Need For Speed: Most Wanted (2012) Review

Need For Speed: Most Wanted (2012) screenshot
Need For Speed: Most Wanted (2012) screenshot

Like the cold metal girders and sun-glinted glass panels that make up Fairhaven's skyscrapers, Need for Speed: Most Wanted is as mercilessly rock solid as it is stylish. There's none of that "turning car lovers into gamers" stuff here. In fact, despite the class that Most Wanted's stunning garage exudes, Criterion has made a clear distinction between the materialistic superfluousness of games like Forza Motorsport, where the focus is very much on your love for cars and the desire to curate a digital garage, and the thrill of the race itself. The result is one of the smartest, most enjoyable racing games of 2012 - one that slams emphasis directly on the race itself. Even better, it doesn't require you to give a toss about Top Gear in order to love it.

Fairhaven, the diverse metropolis that acts as your racing playground, is a construction of weaves and webs starting from its bustling industrial core and spiralling outwards into wide-open mountain tunnels and stretches of highway. More than just a network of roads for you to plaster with burning hot rubber, Fairhaven holds Most Wanted together with a tight embrace. This is absolutely essential for a game of this type: Criterion's desire for thrilling freedom would be nothing if its host was a bore. Exploring every area of this dense, spectacular world warms you with a satisfying way to spend time, from the discovery of luxurious cars dotted across every corner of the map to the constant stream of information about nearby races and your online rivals.

As well as the return of Criterion's social platform Autolog, Most Wanted's jazzed up GPS - dubbed Easydrive - knits the game together with its player. Like Burnout Paradise, Easydrive is mapped to your D-pad to allow quick, easy navigation of standard menus. Discovered events can be accessed immediately, whereas the game will plot a course if you're yet to take part in it - the right balance between immediacy and discovery, if you ask me. You can also switch and jump straight to cars, swap upgrades and head into multiplayer. The unobtrusive menus of Easydrive helps keep the action prescient, unless you decide to fumble with settings midway around a particularly merciless corner.

But Most Wanted is not always that simple, and its core structure may confuse thanks to Criterion's scrapping of standard car classes and the genre's usual event-based career progression. Without a typical garage, the emphasis is entirely on you to discover new vehicles. Every car in the game - apart from the ten you'll net from tackling the boss-like Most Wanted challenges - is available from the start, but only after you've found the vehicle in the world. From classic open-top Ford Shelbys to sleek Aston Martins, the roster is just large enough that you're getting a decent chunk of desirable automotive excellence. This isn't Forza or Gran Turismo by any means, but there's enough to keep even the most studious petrolhead happy.

Most importantly, racing the 40-odd cars is where Most Wanted cements itself into the genre's upper echelons, with Criterion's innate style mixes with an engaging substance: the camera bumps and slams around as you crash back to earth after a jump, slinging a Ford GT into a drift drums up a cacophony of sound, and the game's breakneck pace makes navigating through the bustling traffic a challenge harder than diamond nails. And, yes, you will crash. A lot. And it will often make you cross. But the satisfaction when you emerge from a packed tunnel unscathed, often zooming away from a pile-up worthy of Michael Bay's most erotic desires, is without comparison.

'... the satisfaction when you emerge from a packed tunnel unscathed, often zooming away from a pile-up worthy of Michael Bay's most erotic desires, is without comparison.'

As well as their volatility, each car feels suitably weighty, but with its own individual nuances - a vintage Lamborghini controls nothing like a tuned Nissan. The flow of racing is more streamlined, too. Takedowns no longer interrupt the action, and instead just give you a satisfying on-screen message that doesn't rip you out of a pursuit. Criterion's directorial control of the action and presentation is often stylish, but random hiccups like being spawned the wrong way round after a collision do break the illusion of seamless racing.

Once you source a ride, each vehicle has five unique events associated with it. Instead of falling lustfully in love with a new BMW that you'll upgrade and tamper with for the duration of a lengthy career, Most Wanted wants you switching out between vehicles quickly to keep things varied. This is somewhat frustrating if you have an affinity with a certain automobile, but chopping and changing is vital considering the limited number of event types. None of them are dull, but there's a surprisingly rigid restriction to standardised modes like circuit races, speed runs and one-on-one chases.

As you win each car-specific race, you'll unlock a new upgrade for that car. Different boosts, different chassis types, different tyres; each car quickly becomes a more alterable beast. This makes them far more deadly in races, and the more adventurous and daring amongst us will even use Easydrive to switch from a chassis that allows for higher top speeds on the straights, to heavier framework that'll allow for greater shunts in the more aggressive wheel-to-wheel competition. Failing an event multiple times (it will happen, sorry) spurs you to think about how you can switch loadouts to better your results.

Need For Speed: Most Wanted (2012) screenshot

Everything from winning races, smashing EA-branded billboards (later replaced with the profile pictures of your Autolog buddies) and bursting through secret gates rewards you with Speed Points. Amass enough points and you'll unlock one of the 10 Most Wanted challenges. These challenges - a prolonged one-on-one race while up against some of the fiercest police opposition - are amongst Most Wanted's toughest events, but it's surprising how quickly you can progress to the top once you start raking in points.

