?  And it's not even a Nintendo game.  It's an EA game.

IllegallyAwesum
IllegallyAwesum

@JJMY fact: the cops in this game scare me more than the aliens in colonial marines.

Malicx
Malicx

@Arab_Spring its not that big of a deal dude i got a 1tb external for 70 bucks works like a charm looks great and took less than 2 min to setup. Its cheapest this way and if you dont download you dont need it plain and simple people make to much of a big deal out of everything these days not you just people in general

nintendoboy16
nintendoboy16

@ahpuck It got games a couple weeks ago too. Hell, one of the Wii U games hit one of the Top 20 UK sellers this week.

Arab_Spring
Arab_Spring

@BrutalPandaX2 @Arab_Spring yes I did but I don't own one

DawgByte2
DawgByte2

@nintendoboy16 @ahpuck Top 20, w00t! So the other 19 happen to be topped by PS3, 360, DS, 3DS, Wii (original), and PS-Vita?! Hmm... What does that tell you? The newest system should be dominating the charts with at least a handful of games.

CrazyOldCracker
CrazyOldCracker

@Arab_Spring The Wii U is not going to be anything like Sega and i wish people would stop saying ridiculous things like that.  Sega never had any success after the Genesis.  Sega CD, 32X, Game Gear, Saturn, and even the DreamCast where all huge failures Nintendo hasn't had any huge failures yet.   

Arab_Spring
Arab_Spring

@BrutalPandaX2 @Arab_Spring I didn't play rayman legends but I really do hope things get better for Nintendo wii U. Nintendo is good memories to me I don't want them to fall or be like sega another great console company with great childhood memories too

BrutalPandaX2
BrutalPandaX2

@Arab_Spring Neither do I and playing Rayman Legends changed my mind about it. It's very fun and different, maybe not all games obviously but it's not a gimmick, it's a unique way of gameplay.

Malicx
Malicx

@DawgByte2 lol dude you just started gaming? The newer systems hardly ever dominates the charts the ps2 out sold the ps3 for years man and as far as the 360 a good bit of sales are from people buying a new one because of hardware failure i personally went through 5 of them two i actually paid for. The fact that the wii u is selling like it is with absolutely no system selling games is great just imagine whats gonna happen when Nintendo releases their first party system sellers or retro reveals metroid prime ? Hell Nintendo just bought the rights to eternal darkness then theirs xenoblade x, bayonetta 2 so yeah im gonna go buy an xbox 7 whatever for no exclusives to play what exactly? Any game they come up with i can play on my pc with better graphics

IllegallyAwesum
IllegallyAwesum

@DawgByte2 @nintendoboy16 @ahpuck I normally ignore console wars, but it ought to be noted that "new" systems never dominate charts. Small install base, obviously, so it does come across as fairly important that a WiiU game sells so well. On the other hand, it's been nearly six months. Jesus christ, nintendo.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted - A Criterion Game More Info

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  • First Released
    • PC
    • PlayStation Vita
    • + 3 more
    • PS3
    • Wii U
    • Xbox 360
    Need for Speed: Most Wanted is an open world Racing game and the 19th release in the long-running Need for Speed Franchise where players compete in races with police unified against them.
    6.5
    Average User RatingOut of 1351 User Ratings
    Please Sign In to rate Need for Speed: Most Wanted - A Criterion Game
    Developed by:
    Criterion Games
    Published by:
    Electronic Arts
    Genres:
    Simulation, Driving/Racing
    Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.
    Everyone 10+
    All Platforms
    Alcohol Reference, Comic Mischief, Violence