Need for Speed: Most Wanted Benchmarked
What a rush. About seven years after the original, the publisher EA is now taking the plunge by releasing a new version of the popular Need for Speed: Most Wanted. The game was no longer produced by the initial developers, but instead by the Burnout creators Criterion. Is the new iteration able to live up to the lofty expectations?
Most Wanted is not the first Need for Speed for which the British developer Criterion is responsible. Hot Pursuit, which emerged in 2010, helped the arcade series to get a new shine after losing its luster over the years. While the opinion of users is relatively evenly split down the middle, the game was received well by the critics (average 86% on metacritic.com).
Need for Speed: The Run, which was released in 2011, and was created by another developer, wasn't much of a success despite a clever theme: the PC version was ascribed a mere average of 69%. Now, in 2012, Criterion is back at the helm. Will the English developers manage to uphold their good reputation?
Following the initial start the first class appearance immediately stands out. Most Wanted is based on the Chameleon engine, which is technically definitely able to compete with the Frostbite 2 engine (Medal of Honor: Warfighter, Battlefield 3 etc.). One of the signature features is the high texture quality. Barring a few exceptions the object palettes are very fine and detailed. The scenes with a high polygon count stand out with a luscious appearance.
The game also deserves praise for the excellent effects. Regardless of whether it is the smoke movement, the sparks flying, or the dirt: the particle presentation is on a very elevated level. The harmonious illumination and the pretty rain and water effects also contribute to the great atmosphere, while the long foresight is another strength of the Chameleon engine.
The audio backdrop doesn't do the opulent graphics an injustice by any means - quite the opposite. EA and Criterion have opted for a colorful mixture of different genres as could be expected. The driving soundtrack contains songs from popular artists such as Muse, The Who, Green Day, Skrillex and The Chemical Brothers. Combined with the potent motor sounds, this results in a perfect sound experience. With the speakers or headphones turned up to a high volume, the game could be twice as much fun.
On the subject of fun: Criterion has clearly made an effort when it comes to the development of the gaming confines. The cities which are reminiscent of US metropolitan areas are visually satisfying with a high degree of diversity. Tightly bunched together skyscrapers lead to high speed motorways and idyllic suburbs. In many locations the attention to detail becomes abundantly obvious. On top of this, there is also an atmospheric change between night and day, which dynamically changes the lighting conditions of the various scenes.
In the case of Most Wanted not everything that shines is gold though. One thing that stood out for instance is the uncomfortable controls. After a short look, it quickly becomes obvious that the menus were primarily conceived for gaming consoles, such that users don't only have to come to terms with an odd key allocation, but also with unfavorable menus which often have to be scrolled through.
The constant influx of information on the display (trivial data such as stunt points) also provides a distraction from the actual racing, and the up to date damage model is only able to outshine these shortcomings to a limited extent. The thing we were most disappointed with was the driving physics relative to the model of car. Even for an arcade game the various vehicles don't steer the way they would in reality. Before you can control the car properly, a few hours of gaming will have to be completed first.
The aggressive artificial intelligence doesn't exactly make things any easier. Due to the constant jostling and hair's width accuracy, users could well begin to feel a bit like a pinball. The collision behavior reminded us of that from a bumper car at a fair. Realism? Negative. Together with the spectacular pile ups the game brings back memories of Burnout. Those looking for the good old NfS feeling, could well be slightly out of place in this case.
What is typical of Need for Speed on the other hand is the "rubber band principle". This design feature provides for opportunities to finish towards the front of the pack, even after making a few driving errors. Then again, it is also never really possible to lose your opponents either though. Angry tongues could mention "cheating" in this regard.
However, the biggest area of criticism in practice turned out to be the single player campaign. While the first Most Wanted had a cliché and predictable, but at least interesting storyline, the new iteration merely trundles users from one racing event to another.
Even the elementary Most Wanted races are presented in a relatively lifeless manner despite the brilliant visuals. The end effect is that users will fight their way to the top of a dull list of the most wanted drivers of the city. The fact that even the normal races are started with cool camera angles and/or graphic effects doesn't change this situation either. Most Wanted is immensely shallow when it comes to the narrative, and the absence of a gripping story doesn't bode well for long term motivation.
