What Criterion Needs To Do With NFS: Most Wanted
Coloureds around the world rejoiced when it was announced that Criterion Games was developing a reboot of the hallowed Need for Speed: Most Wanted. There were other people who were kinda excited too but I like to think it was mostly Coloureds, makes for a better mental image. Now, this is promising news considering that Criterion is not in the habit of making bad racing games but it is doubtful whether they can reincarnate Most Wanted as we remember it. Certainly, what we saw at E3 doesn’t exactly look like Most Wanted even if it does look good.
Now, the gameplay that EA showed wasn’t anything bad and it certainly wasn’t atrocious, as Caveshen described it, but he was onto something because it didn’t look like Most Wanted and that’s the main problem I can see with the game. Now, Criterion has a good record, they rarely put a foot wrong with the Burnout franchise and Burnout Revenge and Burnout Paradise were great games but the problem is that Criterion has a type. They don’t do diversity very well and are known for just making simple, no nonsense arcade racers with no frills; just races and some cars to choose from. That formula worked well when they did a reboot of NFS: Hot Pursuit because that game really was just a simple cops and robbers game with cars so Criterion nailed it and produced a fun but rather shallow game. You could play as a street racer or a cop and have a good arcade experience either way but that was really all there was to it.
That game was good because it combined the very basic premise of Hot Pursuit with the quality and entertainment value that Criterion brings to the party but Most Wanted comprises so much more than that.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted took the whole cops ‘n racers concept to the next level with all-out police chases that escalated to levels which required real skill in order to evade the cops. It also introduced us to a more interactive environment with gas stations that could be blown up and various obstacles that could be used as Pursuit Breakers. Combine that with a story that was good enough to make some sense and give the game meaning and you’ve got something special. Let’s not forget that the game had a good spread of vehicles which ranged all the way from a Fiat Punto right up to an Aston Martin DB9, Lamborghini Gallardo and M3 GTR. Your car and the speeds you were travelling at changed greatly from the start of the game to the end and that’s something that’s been missing lately from NFS titles.
One of the most memorable things from the game was of course the modification system with its bodykits and paintjobs and epic performance mods – I built up a GTI that could easily beat Gallardos and the like. I do still believe that the ultimate street racing game would take Most Wanted and simply swap out its modding system for the more expansive and technical system from Underground 2 but that’s a discussion for another day.
Now, all that I’ve mentioned above is something that Criterion is out of its depth on, they do not have experience with these mechanics and certainly their games aren’t used to being so complex. It’s therefore doubtful whether Criterion will opt to take a stab at including a midifcation system or simply drop it in favour of a simplified Burnout Paradise-style open-world game. Something that troubled me last night was an article I read on Kotaku which claimed that Criterion’s reboot of Most wanted may as well be called Burnout Paradise 2. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Paradise and it was in fact the first game I ever played on my PS3 along with Assassin’s Creed so it’s got a special place in my heart but I’m not looking for Paradise 2, I’m looking for the second coming of Most Wanted and therein lies the problem with the gaming industry’s current trend of reviving old titles or series’.
It’s the same problem Max Payne 3 had. It was a good action shooter and if you hadn’t played the previous two games then you would enjoy it but if you played its predecessors then Max Payne 3 came up short because it didn’t embody what Max Payne was about or at least struggled to do it properly. If I wanted an arbitrary 3rd person shooter that was good for action then I’d happily buy Random Action Shooter X but the minute you decide to dredge up an old IP, you better be prepared to encapsulate what that IP was all about and simply translate its formula to be applicable today.
I’d love to see Burnout Paradise 2 get made but Criterion is on contract with EA to produce an NFS title every alternate year and so this year they’re making Most Wanted and I get it, they want to make Burnout Paradise 2 but don’t take this as an opportunity to do that. Rather call the game NFS: Paradise City or something but do not exploit the name of an old IP just because every NFS fan will immediately want the game if you call it Most Wanted. Ultimately all that’s going to come from doing this is that fans will meet the game with such venom and backlash and the game will be a sore disappointment because the title promised something and the developer gave us a game that was entirely different. Whether or not the game is good on its own merits will be irrelevant and that’s a pity because the game will likely be great by its own standards.
What Criterion needs to do is realise that they are dealing with the revival of an title that means a great deal to fans of the NFS and many regard as the best in the franchise and that puts certain expectation on them developers. It’s also a recent game, having come out on PS2 just a few years before PS3 hit the scene so many of us have played and we do remember it and it is very easy to transplant the original game’s DNA into a modern release. Criterion needs to take heed of this and so far the cop chases seem good and the racing structure is cool with a free-roaming layout that isn’t governed by stupid invisible but rather checkpoints/markers that you have to pass. Criterion is not big on having a driving narrative on their games though and Hot Pursuit certainly just let you devise your own premise for why a bunch of high performance cars were racing each other while being chased by high performance police cars.
I always liked to think that Durban Indians had taken over the world and in their short reign, a surplus of sports cars and exotic cars was produced such that when someone finally worked up the courage to tell them to stop misbehaving (he may have also threatened to call their mothers) all these previously expensive cars were worth next to nothing. The manufacturers couldn’t have this so they commissioned a group of racers and traffic cops to battle against each other in a fleet of these cars so as to write off as many of them as possible and thus reduce the number of Porsches, Ferraris, Lamborghinis etc to regular volumes.
My imagination may have just worked a little overtime with that one but you see what I mean, right? Hot Pursuit didn’t need a premise but then it did get a bit aimless halfway through and you had no drive to finish the game. Moral of the story: Criterion needs to have some half-decent plot going on in Most Wanted, something that’s good enough to keep us racing around the city for 7 or 8 hours or however long the game may be.
Next on the list, that modification system is all important and it needs to be more than just paint colour, we need to be able to customise the look of the car and mod the performance to the point where GTI’s are keeping level with R8’s. This brings me to the last thing we need - proper variation in the list of cars. Lately, NFS titles have narrowed the scope of cars you get in the games to only sports cars such as Porsches and anything above. This is all good and well and it’s in part due to the fact that you couldn’t modify your cars in those games but a significant difference between the car you start with and the car you finish with gives the game much greater and more prominent progression so that you don’t feel static the entire time as I did with Hot Pursuit and even The Run.
Something that I think Criterion can get right is a much more dynamic world where anything, even other cars can be used as a Pursuit Breaker and where a lot more destruction is possible rather than simply at strategic points.
It’s not a tough ask of Criterion to meet these demands but they are out of their depth on more than one of them and I certainly don’t expect Criterion not step out of their comfort zone. In fact, This will almost certainly be Burnout Paradise 2 under another name and that saddens me greatly because I’d actually like to see Paradise 2 but not in place of my beloved Most Wanted.