Back in 2010, Criterion Games took the wheel of the most successful racing game series, Need for Speed, with their re-imagining of the classic Hot Pursuit. With their first attempt being well received, Criterion are back again for another re-imagining of the original Most Wanted game. Can Criterion refuel the series again after the disappointing run made last year?

The city of Fairhaven is your playground, you have been given the keys to your first drive – the  Aston Martin V12 Vantage. Driving it for the first time, you can already see the details that Criterion has put into the vehicle’s sound and looks. Driving through suburbia in the Vantage was one thing but once you hit the tunnels, tears of joy literally fell onto my controller as you hear the raw power of the V12 engine deafen the entire area. The exhaust note for each vehicle was unbelievable. Even taking the EVO X for a spin, you can hear the flutter the turbo makes when shifting. This is like porn for car enthusiasts.

Unlike The Run, Most Wanted uses a modified Chameleon engine similar to Criterion’s previous Hot Pursuit title. While not as ‘spectacular’ – Most Wanted’s visuals still looks vibrant and incredibly detailed. The world of Fairhaven is a city worth exploring, it’s not bland and boring like other open world titles. You’ll find yourself lost for hours taking in the spectacular sights while driving your Gallardo down the sleek winding roads. Sometimes you even forget there’s racers to dominate.

Once you get sick of driving the Vantage, swap it for a different car. There’s no monetary system in Most Wanted, if you find it you can drive it. Cars are placed all around the world, in alleyways, buildings, bridges or even in just plain sight – they’re yours for the taking. The only ones that are not available to you from the start is the ones off the Most Wanted list. These cars are the best of the best, you can’t expect to be given the keys straight away so you have to earn them and it’s not easy. Before you attempt to race the list, you’ll have to find the ideal ride for yourself. There’s around 41 cars to find, hidden all around Fairhaven. Each car will start with stock parts but you can upgrade them by winning set races for each one. There’s 5 races to win for each car with each one unlocking more horses for your ride.

Levelling your car up with extras will make it a viable contender against the Most Wanted list. Adding on things like Nitrous and better tyres will help improve your chances. Don’t go heading into a Most Wanted race like me with a stock Subaru WRX. It’s near impossible to defeat a Lexus LFA with that. Even though Most Wanted doesn’t have a monetary system, it still features Speed Points which is similar to XP but for cars. Winning races, takedowns etc. will gain you Speed Points. While they did mention Most Wanted will lose the grindy feel that other ‘racers’ have – earning speed points still feels similar. Gaining speed points will allow you to obtain new upgraded parts for your car plus unlock the Most Wanted races. This is all done through the new Easy Drive menu system. The new menu system allows drivers to find races, change and mod your cars without taking you away from the steering wheel.

The handling of cars in Most Wanted is 100% arcade. If you’re looking for something a little more real world physics then look somewhere else. The racing in Most Wanted is all about pushing your car to it’s limit. Forget treasuring your exotic, aggressive driving is the method you’ll use in this. Other drivers will show no sympathy towards you so it’s up to you to dish out the pain as well. Knocking an opponent into the wall will grant you a takedown, if you’re a fan of Burnout series then this will become familiar instantly. Takedowns are vital especially when cops get thrown into the mix. These guys don’t care about racing, they’ll attempt to take you down anyway possible.

Police however are quite a disappointment in Most Wanted as getting caught doesn’t have any consequences. They’re more of a nuisance than anything. Some police cars will give you a run for your money though, such as the road spike laying corvette and the SWAT truck. Yes a SWAT Truck. It was a shame they didn’t utilise the police more – like taking some of your speed points away. I would love a little more penalty for my actions than just a restart.

Apart from just racing to be the Most Wanted of Fairhaven, there’s a whole bunch of extra things you can do to break the law. There’s speed cameras, billboards and …security gates located all around the map for you to discover. Can you get the most distance through a billboard? Can you get ping at the fastest speed pass a camera? All these will get recorded against your friends thanks to Autolog. The Autolog system is a game itself, you work hard in order to top the leaderboards. It’ll also update when your friend smashes your time. Not only can you smash your friend’s times and speed but their faces as well. Billboards will feature the face (or avatar) of the longest jump completed by someone in your Autolog. So smashing through them has never been so satisfying.

Smashing your friends is one thing you can do privately but you can also battle with them online. Multiplayer in Most Wanted consists of a party system where a setlist of different style modes are presented. You’ll be put through the test with each one as it varies. You’ll have your normal checkpoint racing as per usual but they’ve added a few other ones in as well. Some require you to get the most drift within a time frame while others is just pure smash ’em up fun. It brings out the social side of racing games where everyone just gets involved, especially the ones that suck at racing games (me).

Most Wanted is the best Need for Speed title I’ve played in recent years. While it does feel like a true successor to Burnout Paradise rather than a Most Wanted game, Criterion pulled off an amazing job taking the best elements from each world and fusing it into this powerhouse of a machine. Most Wanted is Need for Speed back on course again.