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I'm a big fan of EA's Need For Speed series - according to Steam, I played Hot Pursuit for over 50 hours on my PC. Their latest addition to the cops 'n' racers stable is Most Wanted, hotly anticipated on consoles because it's from the racing pros at Criterion. But for those without an Xbox or PC and an abundance of mobile horsepower, EA offers the Android version, for a reasonable $7.

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The mobile version of Most Wanted gets a lot right: a variety of cars, plenty of customization, a great feeling of speed, and some of the best graphics in a racing game yet. But it also runs afoul of some of the most common pitfalls for touch-based racing games. Overly simplified, easy gameplay, a straightforward progression (as opposed to the open world of the full version) and constant, insistent pushes towards in-app purchases sour what is otherwise a solid racing experience.

Catch Me If You Can

The appeal of Need For Speed Most Wanted is nearly universal: you're a streetwise street racer giving the middle finger to Johnny Law, who pursues you in almost every event. You'll have to contend with cops, other racers, and the various time limits and bonus objectives to pull in the maximum amount of cash. Each race earns you both money and experience, depending upon how well you do: experience unlocks new events and vehicles, but the cars themselves (and nearly everything else) must be bought with your winnings.

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Racing itself is simple, perhaps to deal with the undeniable issue of dodgy touch controls. In the default configuration, turning is handled with the accelerometer, braking with a single tap on the left side of the screen. Tap the left side to drift, and swipe up to activate your nitrous. There are none of the tricky gadgets from Hot Pursuit. Most Wanted is a more "pure" racing game. There's no option to play as the cops, either. You are the hunted, save for a few one-on-one battles with other racers. Different modes exist, some of them pretty interesting, like one where you need to keep your average speed up across a time trial.

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Progress through the lower tiers with more mundane cars and you'll open up new areas of the city, with new events to compete in. Do well enough in a given class, and you'll be allowed to challenge one of the "Most Wanted," elite racers driving the best cars in the game. Beat them and you win their rides... which then have to be bought with the money you earn in-game. You can increase your odds by adding modifications to your cars, like run flat tires for speed strips, extra nitrous, or a more toughened chassis. But the upgrades don't' carry over between events: every time you race, you'll have to buy new upgrades, even if you've applied them to that car before. You can probably see where this is going.

Training Wheels

Perhaps to account for the difficulty of mobile controls, or perhaps just to appeal to a wider audience, mobile developer Firemonkeys did everything they could to make the Android version of Most Wanted easy. Tracks are wide, curves are lazy, and traffic is minimal. You'll almost never need to use the drift feature, even in the most powerful exotics, thanks to the incredibly forgiving track design. No narrow tunnels, no hairpin turns - it's a Sunday drive at 180 miles per hour.

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While the cops are present in almost every event, it's hard to feel threatened by them. Pursuit vehicles only pay attention to the first and second-place racers, and even then, a couple of love taps will take a cop out and refill your boost. Roadblocks and spike strips are more dangerous, but the wide highways make them easy to avoid even with tilt controls. I'd like to make it clear, I'm not saying that Most Wanted isn't fun - a great feeling of speed and a wide variety of cars to play with keep things interesting. But those looking for a tight, challenging game should look elsewhere.

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If you're looking for eye candy, this is it. Car models and highways look stunning on the Nexus 7, with reflections and lighting effects everywhere. Real-time car damage and backgrounds are less fleshed out - mostly flat polygons with bland textures - but it's still a very pretty game. I must point out that the screenshots seen on the Google Play Store look significantly better than what I've seen on Tegra 3 hardware. EA may have simply copied screenshots from the iOS version.

Nickels, Dimes, And Nitrous

Everything in the Android version of Most Wanted costs in-game money. Everything. New cars require both experience-based unlocks and purchases. Upgrades to each car are limited to two slots, and must be bought again after every race... even if you lose. If you're playing a fast, light race category, a few dings from other racers or walls can bust you, instantly tanking $3,000-7,000 worth of cash spent on upgrades. Even a paint job will cost you a couple grand.

