But just a few seconds with this game reveals a deeper truth: This is really a secret message from Criterion to its fans, funneled through EA's branding channels. Need for Speed: Most Wanted is an open-world racer in a beautiful city. It's full of various events, environmental features to find, and a social backend that's full of information and ways to connect and compete with fellow players.
In other words, it's Burnout Paradise 2.
It's a little puzzling to think that EA has decided to bring back Most Wanted rather than the more fondly remembered Paradise title, but whatever it's called this is definitely Criterion jamming on its own popular series. There are takedowns fueled by perfect controls, the city and cars are gorgeous and, like all of Criterion's racing games, Most Wanted just oozes with confidence. Criterion knows how to do these things right.
The core driving feels solid, of course. While the Most Wanted series has centered on customization in the past, we didn't get much of a look at the out-of-driving menus. Paradise's drive-through paint shops are back, at least, so you will be able to customize the game's real-world cars in some way. No matter what your individual car is rocking under the hood, however, the controls are just as great as always, letting you slide around corners and boost forward with ease.
The deep multiplayer mode that kept Burnout Paradise so playable for so long is back as well, and it's been smoothed out to be even more accessible and lasting. Most Wanted's entire game is centered around an Autolog 2 system, which tracks nearly everything you do with a car in the city – like how much and how often you boost, how many takedowns you get, and your speed between checkpoints. In the multiplayer game, you need simply to "meet up" with the other players at a certain point, and then the game gives you a number of events to run, from standard checkpoint races through the open world, to "Speed Trap" events (where you need to hit the fastest speed at a certain point) or long jump competitions.
The E3 demo was understandably sparse – it only opened up a small bit of the open world, and there were only a few events (and mostly placeholder Autolog accounts) to play around with. But Criterion's legacy shines brightly here already, and the company's representatives just wink and nod when any comparison is made to Burnout Paradise in their presence.
Hopefully, come October 30, we'll all get what we want: EA will get a Most Wanted update and another jewel in the Need for Speed crown; Criterion will get a chance to perfect the endless pleasures of Paradise; and we'll get yet another exciting racing game from the studio that knows how to make them best.