• I don’t like cars. I find them boring. As long as my little Saxo gets me to work and back with the odd trip to the seaside without complaint, then I’m happy. I don’t want to know how it works. I just want to know that it does. And yet I find myself mildly addicted to Top Gear. Go figure. Does this preamble have a point? Well, sort of. The point is, cars don’t excite me, so a car game needs to be good to keep me playing. Luckily, in Need for Speed: Most Wanted, I have found a fine game that has managed to hold my attention longer than a trip to the garage.

    The premise of career mode is simple. You are young upstart with a swanky set of wheels and have just arrived in fictional Rosewood, a sprawling US city complete with run-down industrial estates, posh residential complexes and tourist-happy harbour areas.

    Need For Speed: Most Wanted

    Unfortunately for you, but fortunately for the game, Rosewood also has a blacklist of 15 drivers. Your aim is to work your way up the blacklist by beating each hoodlum in turn until you are at the top and, yes, the Most Wanted. Fortunately, this doesn’t simply involve having to win 15 races against the various characters, because before you can challenge the next person on the list, you need to have won a certain number of races, completed milestones and have a specified bounty on your head from the police.

    Which is where it starts getting very interesting and where there are a couple of nervous comparisons – in driving terms at least – with the Grand Theft Auto series. The first is the ability to free roam. You can’t get out of the car, but if you fancy building up your bounty in between races by running some red lights, the city is yours, with plenty to crash into and destroy.

    Secondly, in Rosewood, the police are somewhat more unforgiving than those in GTA. Whereas in GTA, the rozzers will struggle to raise an eyebrow if they catch you strolling down the street machine-gunning everyone in sight, if you start driving on the wrong side of the road in NFS, they’ll waste no time in flashing the blues’n’two’s and calling in for backup to pull you in and impound your car.

    Early on, it’s more difficult to get caught than it is to escape but as the bounty goes up, so come the roadblocks, the spike strips and huge battering-ram SUV’s, together with questionable tactics that suggest they’re happy to kill 100 innocent people if they can bring you in for dangerous driving. Not that they kill any pedestrians, because there aren’t any.

    However to help you escape there are various ‘pinch points’ scattered around the map. These are elements for you crash into, such as scaffolding, which help bring a building crashing down in your wake and shake the cops off your tail but in the meantime, screaming around the map with police in pursuit is suitably fun.

    All this racing and escaping the cops obviously earns you money, enabling you to either tune your car or add go-faster stripes. It’s a boy-racer’s wet dream, but if it keeps them off the Kingston one-way system, I’m all in favour.

    Stitching the career mode together is a series of impressive video clips, where quickly you are introduced to various characters and, just as importantly, the inevitable love interest. Of course the game assumes you are male, so your rivals are threatened and the girls are intrigued but in using real ‘actors’ set against bluescreen backgrounds, the cut-scenes serve to add to the overall atmosphere of the game and maintain EA’s usual high visual standards that we have come to expect from their games. The car models are impressive and graphics have a low-down and dirty feel to them which helps the ‘wrong-side-of-the-law’ ambience to the game.

    In terms of gameplay, once you’ve navigated the funky menus, it pretty standard fare. Car handling is satisfyingly robust and even the worst cars in the game can be hurled around corners. Pleasingly the game does not suffer from the twitchyness of other car games.

    The sound is a mixed bag though. The police radio chatter is impressive and varied, but unfortunately the soundtrack appears to have been drawn up by a 14-year-old from New Jersey. If you like teen angst American drivel, you’ll love it. If not, well there’s always a playlist on your mp3 player. NFS is the first game that has made me utilise the facility to have a custom soundtrack and once you’ve got your playlist sorted, the sound is top notch.

    Online, NFS is disappointing and is just a straight race with no police. The ability to be police and chase other players would have been fun, but alas, is not available. So it passes the time, but is nothing out of the very ordinary. Luckily there is enough in the single-player mode to keep you coming back and plenty to give PGR3 and very, very good run for its money.

    Score: 7/10

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