Need for Speed: Most Wanted U - Wii U Game Review

Stunningly Gorgeous and Overly Difficult

Need for Speed: Most Wanted U
The Wii U "Most Wanted" features the textures used for the PC version of the game. Electronic Arts

Sometimes it’s nice to go for a drive in the evening, the distant mountains pink from the setting sun. Sometimes you get so carried away with the joy of a beautiful drive that you run into a lamppost, the police start chasing you and you wind up driving up a ramp and crashing through a giant billboard. When that happens, you know you’re playing the racing game Need for Speed: Most Wanted U.

Developed by: Criterion Games
Published by: Electronic Arts
Genre: Racing
For ages: 10 and up
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: March 19, 2012


The Basics: The Prettiest Racing Game You'll Ever Play

Most Wanted U is the Wii U version of Need for Speed: Most Wanted, a “reimagining” of the 2005 game that involved challenging drivers in street races and dodging the cops. This version tosses out story, characters, and the ability to distract police by knocking a giant donut sign to the ground, leaving a straight ahead, open city game focused entirely on driving, racing, and running road blocks.

When reviewing a game, it is traditional to start by saying something about the gameplay, but in the case of Most Wanted U I feel compelled to start with the graphics, which are stunning. The game moves through an accelerated day/night sequence, and every second is gorgeous. In daytime the sun glitters like diamonds on the eternally wet asphalt roads, while at night glowing neon signs and the vivid greens and reds of car and street lights create a wondrous fantasy cityscape. Sunsets are especially stunning, every one gorgeously pink and shining with an ethereal light. Even crashes are beautifully, with sparks blazing out from cars and railings. It is a heightened, beautified reality so amazing that you are entranced even when being blinded from the glare of the setting sun.

It is so gorgeous that at times all I really wanted to do was take a leisurely drive around the city, although in a game designed for speeding, driving slow can be tricky.

The Gameplay: Drive Fast, Don't Crash

Most Wanted U is a game of city racing, in which you drive pell-mell down city streets and highways, through alleys and vacant lots, weaving in and out of traffic. It is a pushing, muscular kind of racing in which you gain bonus points for wrecking your competitors, driving them into railings or simply ramming them head on.

While you want to make the other cars crash, you will even more commonly crash yourself. At high speeds, every cement bunker or railing can become a sudden stopping point. Crash and the game screeches to a halt in order to show your disaster in slow motion, your car turning over and over and sometimes getting rammed from behind as it spins down the street. Developed by Criterion Games, it is reminiscent of their game Burnout, which had the same almost fetishistic love for crashes.

Most Wanted U offers a variety of control options, letting you steer by analog stick or Mario Kart-style motion controls using the gamepad, Wii remote, wiimote/nunchuk combo, or pro controller. It also allows you to play with the came situated behind the car or looking through the windshield.

My favorite way to play racing games is first-person with either motion controls or an actual steering wheel, because it feels most authentic and immersive. That’s why I really wish the game offered an easy mode; I found there was no way I could win a race unless I used the analog stick and a third person view, which offers a less real but more controlled experience.

Even then, winning is hard, partly because I’m not that good at racing games, but also because of the lack of analog controls. The game uses the Wii U’s digital shoulder buttons for acceleration and braking, and this is like driving a car where all you can do is floor it, brake sharply or not do anything at all. It takes some getting used to.

The Extras: Gamepad Tweaks, Make Your Own Fun

While the game offers no choice of difficulty, it does offer a few ways to ease your path. The gamepad has several options you can tap on, such as changing day to night (or visa versa) or turning off traffic. Turning off traffic makes racing much easier, as the streets aren’t filled with moving obstacles other than your competition. The developers seem to have pictured this as primarily a co-driver feature in which someone like a parent could make things easier for a child, but I found it helpful to be my own co-driver.

After awhile I began ignoring races in favor of just driving. I would go into first-person, turn on motion controls and just drive full speed around the city, dodging traffic and enjoying the scenery. Occasionally I would hit a cop car and suddenly find myself pursued by the police while the game played their radio chatter. They’re pretty easy to outrun, so I started purposely driving slow and letting them catch up with me so I could run them off the road, increasing my wanted level until they would form road blocks for me to crash through. If I got sick of being chased, the gamepad’s “disrupt cops” icon could be used to throw them off the track

I would also explore the city to find more cars to drive – they’re parked all over – or billboards to drive through; the game is full of ramps leading to billboards, and it’s fun to crash through them, especially the ones that are difficult to reach.

Every once in a while I would play – and generally lose – a race. The race situation is rather odd, in that different cars have different races available. Both a quick menu called Easyride and the gamepad map will show you only races for the car you’re driving, but a separate map will show you all available races and let you choose a car appropriate for any race.

The Verdict: Lots of Fun

While difficult, races are fun and well laid out. They also often involve the cops, who will drive around crashing into other cars or just crashing into walls for no good reason. Winning a race will result in items for your car to improve speed or handling.

While there are a few things I would change about Most Wanted U, overall I found the game tremendously fun, a combination of stunning visuals and intense driving that kept me thoroughly engaged. I would recommend checking it out; just don’t let the cops ruin your enjoyment of the view.