The Need for Speed franchise has found its way to the PSP for a second time in less than a year. NFS: Underground Rivals was an entertaining game, but it had its share of shortcomings, and didn't feel like it was designed with the PSP in mind. Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a step in the right direction, but it is hurt by a lack of originality.
Taking a break from the "underground" theme of the last games, Need for Speed: Most Wanted focuses on running from the law in your quest to top the infamous "Blacklist", a list of 15 notorious street racers wanted by the cops. You'll need to earn the respect of these drivers, by winning races, and then take them on in a head-to-head match up. This premise is interesting in the console versions because there is a back story integrated into the game from the get go, as well as a story for each individual blacklister. None of that is in the PSP version of the game, so you end up feeling like you're just moving up a generic list – and when you do finally get to race against someone on the blacklist, it feels like just another race.
Like the last couple of Need for Speed games, you start off with a low-level car, earning money for upgrades with every race won. You can upgrade several performance-related aspects of your car, and it's thankfully a more simplified process than the last game. You can also customize the look of your vehicle by changing the spoiler, vinyls, hood, and rims. Since these changes are purely cosmetic and money is hard to come by, you'll likely find yourself not exploring this area much. I also didn't long it took to unlock new vehicles, and also found the selection of cars disappointing.
The big change to the racing this year is the inclusion of the police, who aren't happy that you're driving like a maniac around their town, and will do their best to get you off the road. As you race, you'll increase the amount of "heat" you've got on you, which basically just means you're drawing more and more police attention. Eventually you'll end up with a cop on your tail, and he'll do his best to run you off the road and bust you. The cops will set up roadblocks and drop spikes to slow you down, but for the most part, they just annoy the crap out of you, especially while you try to beat the clock on a timed lap. You can shake them by swerving towards traffic and roadblocks, or by taking shortcuts, but like it does with your rivals, the rubber-band A.I. allows them to catch up to you rather quickly. If you've generated enough heat by the end of the race, the game will offer you a challenge of running from the cops. These challenges are pretty uninteresting, and the whole reward for risking your rep is just a couple of points, so it's hardly worth the effort.
The rest of the game is pretty standard racing; there are circuit races, timed laps, knockout rounds, and of course events where you've got to run from the cops. You've got nitrous that slowly replenishes, to give you some extra speed, there are shortcuts to take, and you'll race on very similar looking tracks both forwards and backwards. Oh yeah, you can slow down time by pushing down on the d-pad. This allows you to navigate turns much easier, but it doesn't seem to gain you much time, since your rivals can navigate hairpin turns with precision. The entire race always seems to come down to staying close to the front and then slamming down the nitro as you approach the finish line – there's not much strategy involved.
Ad-hoc and infrastructure wireless play is supported, and while there was slight lag in both types of play, the overall experience wasn't bad. It's more fun racing against real people than it is the game's unintelligent A.I.
Other than taking place during the day in a bright sun, rather than in the dark with tons of neon, not a lot has changed with regards to the game's visuals from Rivals to Most Wanted. The framerate feels smoother and gives you a better sense of speed. It's still a little hard to see oncoming traffic, as well as dividers in the middle of the road. I guarantee that more than a few of your races will end in frustration when you hit a cement block that separates two roads. This especially sucks when you're in the middle of a 7+ minute race, which incidentally is far too long for a handheld racer. The car models are nicely detailed, and look a little more impressive this time around – especially when they're all pimped out. Level design is pretty uninteresting, and it feels like you've raced these same course dozens of times before, a fact not helped by having to race them backwards in addition to forwards. Seriously, nobody buys that as a new course. Can we quit pretending that these count as new tracks?
Juvenile, Jamiroquai, Static-X, The Prodigy, Celldweller, and Disturbed are just a few of the artists that compose the EA Trax. As is usually the case, they're hit or miss depending on your tastes. The sound effects don't sound terribly different from the last Need for Speed game. Since your car is tuned, you'll here it whine loudly as you tear down the street. The only other noticeable change is the addition of police chatter, which is tough to hear over the music and your engine noise.
NFS: MW isn't a bad game, but it really doesn't do anything that other racers haven't done before. It's really nothing more than a stripped down port of the console versions – something you might be able to forgive if you haven't played them, but something you just can't look past if you have. Racers such as Burnout Legends, Ridge Racer, and Midnight Club (other than the load times) are much better games, so there's not much of a reason to pick up Most Wanted, though it's not a bad game.