The British developer has also fallen short when it comes to instilling a sense of achievement. Instead of having to painstakingly acquire vehicles over several races as in older iterations, it is now possible to simply jump into certain cars which are dispersed throughout the game. Friends of straightforward racing action will nevertheless still get their money's worth with Most Wanted.
The search for a fitting benchmark sequence quickly brought us to the racing event "Continental Drift". One lap of the city race against seven boisterous competitors was recorded by the tool Fraps. As can be seen in the video below, the approximately one minute long passage offers everything that could be expected from Need for Speed.
Although the pile ups hardly have any effect on the frame rate, we nevertheless still tried to avoid the respective situations. Despite the diverse racing locations the benchmark still ascribes relatively constant results. It is worth bearing in mind though, that in order to be fully equipped for the whole game there should be at least 30-35 fps in the benchmark.
Most Wanted doesn't only stand out as a result of its appealing graphics, but also due to its enormous processing appetite. With high settings and a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels, the current Need for Speed iteration will also bring high-end notebooks to their limits. Modern technologies like ambient occlusion require a fair bit of processing power.
The graphics menu provides 11 different options. Along with the resolution and the intensity of the motion blur, users can also choose the shadow-, reflection- and geometry-quality from a range of levels. Some menu options (e.g. the high-res textures) can only be switched on or off. In practice: any changes are immediately effective in the game.
Contrary to Battlefield 3 and Medal of Honor: Warfighter, Most Wanted doesn't provide either presets or an Ultra setting with anti-aliasing. Without MSAA the images can flicker noticeably in some cases. Anisotropic filtering is only available via the graphics driver.
All in all the hardware demands are more or less on the same level as the aforementioned Frostbite 2 competitors. It is a shame that it can occasionally come to annoying performance fluctuations regardless of the adopted hardware. Even luxury GPUs, such as the Radeon HD 7970M or the GeForce GTX 680M, sometimes drop the frame rate to 30 or 20 fps with demanding settings.
A further problem: even with a good frame rate, the game still seems a little juddery from time to time. More than 60 fps are not possible anyway "thanks" to an integrated limiter. Most Wanted also requires a DirectX 10.1 or 11 capable system (Window XP users beware).
Those wanting to enjoy the new incarnation of Need for Speed in all its glory will inevitably need a notebook from the high-end segment. 1920x1080 pixels and the maximum graphics options are only possible to a half-decent extent upwards from a GeForce GTX 675MX. Really smooth gameplay with high settings will only be achievable with the current front-runners GeForce GTX 680M and Radeon HD 7970M. For 1600x900 pixels a somewhat weaker high-end model such as the GeForce GTX 670MX should suffice.
Are you satisfied with 1366x768 pixels? In this case a GeForce GT 650M should be the minimum requirement for high details. For normal graphics options a GeForce GT 640M should be enough. With low-end graphics cards, such as Intel's HD Graphics 4000, only low settings will be playable (if at all). The HD Graphics 3000 is generally not able to rise to the challenge.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted, is a good arcade game which does disappoint slightly overall. The exceptionally good graphics and the successful audio backdrop contend with an uninspired single player mode with a non-existent storyline. Also, the peculiar handling could rub some gamers up the wrong way. However, anyone who doesn't have too much of a proclivity towards realism and enjoys high-speed racing action should not pass up Most Wanted.
A big thank you once again goes to the company Schenker Notebooks (mysn.de). The GPUs below used the following drivers: Nvidia 307.21, AMD 12.11 Beta & Intel 126.96.36.19967.
- XMG P502 (Core i7-3610QM, GeForce GTX 660M, GTX 670M, GTX 675M, GTX 680M & Radeon HD 7970M, 8 GB RAM)
- XMG A502 (Core i5-3360M, GeForce GT 650M & HD Graphics 4000, 8 GB RAM)
- Xesia M501 (Core i7-2630QM, GeForce GT 630M & HD Graphics 3000, 8 GB RAM)