Nov 24, 2012

Review: NFS Most Wanted PC

Released: Oct 30, 2012
Developed by: Criterion Games
Published by: Electronic Arts

Jumping in with both feet, here.  There's no story involved in Most Wanted.  As soon as you launch the program and it's done loading, you're thrown head first into a big city with no clue what's going on, apart from event locations plotted into EasyDrive.  If the developers can't be assed writing any form of story that puts you into the game, then neither will I, sorry.

(I was going to write this review for players unfamiliar with the original Most Wanted, but it just can't be done, my apologies)  If you played the first Most Wanted game, you will probably know what's expected of you, but I suppose Most Wanted rookies might like to know just what is their incentive for burning rubber and getting chased by police as soon as they round the first corner. No such background is given.  To briefly fill in those blanks for you, you play a fresh arrival in the city the game takes place in, and for unknown reasons get into the underground racing scene with an ambition to become the most wanted by the police.  Why you would want to be that is anyone's guess.

Taking it online (720p all details lowest, best I can play at online, its still too choppy sometimes, tho)

After the minutes long (the heck is my PC doing all this time loading these low def textures?) loading screens are done, you can drive around a bit, and also access the EasyDrive function, which you'll mostly use for changing car parts when they're unlocked, but the first feature you will use is the GPS that points you toward races.

 The next thing you will probably notice is that you are playing at an absurdly low framerate, for a racing game.  I have some bad news for you.  The PC version of NFS Most Wanted is the worst PC port yet from the newer line of the Need For Speed games.  PC Hot Pursuit was broken for the longest time, and guess what?  PC Most Wanted is broken, too.  There are vast reports of players with specs way above the recommended Specs stated for the game, that can only play the game in a playable state at 1280x720p, and only then as long as you dont try to make a turn with your car.....  There is something fundamentally broken with this PC release/console port.  I would strongly recommend trying a "demo" before a purchase even if you rock a current generation quadcore CPU + geforce 680 or higher.  You might still suffer 15-30 frames per second on screen when driving through central city areas, or until whenever you try to make a turn (not even joking), even at 720p, with your graphics options turned to minimum.  In case I wasn't abundandly clear already: disregard the recommended spec for PC when considering a purchase for this game, it has sadly been proven by loads and loads of PC gamers that even if your PC wastly surpasses the recommended settings, the game just won't run well, at all.  And before the finger pointing starts, my PC too far surpasses the recommended system requirements for this game.  PC framerates are throttled heavily by poor CPU optimization. Despite having options for lower settings, the PC version is also locked at High detail regarding cityscape detail and rendering distance.  You can lower it, but it doesn't DO anything, set them to Low and the game still loads at High.  It's broken.

Disregarding all the technical difficulties, there are unfortunately broken gameplay elements to deal with as well.  The whole cops and bandits scheme is broken.  For one, you are 100% guaranteed to get into a cop chases as soon as you start playing.  I actually had one starting when I first started the game, and fiddled with various Autodrive options.  I handn't moved a metre, then after a minute or so I suddenly had cops busting me.  Welcome to Most Wanted, ey?  So, lets say you want to try and evade the cops ?  You earn a currency called SP while pursuits (and other stuff) are going on, which moves you up the Most Wanted ladder.  This sounds like a decent incentive to try and dodge the police, except it isn't.  You earn WAY more SP than needed to unlock Most Wanted ranked races just by doing the regular events, and you don't lose anything at all when the police catches you.  Furthermore, you can't access races through EasyDrive while you're being chased by police, not even if you want to retry an event you just failed, so what you'll almost immediately end up doing is ignoring the cop chases completely, and let them catch you, just so you can acess your races again.  I should probably mention that SP is the "currency" you earn that lets you challenge Most Wanted rival drivers, as well.  I've been focusing on getting upgrades for two of my cars through races so far, and I've done one Most Wanted rival race, but I have enough SP to challenge the top Most Wanted cars, if I wanted to.  So yeah, if you want to "complete" this game, that's just a couple hours or so of doing random events, disregarding Cops completely, and you can take on the Most Wanted and roll the credits. Yay ?

Lined up waiting for the next up event: 1080p and medium'ish graphics.  Its certainly not an ugly game.

Next up in my checklist of whine is the driving itself.  Now, its not BAD.  Its just that almost all the cars feel the same on the road.  There are customization options to radically change how cars handle, mind, but these all unlock through 5 race "campaigns" available to each car, to change how the cars behave while driving.  It really feels like its these upgrades that change how cars behave on the road, rather than the cars themselves.  This touches onto another complaint I have about 2012 Most Wanted:  There are just five events, some not even races available for each car you drive.  This hinders replay value and the option to tactically choose your car and gear for each event a lot, you're stuck with those 5 events for each car, do them with varying success, and never look back.  This system ties into car upgrades,  and the five events you can do unlock all the upgrades for the cars able to race them, but it still feels very, very shallow.

I did say it wasn't all BAD, didn't I ?  Well, I think I've covered most of my gripes with the game by now, here's the good stuff!

