Maybe you've had that moment on the highway where you pull up next to a fancy sportscar. You might think that the person driving it is probably some rich jerk, but still wonder how that Porsche or Lambo handles. Need For Speed: Most Wanted lets you take explore that fantasy in a different way. All the cars in the game will be available from the start. But like a harried commuter unexpectedly coming up on a sleek Aston Martin on the freeway, you'll have to find these cars first.

The biggest difference in Criterion's upcoming contribution to the Need for Speed franchise is that it mostly does away with the annoying grind/unlock system that plagues most racing games. You know the kind, where you drive one class of car into the ground and finally jump to another class that goes 10 MPH faster. It gets to feeling tedious, which is the last thing a racing game should feel like.

Most Wanted's designers are implementing an exploration-based car acquisition mechanic. If you drive by any of the 40 collectible cars out in the open-world city of Fairhaven, you can start driving it right away simply by pressing a button. Now, you'll still have to grind a bit to implement boost and other upgrades to the cars you get hold of in this way. Nevertheless, switching things up like this gives players another incentive to tear around Fairhaven's streets, aside from the usual racing action.


Once you've located a new car, you can jump to it immediately or set a waypoint on the in-game map that leads back to it. Each car will have specific races attached to it and you'll be able grab ten other Most Wanted cars by defeating them in races or other challenges. The Autolog social features that track your friends' progress in the game are also getting embedded into the Fairhaven environment. Every so often you'll blow by a Speed Camera; those devices not only tell you how fast you're going but also say how fast your friends were speeding when they passed it.

You'll also compete for bragging rights with the game's billboards, too. They'll be placed across the city, in positions that encourage you to jump through them. Whoever clears those gaps with the most distance will have their faces plastered on them. Crash through them further and your mug replaces that of a rival.

EA isn't talking much about NFSMW's online yet but executive producer Matt Webster told me that the competitive play will be organized into five-event collections called SpeedLists. Four event types will go into the mix of a SpeedList and standard, finish-first races will be one of those types. Team races will throw randomly selected groups against each other, letting you spot other players for your teammates, who can then take them out. And even if you finish first you can still come back and grief opponents to help better our team's outcome.


Challenge events will be familiar to anyone who played the Free Burn mode of Criterion's past Burnout games. Challenges will have players teaming up to collaborate to perform certain feats. Speed Tests are similar to those but have a 90-second time limit for you to do as many stunts as you can. You can still be taken out by other players while trying to perform as any drifts, for example, as you can. So, this event type is a mix of skill execution and avoidance.

The player who scores the most at the end of a SpeedList becomes the Most Wanted and in the next round, others earn more points for taking that person down. You'll earn ponts for everything you do in Most Wanted and Webster said that they're modeling progression on the kinds of structures you see in online shooters. Speed Points that you earn in single-player will carry over but car modifications that you earn will not.


Webster says that Criterion is aiming to make Most Wanted feel more player-driven than ever before. He says that the dev team's previous experience with Burnout Paradise showed them how distracted gameplay—the stuff you do on the way to a race, like smashing gates or finding gaps to jump—is just as fun as the main racing action. There's tons of that stuff in Most Wanted. With all cars unlocked at start and a new structure that encourages exploration, the developers hope that giving players freedom to script their own experiences will make Most Wanted a worthy follow-up to both Burnout Paradise and other games in the Need for Speed Franchise.