For all of the open-worldedness of Need For Speed: Most Wanted it doesn’t take but a few races around a few blocks to realize that Fairhaven isn’t as random as it looks. Oh sure, while tooling around, traffic looks like it follows random patterns, but when you’re in a race and you scream through a sidewinder turn up in the mountains, that red van will always be there for your crashing needs. It may be up the road a piece or down the road a piece, but it will be there.
It makes sense, as part of learning a route is learning more than just the turns and straightaways but also learning the obstacles, but it does take some of the magic away to know that when you crest that hill in the oncoming lane, you best switch lanes quickly lest you take out that hatchback that’s cursed to drive that stretch of road forever. One of the best things about Driver: San Francisco was how some of the events had to be completed within the random flow of traffic, meaning that when you had to cross those eight lanes of highway traffic, you may hit a blessed empty spot or you may hit a wall of buses.
Thankfully, NFS:MW still has plenty of ways to mess with you, and all of the memorizing in the world won’t help, not when it’s a windshield full of dust slowing you down.
Given my limited experience with racing games, maybe what I’m finding so wonderful about this game is commonplace. I can certainly imagine a title such as Dirt throwing gobs of dust and dirt at your windshield as you tear around a track, but other environmental tweaks feel unique to this game. As you drive through Fairhaven, you’ll come to streets slick with moisture, as if a summer thunderstorm just blew through. At certain points of the game’s day and night cycle, it’s no big deal, but in others, the glare off of the road fills your windshield with light such that you can’t see a damn thing. Screaming along and getting temporarily blinded to the road’s traffic makes for some spectacularly tense moments.
Similarly, when driving on Fairhaven’s underground freeways, every time you pop out into the daylight, a temporary fit of blindness makes the upcoming enclosed space and subsequent packs of cars even harder to navigate. So when you hit these stretches during a race or a pursuit, do you ease off of the throttle and play it safe, hoping that you can regain lost ground later on or do you barrel forward and maintain position, betting on providence to look out for you and keep you from killing someone on the highway?
As easy as it is to get pissed that a blinding ray of sunshine was the difference between first and last place, it never feels cheap or underhanded. This is a city and cities have pockets of light and darkness and those pockets mess with your ability to see what’s going on, same as in the real world. Similarly, when your race takes you off of paved roads and into the dirt tracks of the city’s less developed areas, cars are going to kick up dust and that dust is going to mean that you’re going into that corner blind. Don’t want dust in the face? Get out in front. It’s that simple.
Like I said before, this may all be old hat for those well versed in racing games, but it certainly feels new to me and adds a wrinkle to racing that pro mods and awesome drifting skills can’t combat. At some point you gotta just put the hammer down, barrel through that blind patch and hope that you don’t end up heading through the windshield of a box truck.
This is my last post on Need for Speed: Most Wanted, having gotten as much, ahem, mileage, out of the game as I think I can expect. I’ll be playing it for quite some time, as I still have a whole lot of races to win, even after shutting down all of the most wanted racers. I’m glad I decided to stick with it, rather than giving up on it as I had originally considered. Now that I’m not reviewing games “professionally”, it’s much easier to just give up on something after half an hour, so a reminder that some games need more time to show their true colors was welcome.