First off, the driving is satisfying.  Its like Burnout, almost, except you drive licenced cars now.  And they can and will get banged up something fierce, from purely visual effects such as bumps from crashing into walls, to blown tires from spike strips drastically reducing your top speed.  Your rides WILL get mangled, and you're probably going to love watching it.  Car handling is still far from realistic, hovering somewhere between Burnout and Shift standards.  I have gripes even when it comes to the physics, though.  First of all is the AI rubberbanding behaviour, shown VERY obviously whenever you're far behind, or in the lead in races.  If you're in last, AI racers will literally brake down to a crawl until you catch up, even in the most extreme cases.  You can start a race, leave your PC to take a pee and put on some coffee, and come back, and still catch up with the other racers in most events.  Unfortunately this seems to be a standard in racing games these days, but it doesn't make it one bit less ridiculous when you see how extreme it can be.  On the other hand you can be in the lead, and have an oncoming lane police car intercept you, do an 180 turn, instantly drive at 230 km/h + and overtake you in a matter of seconds.  The same law applies to AI racer cars, although a bit more consistent, in that they wont always zoom past you if you're cruising at top speed.  But rest assured, if that exotic car you're driving happens to bump a wall, expect to have an AI SUV driver zoom past you at 250 km/h.

As ridiculous as all this sounds, it has become standard for racing games over the last 10 years at least, and damn me for saying it.. Its still fun.  Ten years ago I would have been in the crowd that would violently protest against any game featuring rubberbanding, but damnit... I will admit its really annoying.. But I'm still having a lot of fun. Anyway, onto the BIG redeeming factor for Most Wanted PC...

The Multiplayer is bonkers!  If you get this game, I strongly recommend just hitting multiplayer->find public game.  Cops are gone, making multiplayer already a LOT more fun, ironic, being "Most Wanted" and all, but really?  The badassest fun is to be had when going online.  You'll be thrown into a city free drive game with 11 or so other players, with 5 events queded up.  These vary from straight sprint races, to team takedown checkpoint runs, to team "score x team takedowns in X obscure location" or team " cooperate to drift so and so far around this tiny space within this limit of time".  So there's objectives, but above all, the Multiplayer is about being a COMPLETE JACKASS.  You even score bonus points during events if you finish early and mange to backtrack to take stragglers out. It gets hilarious, to the point you just grin even when all the players are supposed to be racking up time parked on the wing of a plane in an airport and some dumb asses repeatedly crash people off, ruining everything. Its just.. FUN.  Playing online you also unlock cars and their upgrades just as you would playing the frustrating single player campaign.  So why go single player? Simple answer is don't, just play online and save yourself from the frustration of the AI cops, traded for the sheer idiocy of your fellow gamers... But at least you can chase those guys down and T-Bone wreck their arses against an apartment block, or something more creative.

I think they may have got me, this time...

These are also radars that check your speeds at a bunch of places in the city, which acts as a leaderboard among your friends of sorts, if you happen to have Origin friends that also play Most Wanted.  (I don't! :/ ).  Apparently you can even see mugshots of your friends' Origin profile pictures ingame if you race past radars where they hold the speed records, pretty neat.

I think its time I wrap this up and come to some form of opinion about the game.  I think as a pure single player game, Most Wanted will only cause frustration, both from PC performance problems and the plain stupid system for Cop chases that haunt you, yet are completely pointless.  If that, and the sometimes extreme rubberbanding are okay with you, or you're really really hungry for an arcade ish racer right now, Most Wanted will provide some entertainment.  If on the other hand you've been waiting since Burnout Paradise for an online sequel, this isn't it, but it will most likely keep you quite happy until it arrives!
 Most Wanted is not Burnout Paradise 2.0, but it's the closest thing we have right now, and damn, its stupid fun.

Single Player: 3/10
-Horrible gameplay system with completely pointless cop chases, in a game that's supposed to be about cop chases
-extreme rubberbanding
-very poor CPU optimization for the PC port
+Drive licenced cars and smash them up

Multi Player 7/10
-No server browser.  Only random join options for online lobbies, unless you make friends only games.
- No written chat online, reeks of console port
- Poor performance online, severely CPU throttled FPS especially evident during online sessions even at lowest of low settings (yet still well above RECOMMENDED stats for the game. Broken game....)
+Looks great, even at low settings. Looks gorgeous with bells and whistles attached, but good luck turning those on and still maintaining even 30 fps during races.
+Get wrecked by complete tool players, or be one.
+Encouraged to be a damn jackass online.
+No AI drivers, no rubberbanded AI.

Bit of Multiplayer trailer stuff. Not representative, unlike this video, MW online is about smashing stuff, and cars!

Down the line:

(30th nov) There has been a patch for the PC version, but I see no noticeable improvement in game performance.  Furthermore, there's been an emergence of hacks online that freeze events proceeding, meaning if you're playing a full lobby, theres a chance one guy might do something fishy his end and freeze the whole thing, forcing everyone to leave unless they're content free driving indefinitely after an event.  I've seen it a couple times and this last time I decided to just wait and see what happened.  30 minutes later we were still driving freedrive since that last event 30 minutes ago...

This game can be great, but it needs serious tinkering, still.  Techs need to work out how to make this thing run on quadcore cpu's, or how to unload some of the work the CPU is doing onto the GPU.  Until that work is done, it is hard to recommend buying Most Wanted until you've seen if it runs okay on your system.  Also, Criterion/EA need to plug in some holes security wise for online play.  If that's all done, this game should be fucking awesome! (Get to work you guys!)

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