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Street racing has been a fairly popular theme throughout the Need for Speed racing series, and once again it took center stage in Need for Speed: Most Wanted, released for the Nintendo Gamecube (reviewed here), the PlayStation 2, the PSP, the GBA, the Nintendo DS, the Xbox and the Xbox 360 in 2005. Having recently played and reviewed Need for Speed: Prostreet for the Wii, I can't say I came into this older game expecting too much. Yet when it came to sit down and give this title a whirl, I found myself pleasantly surprised by what a deep and enjoyable racing game this wound up being, thanks largely to the addition of police pursuit.
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This is without a doubt one of the more enjoyable racing games I've ever had the pleasure of playing. There are ten different control schemes, and though the default one works well enough, it is nice to have the option to switch it up if you deem it necessary. There are several different modes of play, including a lengthy story-driven career mode, a series of challenges and a quick race, as well as multiple different types of driving missions. In addition to standard circuit, sprint and drag type races, you have time attacks, speed-trap challenges where you need to get clocked going as fast as possible at specific areas, and even instances where you will need to evade the police or wreck a certain number of cruisers. Furthermore, there is an absolute wealth of cars to unlock, including some truly killer rides like the Ford GT, the Aston Martin DB9 and the Lamborgini Murcielago. Not to mention the fact that in Career Mode, you have the welcome option of roaming freely around the city. With so many different ways to play and so much to unlock, this is easily one of the best and deepest racing games of its era.
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In the career mode, you star as an unnamed street racer who is trying to break into a racing ring in the fictional city of Rockport. At first, things go well for you -- that is, until you put your car on the line in challenge a hotshot named Razor. Razor winds up sabotaging your ride, beating you, taking your wheels and leaving you to be arrested. However, due to lack of evidence, the charges are dropped, and you get picked up by your girlfriend, who tells you that Razor has taken the car he won from you and used it to become #1 on the "Black List," making him sort of like the king of street racing in the Rockport area. In order to get your revenge, you'll need to find a new ride, build up your reputation and defeat each of the 15 members of the Black List before you get another crack at your rival. Yeah, it's not Shakespeare or anything, but it does help tie things together, and I've certainly seen worse.
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Graphics and Sound
Need for Speed: Most Wanted looks pretty darn nice for a Gamecube game. In fact, it only looks marginally less detailed than the Wii version of Prostreet did. There are some instances of choppy animation quality here and there in the cut scenes, but the racing action itself is absolutely gorgeous. I have mixed feelings about the use of real life actors in some of the movie sequences. It's a little jarring, and much of the acting is of B-movie quality. The music, on the other hand, is solid. As always, Electronic Arts has included several licensed tunes, including some from Disturbed, The Roots and Jamiroquai. However, it is the original compositions which I felt were truly excellent, as the instrumental music fit excellently with the whole action-movie feel of things. All in all, EA did an impressive job on this game.
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Hard as it may be to believe, Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a better overall product than the Wii version of Need for Speed: Prostreet, despite being considerably older and on less powerful hardware. In fact, the only advantage that the newer NFS game seems to have over the older one is the ability to use the Wii Wheel to control the action and slightly improved graphics. Most Wanted, on the other hand, is a deeper game, features a better selection of vehicles, has better gameplay variety, free-roaming exploration and, thanks largely to the fact that you need to flee from the cops from time to time, it winds up being a much more intense and enjoyable game to play. If you own a Wii, skip Prostreet and get yourself a Gamecube compatible controller or wheel and a copy of this game instead. Trust me, you'll find up having much more fun in the long run.