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Naturally, you can spend some real-world dough on in-game currency. This is one of my cardinal sins for mobile games: a paid game plus in-app purchases is greedy, pure and simple, and seeing it in a game that costs $6.99 to start with just makes me angry. Every structural decision in the game, from the unlocking process to individual races, is geared towards getting players to spend some more money on a game they've already paid for.

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Now to be fair, it's entirely possible to get enough cash in-game without ever resorting to an in-app purchase. You're free to replay events as many times as you like, turning your white-knuckle racing experience into a loot grind. And the purchases themselves (thankfully made through Google Play) are cheap. You can get half a million in cash - more than enough to unlock dozens of cars - for just three bucks. I'm sure that plenty of gamers will appreciate the ability to buy all the cool stuff without having to replay levels. Even so, the inclusion smacks of a Glu Mobile-style desire to bleed every player for all they're worth. I have to wonder if console players who paid $60 a pop, with cars that unlock the moment you pass them on the open-world streets, would stand for it.


Is Need For Speed Most Wanted fun? Certainly. Anyone with seven bucks, new-ish hardware and a desire to try out some dream machines on their mobile screen will be more than satisfied. If you're looking for simple, stylish racing, feel free to tap "purchase" without fear of buyer's remorse.

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That said, the overly simple and easy gameplay - without an option to ramp up the difficulty - won't appeal to those craving a deeper racing experience. And the pushy in-app purchases that the game seems to steer you towards are a real downer, at least for yours truly.

I still love the live-action ad, though.

Jeremiah Rice
Jeremiah is a US-based blogger who bought a Nexus One the day it came out and never looked back. In his spare time he watches Star Trek, cooks eggs, and completely fails to write novels.
  • Guest

    It looks better running on my Galaxy S3 i9300. Just saying.

  • ProductFRED

    It looks better running on my Galaxy S3 i9300. Just saying. It must turn off some options for Tegra 3 (Asphalt 7 did this as well for T3 users). I also don't have low-polygon opponent cars like your last gameplay shot (pardon my screenshot quality; the S3 compresses it for some reason).

    • Sean

      The S3 has an undeniably stronger GPU than the Tegra 3, so this isn't surprising. While I love my Nexus 7, I wish the GPU was better. Still, it makes a great mobile gaming unit!

  • RichA

    Looks good, but I won't purchase as EA will have no support whatsoever. I purchased Hot Pursuit, and since the JB upgrade on my Gnex, it will play but the sound echos (ex. a voice will say "roadblock deployed , and you will then hear an echo of the voice, the music will echo and is choppy...unplayable).
    Emailed them, no answer. so if get this and the 4.2 update breaks it and no longer works, EA will say "oh well, tough. Wait til a Xmas price of 99cents.

    • Rob

      Same here - echo effect has ruined the game. I thought maybe it was Equalizer, but turning that off does not help :(

  • Michael Jon Carter

    Yeah paying for new cars/addiing parts that help overcome particular challenges is the only way forward. So EA are making alot of money off this.

  • http://twitter.com/misterE33 Mr E

    Good review! Any thoughts on how it compares to Asphalt 6/7 ?

    • WestIndiesKING

      i waiting for a response to this as well

    • O.o

      Asphalt is FUN game, NFS is S3X!

  • http://twitter.com/Fysi Richard Ashton

    I bought. I'm loving it. And it's gorgeous.

  • daveloft

    Well I loved this game, and I've played through the whole thing, I beat it last night. If you want hairpin turns and more difficult tracks, I'd suggest hitting up Real Racing 2. This is an arcade racer built for speed. But it does get difficult as you progress and you start racing cars much better than yours. In that situation you have to race virtually perfect to win.

    I'm also surprised to hear you say you don't need drifting, as in the later parts of the game it was absolutely necessary to get the best lap times. I think if you found this game easy, you either didn't finish it, you bought yourself the best cars, or you spent so much time grinding you could always afford the best cars.

    The money is tight in the game, definitely, and some people may turn to IAP. But I never needed to, I just had to spend money wisely. You won't be able to buy every car, or buy add on's every race. Throughout the game there may be a couple times you will need to grind away to earn some money to buy a better car. If you don't want to spend the time, you can buy it and I see no problem with having that option.

