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My Single-Player Experience
on December 13, 2014
I really, really like it. But first, a bit of caution: I almost exclusively play single-player, so my experience with that mode will make up the bulk of my review. Most Wanted is a solid work that knows how to deliver fun. Criterion has curated an environment and set of driving mechanics that provide a road trip-like experience through an urban city center and its mountainous surroundings; based off the American city of Boston, Massachusetts. It feels wonderful to drive around Fairhaven. I can't emphasize that enough. This is the first time I've repeatedly returned to a game specifically for the experience of moving through it. The driving feels very comfortable and the controls are responsive. With the vast majority of cars, you consistently feel like you can get into and out of any situation that arises (there are, of course, some difficult vintage and supercars). Initially, I crashed a lot, but once I got familiar with tracking the objects beside me and those ahead, the experience became quite thrilling. Once you're comfortable careening through the world of Most Wanted and observing its contents at the same time, the beauty of its landscape starts to resonate with you at a frequency few games have achieved. (To be clear, I'm talking about driving so comfortably in a world so beautiful. It's the combination of these that hits the mark.) That said, the magic of an unknown world fades with mileage. And while sunrise is always captivating and sunset always soothes the mind, it eventually becomes all too clear that this world is both artificial and quite limited.
While driving around in Most Wanted is a wonderful experience, the more game-like aspects of it are not as strong. That includes races, getaways from the cops, time trials, and speed trials. The getaways are nice, but I think the most reward comes from the time and speed trials and the Hard races. Races that are of Hard difficulty are exhilarating - they really drive that self-achievement/self-disappointment gauntlet that molds gamers. But beyond that, your experience with an event depends heavily on what car mods you've earned in prior events. You don't tweak cars like in, say, Gran Turismo, but there are upgrades that you unlock through placing well, completing an event in a certain time frame, or in achieving some average speed. Some mods are better for certain events, such as dirt tires or a reinforced chasis. At any time you can take part in whatever event you want that's associated with the vehicle you're piloting (that is, each car has access to specific events). Because of the way events are organized, however, you could end up starting a race or trial run without the speed needed to stand a real chance. However, once you realize why events are organized the way they are and get a feel for what each mod does, you'll have no problem deciding what to play. You can enable and disable mods at-will, even returning the car to its original state (which makes for an interesting test of skill in Easy races, but is nigh impossible for Medium and Hard).
As for the multiplayer - it's pretty darn thrilling. I usually avoid online play, but when I hopped in for the first time, I really had a blast. I later gave it another go, and I had another blast. There's nothing quite as challenging as human opponents. There are different events online, too, but I don't recall them as well. Some are much more fun than others, but each one seems designed to encourage craziness. I read a number of professional reviews before getting Most Wanted, and they all said that if you're going to get it, get it for the multiplayer. The thing that got me hooked to the game was its single-player demo, though, so multiplayer was never a focus for me.
Whenever I boot up Most Wanted, I almost always do it to experience Fairhaven as a place, rather than to race against AI or to play online. I feel a bit bad about that, since I know how fun the online component is, but I've gamed for so long that I don't mind missing out on that kind of fun. That said, the massive amount of time I've spent in the single-player has led to shorter play sessions - both because there's much less to accomplish and much less to be enthralled by. If you prefer multiplayer, however, you're likely to have many enjoyable experiences for as longs as the servers hold. So much so that you may continue to "love" the game rather than "really, really like it" one year down the road.