Back in the warm and hazy summer of 2008 – when I was completing my GCSE’s and generally just being really young – I got a videogame addiction on the go that has since only been rivalled by my dangerous affair with FIFA. This addiction saw me jonesing on tearing through the narrow streets of Paradise City, usually with Brand New’s amazing-but-laughably-edited ‘Archers’ rumbling out of my speakers and my mind focused only on the woozy rush of mangling cars. Criterion’s Burnout Paradise remains the best racing game I’ve played this generation and in those sunny days long ago, I fell in love with that city and that game.
My excitement levels for ‘Need for Speed: Most Wanted’ were pretty flipping high. I had watched a few trailers and started to buy into the fact that this was shaping up to be Burnout Paradise 2. It sounded and looked like the game the pubescent version of me had been waiting for since nailing that final stunt challenge all those years ago.
Fast forward to 2013 and I’m still desperately waiting for the magic to happen. I’ve now completed Most Wanted’s main challenge and even got to the credits. I know that I’m nowhere near done with the game just yet – I’ve not been anywhere near the multiplayer and there’s still a fair amount of percentage points left for me to knock off the old completion bar – but I’ve got far enough to start thinking that the romance may never be kindled in the same way again.
I keep convincing myself that at some point during Most Wanted, everything will click into place and I’ll fall back into a familiar groove. It’ll just be like that summer five years ago, where I spent hours ensnared by the fuzzy hue of Paradise City. But now, the cold and clinical city of Fairhaven feels just a tad lifeless for me.
It’s the little things for me that have had the biggest impact. Get ready for less ear friendly pop punk and rock and brace yourself for some wubstep. Maybe not the biggest deal in the world, but a lot of that genro-electro is getting skipped immediately, to the point where it’s not uncommon to spend too much time hammering RB instead of concentrating on the cars hurtling towards you.
That’s only a minor annoyance though. But where did the takedown cams go? Back in Burnout, it was exhilarating to watch your rival do his best impression of a plane, soaring off the wrong side of the track after you gave him a painful refresher in momentum. In Most Wanted, a banner pops up to let you know you hit a car. Cheers for the exciting rush of gratifying reward there.
What hurts the most though is the blatant shilling of downloadable content in the game. Paradise City spoiled us no end in giving away free content – remember those motorbikes? – and even when they started to charge, the downloads were substantial in scope, like adding on a whole new offline multiplayer component. Most Wanted on the other hand dumps its content, such as extra cars, in the world for you to find and then asks that if you want to use it, you pay for it. In fact, twice I was chasing down Most Wanted rivals who would drift into a tunnel and when I attempted the same, I was met with big red crosses, because I hadn’t downloaded the DLC for that extra area. The DLC could be amazing and I have no problem with extra content being advertised in the game, but when the advertisement of it directly impacts my ability to play the game? Then it can do one.
As I slalomed through the backroads of Fairhaven, I came across a series of drops tucked into the winding hillside that were pretty much identical to a set found in Burnout Paradise. Giddy with the thought of relieving this monumentally fun jump, I careened down it only to be left with the hollow feeling of underwhelming adequacy. Most Wanted so far has ticked all the boxes of what I wanted from it, without ever showing the unpredictability that made Burnout Paradise so rewarding.
Call me crazy, but all of this doesn’t mean I don’t like Most Wanted. On the contrary, I think it’s a great racing game and all of these points haven’t put me off from wanting to rush straight back into it; it’s just unfortunate that it stands in the shadows of my favourite racing game of this generation.