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Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a secret return to Paradise


It makes sense for EA to call its new racing game Need for Speed: Most Wanted. It's spent multiple titles and a lot of money shoring up the Need for Speed brand on all kinds of platforms, and while the Most Wanted series (known for racing from an underground perspective) isn't the strongest, it's about time EA released another game bearing that title. And after the success with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit in 2010, it's not surprising that Criterion's been given the task of making it.

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.

Gallery: Need for Speed Most Wanted (E3 2012) | 18 Photos

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.

Need for Speed Most Wanted is a secret return to Paradise
The cops are also out in full force, so you may finish a race only to be given the task of escaping the police right after. And everything you do (slick passes, crash escapes etc.) is tracked with Speed Points, which then go into the leaderboard calculations for who is indeed the most wanted.

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.

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