Criterion has made no attempt to disguise the fact they're making a game designed to be played socially, so it's no surprise that Most Wanted only gets better once you party up. The game continually keeps you in the loop about what your friends are up to, but inhabiting Fairhaven with a party is a more soulful way to play than just waiting for a pop-up notification that someone bettered your race time or zipped past a speed camera faster than you. Set-lists comprise of races and challenges for you and a group to undertake, whether it's drifting, jumping the farthest or navigating to a particular spot in the city. Standard races are par for the course, but it's the more exploratory stuff that makes Most Wanted shine. This is a game where darting around the city breaking billboards is enough to keep you entertained for hours, simply because there's so much enjoyment fused into the driving itself.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted's greatest achievement is how it sets such a firm focus on racing. Criterion set out to make an open-world arcade racer where competition is king, and succeeded in pretty much every respect.

Version tested: Xbox 360

9 / 10

  • Easydrive and Autolog work in perfect harmony
  • Fairhaven is an open world racing heaven
  • Racing is exhilarating
  • A lack of race and upgrade types

Click above for enlarged Need For Speed: Most Wanted (2012) Screenshots


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User Comments

ultravio1et's Avatar


not as good as 2010's Hot Pursuit
Posted 02:40 on 12 July 2015
danieljjvv's Avatar


dear nfs creators please make games like underground 2 and the first most wanted the best games you have made so a long shot

PS: your new games suck
that is how i feel
Posted 13:05 on 09 May 2014
logicgamer's Avatar


This was terrible. So different then what I expected to be. There's many reason to explain that.

1. Your bugatti veyron ss vs lexus LFA ? Logically that's impossible
2. Police interceptor as fast as your Aventador and you can't escape
3. You've taken down the most wanted racer but they can overtake u so easily and fast
4. The controls are very heavy
5. The police crash onto you but they're mad at you and they chase you
6. The police can find you even if you're on the cooldown mode
7. I expected this to be as good as the most wanted 2005. This was only for graphic-gamers
8. You find cars and hop in ? And no money here. Just bounty points
9. You wanted to cruise gently. When you gas, Vroooom it goes very fast
10. You wanted to turn just a little bit so you move your analog a little bit. But the car won't turn
11. The brakes aren't sensitive
12. The sound of the car are terrible in some cars
Posted 13:31 on 11 May 2013
LUCIF3R's Avatar


One of the most crappiest games I've ever played in my entire life.! Need For Speed & Burnout Paradise just doesn't go together. Can't imagine what EA Games was thinking when letting Criterion create this episode of the NFS title. Never liked any of the new games of the NFS title after NFS Carbon. I was expecting more. I thought it'll be somewhat like NFS Most Wanted 2005. But the cars in the 2012 remake by Criterion suck, the city sucks... All-in-all, the entire game sucks BIG TIME! So disappointed with EA for letting Criterion to take oer the NFS Series.
Posted 07:07 on 13 April 2013
xBeAsTxSnIpEzxx's Avatar


I was actually hoping for this game to be more like the first need for speed most wanted. I mean this in ways like the game story and being able to buy and customize your cars and being able to unlock new things based on beating blacklist racers instead of having to find the cars, not being able to customize them, other than tuning, and unlocking the things for each individual car it's exhausting.
Posted 17:20 on 08 February 2013
Nousedavaible's Avatar


Need For Speed Most Wanted Criterion Game - Alfa Romeo 4C Concept Challenge ---->
Posted 10:56 on 21 December 2012
Nousedavaible's Avatar


Crash Landing race (no scratches)
Posted 10:54 on 21 December 2012
Nousedavaible's Avatar


How to get 50.000 pursuit points in 6 minutes with any car, even with Koenigsegg Agera R is here --->
Posted 10:53 on 21 December 2012
Dyingsoul's Avatar


Check this video if you want to know how to unlock PRo Tuning easily! (Tires+Nitro)
Posted 11:38 on 12 November 2012
munkee's Avatar

munkee@ EverTheOptimist

Weirdly, I'm the same. I loved Hot Pursuit and rate it as one of the best arcade racers ever made. I've played Most Wanted (Eurogamer Expo) and really enjoyed it. I'll also buy it after work. But, I just couldn't get into Burnout Paradise!? I even bought it a second time, in case I hadn't given it enough time the first time I owned it, and still didn't like it.

I can't work it out either.
Posted 12:55 on 02 November 2012
EverTheOptimist's Avatar


Sounds like everything I was hoping for, looking forward to buying this after work.

The fact I'll inevitably end up loving this as much, or more, than Hot Pursuit still makes me wonder why I couldn't stand Burnout Paradise. It's a fact that will haunt me forever.
Posted 12:48 on 02 November 2012
dazzadavie's Avatar


Nice read and this is a game I really want but am just to poor to pick up. Even trading in wouldn't do it :'(
Posted 22:16 on 31 October 2012


Nice read Sam. Should have this coming on Friday, along with the Vita version. Glad it looks like another great racing game.
Posted 21:27 on 31 October 2012
Joshua55's Avatar


So glad this reviewed well, this and halo 4 should see me to the end of the year :P interested in how this does against Forza horizon, but great review :)
Criterion FTW once again!!
Posted 19:02 on 31 October 2012

Game Stats

Need For Speed: Most Wanted (2012)
Out of 10
Need For Speed: Most Wanted (2012)
  • Easydrive and Autolog work in perfect harmony
  • Fairhaven is an open world racing heaven
  • Racing is exhilarating
  • A lack of race and upgrade types
Agree? Disagree? Get Involved!
Release Date: 02/11/2012
Platforms: Xbox 360 , PS3 , PC , Wii U , PS Vita , iPhone
Developer: Criterion
Publisher: EA
Genre: Racing
Rating: PEGI 7+
Site Rank: 202 5
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