Electronic Arts is walking somewhat of a thin line with the Need For Speed series of late, after briefly rejuvenating the franchise, then releasing the somewhat lacking The Run. But in a move that could only mean good things, Criterion Games has been given the opportunity to once again take some liberties with the license.

Having successfully released the outstanding reboot of Hot Pursuit, the minds behind the Burnout series have now turned their attention to the thrill of the chase with Need For Speed: Most Wanted. We got a chance to try the game out for ourselves at E3 2012, and so far all signs point to another success.

Fans of the series will know that Most Wanted first appeared as a launch title for the Xbox 360, adding a cinematic approach and storyline to the core racing and customization gameplay. While some had assumed that Criterion’s next project would be a Most Wanted sequel, the developers are making it clear that they aren’t intending to expand on another team’s concept – and it shows.

While Hot Pursuit embraced some of the attitude and elements that Criterion perfected with Burnout, Most Wanted looks to take those mechanics and systems into a brand new, open-world social environment. There are likely several arcade racing fans who lamented the developer’s move from Burnout to Need For Speed, since it ultimately meant that the massive, free-flowing racing world of Burnout Paradise would one day be just a memory.

Need For Speed Most Wanted Jump Screenshot

Criterion’s Creative Director Craig Sullivan explained that this game is what they’re calling “their version” of the experience felt when being pursued by the police. The simplest way to put that experience into words is to imagine the world of Paradise, populated with the police of the previous Most Wanted, all built upon the signature handling on display in Hot Pursuit.

The result of that equation shown in the demonstration was a race through the new city of Fairhaven against fellow auto enthusiasts, predictably joined at one point by a growing number of police pursuers. The visuals made possible by Criterion’s work is as astounding as ever, even giving Forza Motorsport 4 a run for its money in some cases. But where Hot Pursuit kept individual races somewhat disconnected from the larger world, no such boundaries or loading screens exist with Most Wanted.

Winning a race doesn’t mean it’s time for a breather, since the police and Wanted level gained throughout the preceding bout of reckless driving doesn’t dissipate, but continues into free roam. Being pursued by law enforcement and impeded by barricades is nothing new, but the combination of police interference with high speed arcade takedowns is extremely satisfying. And when each vehicle handles and drifts realistically depending on weight and wheel base, it never ceases to feel like an experience worthy of Need For Speed.

Despite having such a strong foundation of gameplay and action, there is no question that Autolog 2.0 will be the best feature that Most Wanted brings to the racing genre. The system of comparing and displaying lap times and speeds recorded by the player to those of his online friends was added for Hot Pursuit, but the new system takes things even farther.

The home screen – displaying the map and all discovered challenges and events – is constantly streaming not just updates on your friends’ increasing performance, but your level of Wanted-ness compared to them. The game then offers suggestions like certain achievements or events that the player could complete for additional SP (Speed Points). Autolog 2.0 shows the player their skill in relation to their foes, but dropping into the actual game is where the system shines.

The development team’s mentality is that if something can be done in the game, then it can be ranked based on skill and points. Whether it’s speed cameras recording top velocity, certain streets traversed in specific times, or gathered collectables, the player is constantly being given feedback on what they’re accomplishing by driving, and how they compare to other players.

Need For Speed Most Wanted Aventador

Turning in a winning race time, then continuing to flee pursuers for a personal best and leaderboard entry, augmented by SP gained through takedowns of approaching cruisers is something players can expect to encounter frequently, making pausing the game or enjoying a break extremely unappealing.

It’s through these features that Most Wanted shows how it could very well be seen as a spiritual successor to Burnout Paradise, and fans of Criterion’s more arcade titles will need to see what they’ve done with the NFS license this time. For all intents and purposes, Most Wanted is the newest version of the same itch Paradise sought to scratch, with a constant online experience that will set a new standard.

Most Wanted is the best looking and seemingly most feature-packed game that Criterion has crafted, and a brand new take on what it means to be hunted by law enforcement – not to mention your competition. There is still a lot to be shown in terms of multiplayer and persistent gameplay, but so far the developers seem to have outdone themselves. Hot Pursuit and Paradise were fantastic achievements in their own rite, but may have only been paving the way for Most Wanted.

Need For Speed: Most Wanted is set for a release on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on October 30, 2012. Stay tuned to Game Rant for more news on games and announcements from E3 2012.

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