As I mentioned in one of my first reviews for iPad Insight, I don’t care much for racing games. Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2, a Playstation 2 release from more than 10 years ago, was the only exception. It was a racing game with a twist; pitting players not only against each other, but also a range of police chases, blockades and bomb-dropping helicopters. I flipping loved that game.
When I found out EA Games released an iPad version called Need For Speed: Most Wanted, I was thrilled. Finally, a racing game I could enjoy playing, because it’s focused on more than just one car beating the other car.
Does the iPad release compare with the original I loved so much? Well, yes and no.
As far as game quality, I’d have to say Need For Speed: Most Wanted is actually better than the PS2 version. The graphics are strong, detailed and pretty darn lifelike. The racing cars, modeled after real-life vehicles, are well designed. I was especially impressed by how the cars’ surfaces reflect the outside environment as they drive around.
The environments also are rather amazing. The game takes place in the fictional city of Fairhaven, stylistically similar to a west coast city like Los Angeles, with races happening day or night in different neighborhoods, suburbs and rural areas. I found myself getting distracted during races, because I wanted to take in the pretty scenery. Unfortunately, the slickness on many of the roads made them look like there had just been a recent rainstorm, which I don’t think was on purpose.
Controls are easy to learn and master, but they’re best suited for novice racers, not those who consider themselves aficionados of the race game genre.
Acceleration is automatic with this game; not in terms of holding a button to go faster, but in that the car speeds itself up. The only things the player controls are braking, activating the “nitrous” speed booster or moving the vehicle, which can be done with a joystick or by physically turning the iPad. I preferred using the iPad as a steering wheel over the traditional joystick, but I imagine that’s just personal preference.
In my opinion, it would’ve been nice to give the player an option to manually accelerate or deccelerate — possibly by tilting the iPad forward or backward in the steering wheel mode.
Now, what about the gameplay? The races themselves are a lot of fun, done in a similar style to the PS2 version. Whether it’s a traditional street race against three or more other vehicles, a two-car showdown to increase the player’s ranking on the Most Wanted List or playing against friends in a fantastically executed multiplayer mode, the cops are always there to try and wreck the fun.
Police cars run the player off the road, set up blockades or even lay tire spikes across the road to stop the player in his or her tracks. So far, I haven’t seen any helicopters like in the PS2 version, but I’m holding out hope they’ll make an appearance. Overall, the game is impressive and fun — the problem I have is that many of my favorite elements from the original version are missing from the iPad version.
For example, in the original game the player’s notoriety with the police during a race would be through an in-race ranking system: The more notorious a racer was, the harder the cops would try to stop him or her. I haven’t seen this element in any of the races I’ve played so far.
Also, in the original, the player could actually take a turn on the road as a police car — chasing down “ne’er-do-wells” and giving them tickets for speeding.
However, the one missing element I was really bummed about was the lack of a free roam mode. In the original PS2 game, any level could be unlocked in free roam after placing first. My sisters and I loved this, because we would spend time exploring the levels to find all sorts of hidden nooks and crannies, as well as have all sorts of fun crashing into other vehicles. We would actually play hide and seek within the game using our cars, which I’m sure is much more fun than it sounds.
I’m not alone in this complaint: Many commenters I found online had a problem with this missing game element. I’m hoping EA Games considers creating an update in the near future, but I’m not holding my breath.
By itself, Need For Speed: Most Wanted is one of the best racing games I’ve played on the iPad so far, and I highly recommend it for anyone wanting a racing game that’s about more than just, well, racing. Sadly, it’s still not as good as its PS2 predecessor, but let’s hope that’s what updates are for.
Check out Need For Speed: Most Wanted; it’s currently priced at $4.99.
Disclosure: This app was independently purchased by the post author in the iPad App Store. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About” page.