Have you ever been sitting around, just thinking really, and randomly said to yourself, “wouldn’t it be awesome, if somehow, somewhere, there was a machine-city of sorts which had been built specifically for street racing?”

Admit it, you have. I know it, and Criterion knows it. Why else would the latest installment in the Need for Speed series feature what is ironically the most car-centric gameplay  in the eighteen-year old franchise’s history?

For those of us familiar with Black Box’s Need for Speed: Most Wanted from yesteryear, Criterion latest take was probably something of a shock. Quite simply, there was no Black List. There was no plot. There was no pimping your ride with nifty decals or custom rims,  and there were definitely no actors playing endearingly cheesy characters like Razor Callahan.

Razor Callahan

Sorry, dude.

 

As someone who  played the original Most Wanted long past the point where it might have been considered healthy,  I must admit, I was looking forward to some of the deliciously cheese-filled features I remembered from the original. Much like a reformed junk-food addict, I couldn’t help but crave the very things I had given up, upon realizing that Criterion had developed a much  more robust diet in the form of Hot Pursuit. Yes, I knew the latter was better for me, but still, you guys. Remember the cheese? Wasn’t it melty and awesome?

Once I got past that initial cheese-craving, however, I was free to experience Criterion’s NFS: Most Wanted for what it was: A committed love song to the car fanatic in all of us.

Need For Speed Most Wanted

As I mentioned, Criterion indulges your secret wish for a beautifully detailed city in which you do nothing but race your Lambourghini Gallardo, or your Range Rover, or BAC Mono whenever you want, and be mercilessly pursued by the cops. Cops, by the way, who are more dedicated to their profession than your average hitman for hire. Personally, I think that Most Wanted‘s fictitious city, Fairhaven, is Criterion’s vision of what would happen should the much prophesied Machine uprising finally came to pass. Cars would get themselves a nice clean city, and then proceed to race each other like there’s no tomorrow.

In truth, Most Wanted has more in common with Burnout: Paradise than with any Need for Speed incarnation. Interestingly enough, the freedom that inherently comes with that design, infuses the game with a merry abandon that makes this approach feel refreshing, even if it isn’t exactly new.

You can still be the Most Wanted, and arguably, you can achieve it in a far more organic way. The Autolog, or the game’s system for creating customized leaderboards, has been a franchise staple since Criterion’s freshman Need For Speed effort, Hot Pursuit. It was a timely effort clearly, as its implementation in Most Wanted is the most inspired I have seen yet.

Autolog fo reals

Here is a final thought on the Need for Speed series as a whole. Regardless of how I felt about the games individually, each installment in the series seems to share one unexpected trait. The flawlessly curated music. Where else do you get to casually listen to Heaven’s Basement, The Who and Foreign Beggars?

The answer is easy. In a faraway land, deep within the great street-racing city of Fairhaven, during the age of the Machines.