Need for Speed: Most Wanted is an impressive game. Arguably, in addition to being pretty seriously awesome in its own right, it stands up as one of the best games on the platform. This latter plaudit is thanks in part, sure, to the rather svelte library on the Vita, but no matter how you look at it, that EA have managed to execute this well with a game this ambitious is nothing to scoff at.
Developed by Criterion (the Burnout team), this Most Wanted takes the cops vs. boy racers concept into an open world that's not entirely dissimilar to Criterion's own Burnout Paradise.
The setting for the game isn't the only valid comparison to Paradise, as the core "race and explore" gameplay also comes across to this new game. In fact, if you've been hoping to get a sequel to Burnout Paradise, this is probably about as close as you'll ever get.
There's no narrative or characters to speak of, as Criterion have chosen instead to focus on what they're great at: having a great time at high speed in wicked cars. The structure of the game, then, is all about exploring, finding cars (which unlocks them for you to then use at any time), completing challenges, and trying to beat the progressively more difficult elite racers you encounter as your reputation increases.
There's a big emphasis on competition with your mates in Most Wanted, thanks to the deep integration of the now familiar Autolog system. With it, you can compete with your pals to be the first to earn certain achievements, set high speeds at various speed camera locations in the game, or any number of other driving-related challenges.
Autolog doesn't work quite as well here, unless you're always in range of an access point, thanks to the sometimes on, sometimes off nature of internet access on a portable device. It's still an amazing system, however, and it's hard to be too harsh on EA for an issue that's inherent to the platform, rather than the game. Certainly, if you spend the bulk of your time on your Vita with Internet access, the richness the system brings to the experience is undeniable - especially if you have a bunch of mates who also have the game.
Finding something to do is made incredibly easy thanks to an ultra-simple menu system that you operate (at any time) with the d-pad. With it, you can not only find events to participate in, but you can also get suggestions as to things you might want to do - suggestions that are specific to not only your place in the game, but how your friends compare with you as well. You might, for example, be told that you could be the first of your friends to achieve a certain number of meters drifting in your current car, giving you all the incentive (or distraction) you need to chase your tail for a while.
This mix of world exploration and bite-sized challenge works just as well on a handheld console as it does when you're settled in for a session in front of your TV. You can generally get a race or two completed on the bus or rip through a few speed camera records at lunch time, without having to commit any serious time to the endeavour.
Completing events or even just tearing around town all earns you speed points, which are the key motivating force driving you ever onward in the game. If you're also playing Most Wanted on your console or iPad, you'll be pleased to know that all versions of the game share a single (Origin) account, meaning that no matter where you are, you can earn points to spend on upgrades.
The game world has clearly been built with the console version in mind, and the reduced screen size of the Vita can make it hard to get a good read on upcoming hazards while you're still in a position to avoid them. It's not a major issue, and you'll soon learn the key parts of the world in which this would otherwise be a problem, but it's noticeable.
It's also just that tiny little bit less detailed, visually, than its console-based big brothers. The Vita, impressive though it is, doesn't have the horsepower of either a PS3 or 360, so some elements of the presentation have had to be dialed back in order to ensure the speed remains. It's not a big deal, and it still looks great, but if you play both versions of the game, you'll notice the lack of the visual flourishes that are present on consoles.
Ultimately, it's a fantastic racer that really wouldn't be out of place on a home system. It suffers a little bit in comparison to the PS3 and 360 versions of the same game, but the fact that it's so close really is quite a remarkable feat of engineering. EA have proven with Most Wanted that the Vita is capable of much more than the likes of Call of Duty: Declassified or even Assassin's Creed III: Liberation, and Most Wanted should be at the top of your want-list for Vita as a result.
Reviewed on: PlayStation Vita
Also on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, iOS, Android