I don’t think that anybody would deny that the Playstation Vita has had a bit of a rough start. Those of us who love our powerful little handheld system hope for a solid library of titles that we can use to show the doubters that there is merit in owning one. We just may have acquired one just such solid title. The fine folks at Criterion Games, who you might know from the wonderful games Burnout Paradise and the more recent Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit have released the latest game in the Need for Speed franchise, Need for Speed: Most Wanted.
The announcement of Most Wanted in general was a very exciting proposition, but the more exciting piece of information was the fact that Criterion Games themselves would be developing the version of the game to be released on the Vita. This is a quite a coup as the handheld versions of “Triple A” titles are generally farmed out to other smaller studios in order to allow the main developer to focus on the versions to be released on the larger consoles and PC. Because of this practice, not surprisingly, the handheld versions are widely considered inferior. The announcement made by Criterion that the Vita version was going to be virtually identical to the PS3 version (for $20 cheaper) was enough reason for me to pick the game up exclusively on my now favorite handheld system.
Here is where I come forward and tell you that I am a racing game snob. I much prefer sim titles like the Gran Turismo series vs. arcade racers like the Need for Speed series. I never played any of the Burnout games (not even the coveted Paradise), and can’t remember the last Need for Speed title that I spent any serious amount of time with, until now. As of the time of this writing I’ve spent over 24 hrs playing the Vita version of Need for Speed: Most Wanted, and I’m very impressed.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted is about as sandbox as a racing game can be without being accused of being a Grand Theft Auto clone. That being said, many of the police chases and shenanigans reminded me of some of the fun I’ve had messing around in the GTA universe. The setting of the game is a fictional city called Fairhaven with a very good mix of urban, industrial, and rural highway environments to explore, of which the entire map is completely unlocked from the beginning. All over the city are also billboards to be jumped through and smashed and speed cameras to be triggered for which the Autolog system, a carryover from Criterion’s previous Need for Speed title Hot Pursuit, records your statistics for distance and speed respectively and ranks you against those of your friends. This feature apparently also crosses over between the PS3 and Vita as my friends can see my Vita stats on their PS3. This is a really fun feature, and I have more than once found myself distracted from my original objective because I happened to pass a billboard or a speed camera that I just knew I could “one up” my PSN friend that held the record for it.
Much unlike the typical racing game, every single car is available from the beginning, all you need to do is find them. That’s right, rather than having to earn money to unlock newer and faster cars, anything from an Audi hot hatch to a high end sports car (I’d call it an exotic, but they don’t) like the Lamborghini Gallardo can be driven from the very start of the game, provided you have located it in one of the many “Jackspots” strewn about the city. One thing that I found striking about the cars was that even though the physics aren’t as exact or realistic as a sim game would have, each vehicle has it’s own “personality” which you need to learn and adapt to if you are going to be able to win the races and events that each car has assigned to it. By succeeding in these events you unlock all the various modifications to boost the performance of the car and of course just about everything you do in the game earns you Speed Points which are used to move you up the Most Wanted list which not only consist of your friends, but also the 10 “boss” cars of the game. If I can think of one gripe about the single player portion of the game it’s that these “boss” races are much too easy. I was able to win the races against these cars without needing to repeat most of them more than once. Winning the race is only half of the equation though, in order to unlock the car and add it to your “stable,” you have to chase the car down and perform a “Takedown” maneuver on it.
The multiplayer portion of the game pits you against 3 other drivers in a series of races and challenges that are grouped together in a Speed List. There is a good mix of events on these Speed Lists with certain challenges using the environments in interesting ways that you may not have thought of while running through the single player portion. If you host a game with your PSN friends, you can even use your own custom created Speed Lists. Having spent plenty of time in the multiplayer I can say that I have had no issues connecting to a game and have really enjoyed the experience every single time, usually only brought to an end by the “low battery” warning on my Vita.
In conclusion, Need for Speed: Most Wanted is definitely one of the stand out titles that is currently available on the Vita. Many other reviews have taken to comparing it to the versions found on the larger consoles, but I don’t think that is fair to the title or to the work that Criterion has done on the Vita’s version. The fact they were able to shoehorn the entire core of the game, including all of the cars, races, and especially the entire city of Fairhaven into the Vita with very few concessions is frankly a wonderful accomplishment. They even included a few events exclusive to the Vita version. The game looks amazing on the Vita, the only issue I’ve had with the graphics relate to the size of the screen and the occasional difficulty spotting obstacles in the distance, but this isn’t enough to cause too much stress. The controls are solid and well suited to the system, I’d even venture to say that the handheld’s controls are perfect for an arcade racer more so than a sim racing game. If you own a Vita and have even a passing interest in racing games of any type, you owe it to yourself and the system to pick up Need for Speed: Most Wanted.
Final Verdict: 9/10 Strongly Recommended
Troy “NMReign” Starrett
Image Courtesy of Electronic Arts
Game purchased by reviewer