    This is definitely my favorite racing game on Android and one of my favorite games released this year. I haven't spent this much time in a mobile game in quite a while and I think that says a lot.

    • Knlegend1


    • defred34

      Well, I finished the whole game in about 5 hours or so. I pretty much disagree with the review too. This is an arcade racer for one, so there are usually no 'complex' bends like double-apex corners, chicanes and hairpins.

      The challenges do get tough. I didn't really have problem getting bronzes all throughout, but gold seems pretty elusive after the halfway mark. IAPs are never a problem too. Just like you, I might have replayed the odd race or two just to get the next best car, otherwise nothing too serious. Also, in merely completing the game I only turned to mods once. But yeah, to get all golds, mods become essential later on (no other choice really).

      All in all, a great game for mobile. Don't expect the console experience, but this is really good. Something like Rayman Jungle Run - similar visuals but watered down gameplay that suits the mobile gaming audience rather well.

      PS: I completed the game without needing to drift EVEN ONCE. Maybe I was just doing it wrong then. But really never felt compelled to drift.

      • GraveUypo

        "This is an arcade racer for one, so there are usually no 'complex' bends like double-apex corners, chicanes and hairpins".

        to be honest, there are no corners at all. just slight bends that require no braking nor a good racing line at all. there's no way to get a better line through a corner and overtake someone. only way to overtake is through the use of nitro, which is ... meh.

        ps: drifting isn't something you're supposed to do in a race anyway, it only slows you down.. unless you're on an awd vehicle on a offroad track and/or on a very tight hairpin, and even then you only use it to correct understeer, so nothing wrong with not using it.

        • Qruis

          "ps: drifting isn't something you're supposed to do in a race anyway, it only slows you down..."
          say that to Asphalt 8: Airbone hahaha, in that game you can do the whole race drifting without losing any aceleration or speed, I play it for like 1 hour and get bored, if you don't drift you can't take any turn without hitting the wall.

    • WestIndiesKING

      how do you compare to asphalt 7? i liked asphalt 6 but i hate all of the in app purchase pops and just overall setup of the new asphalt. Help me please, i want a racing game but dont want to be disappointed.

  • http://twitter.com/Pascalwb Pascal

    Better than PC version :D

  • GraveUypo

    i have to say. this review couldn't be more spot-on. exactly my thoughts. like i said somewhere else: a racing game for people who don't like racing.

    and as far as graphics goes, i have to say i'm not impressed. it looks like a ps1 game with tons of makeup. it looks... weird.

  • andri

    wait, where's the SpeedBreaker ? I don't see anyone mentioned about it..

    does NFS Most Wanted for Android have SpeedBreaker feature ?

    if none then it's the same as other racing games...

  • bungadudu

    Amazing graphics, bad! controls !

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=564491883 Ronald Garay

    Can I customize cars in this game? Sorry if you mentioned in the article. It's the only thing keeping me from getting it.

  • Sabbir Ahmed
  • primalxconvoy

    Although I got this game for 99 yen, the controls are awful. They should have given us left and right screen touch controls (like Asphalt 7 has got), which then would enable gamepad support. Also, drifting, like in asphalt, is unused due to players having to look where they place their thumbs in order to do it, ruining immersion.

    Once connected to an hdtv though, the accelerometer controls become somewhat better, but drifting is still almost impossible.

    Until mobile gaming truly supports hardware controls, games like this will continue to disappoint.

    • The Decline

      this plays great with a moga controller, only you cannot turn off auto accelerate or re map the buttons, still, it plays very well with the default mapping.

  • Jeff@confusion

    Too easy gameplay? WTF. You obviously did not finish the game or you made it very easy by iAPs. This game is way harder than Asphalt 7 as in later races you need almost perfect races to win as your opponents wil have advanced cars. I was surprised that the Asphalt 7 review said that the learning curve was sharp! Maybe that was a different reviewer cause Asphalt 7 is toooooo easy!