There are three things you need to know about Need For Speed: Most Wanted. It's by Criterion, it's open world and you initiate a drift by tapping on the brake.

Or: when in doubt, drift. Or slam down on the nitro button. Or just crash into another player. Or do a jump over something, or spin around a corner, or crash through a billboard, or trigger a nearby event. Just do anything, really.

Pitched as a spiritual sequel to 2005's Need for Speed: Most Wanted, the game also filters in elements of Hot Pursuit, Criterion's last Need for Speed effort, and even their much-loved Burnout Paradise. But, seeing as how the last Most Wanted was released just a few years ago, why didn't Guildford's Criterion just call it Most Wanted 2? "We don't make sequels to other people's games," says producer Matt Webster.

It's easy to find yourself distracted by the spectacle of splintering steel, but under Most Wanted's hood lies a very clever open-world racer. The handling is finely tuned but unique, the racing aggressive but competitive, and even the checkpoint system, which illuminates your next corner on the screen, is smart - easier to locate than the on-screen checkpoints of most open world games but not intrusive to the screen, and as subtle as Burnout Paradise's turning indicators without being as difficult to follow.

There are plenty of other things to be impressed by, such as how a revamped Autolog tracks and records much more than race times. Every road in the game has a speed camera, for instance, which records your fastest speed across a set point. These speeds are tracked and posted to Autolog, and Criterion fixes a certain open-world bugbear of mine by allowing these cameras to still be triggered when inside a race event. Bliss.

At its core, though, Most Wanted is a game about cops and car chases, with players ranking up through a hierarchy by winning points from races, stunts and collisions. These actions do not go unnoticed, however, and (as shown in the game's E3 presentation) you'll find yourself facing off against groups of fun-spoiling police men.

If you're in a bind with the fuzz, you can escape by either driving really fast, disabling all their cars or switching your own ride at a Jack Spot.

The game also offers a hefty multiplayer mode, including free roam driving and race events. There's also some car customisation when playing online - like a shooter's perk system, you can modify your car's chassis, body and wheels. There's also customisable number plates, directly influenced by Battlefield's dog tags. The game will also hand out tickets after an event, and offer a series of challenges to aspire to. All familiar stuff, but still fresh to the racing genre.

Criterion's pedigree with the racing genre will be enough to sell Need for Speed: Most Wanted to many, but I found myself especially impressed with the handling - I'm not sure how much has even changed from Hot Pursuit, but I found myself smoothly gliding around corners and effortlessly knocking other players off the road. Provided Criterion gets its new open-world city just right, Most Wanted could really become something special.


Need For Speed: Most Wanted is due for release on Xbox 360, PS3, PC, and PS Vita on November 2.