After smashing a few hundred cars and winning a fair share of brutal races in the hours of time spent in Need For Speed: Most Wanted for the Xbox 360, I was more than happy for the opportunity to check out the recently released Wii U version.
This particular version has been toted as having the best graphics, perhaps sort of a nebulous claim considering the fact that graphical differences between the three consoles are usually incredibly minor this late in the 'HD' generation.
What I did not expect was that it's not necessarily an overhaul in graphics that you'll notice between this version and the other console versions, but an overhaul in how the game actually runs and how it plays with a new and enhanced GamePad interface.
Need For Speed: Most Wanted U (Wii U)
Developer: Criterion Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: March 19, 2013
Need For Speed: Most Wanted U is undoubtedly a beautiful game. It may take some adjustment of the brightness or contrast of your particular screen to hit the sweet spot, but on most HDTV screens this version will definitely impress you with its prettiness.
Granted, there are still some ugly, muddy textures found in the city of Fairhaven and these pretty much exist on all of the console versions, but overall the game shines as a visual spectacle and the cars look hot. It's important to note, however, that a still frame is not going to give you a good judge of the touted graphical superiority of the Wii U version, unless you're very keen on technical details and/or anal retentive about slight graphical differences.
Instead, what you'll notice immediately is how much smoother the game runs compared to the 360 version. I spent hours switching between both version on my TV set, and what I consistently noticed was that a great deal of the frame rate hiccups that stutter the game in the 360 version are pretty much absent in the Wii U version. The tossup here seems to be the same issue plaguing a lot of Wii U games these days -- load times tend to reach up to the minute mark, especially when first booting up the game.
However, once you're racing around the pristine city streets and picturesque mountain roads of Fairhaven, you'll rarely get stopped up by frame-rate issues. The only real cases of noticeable lag happen when a ton of things are going on at once, such as getting pursued by a bunch of cop cars while causing a huge accident with several racers in front of you. Otherwise, the game runs silky smooth and once you start getting the faster cars and better nitro upgrades, the sense of speed is wonderful.
Besides the nice frame rate improvement, Most Wanted U's greatest asset is its use of the GamePad, which implements the new 'co-driver' mode. In a sense, this mode is a sort of cheat mode. It lets you or whoever's around play a minor god, changing the time of day to evening or morning, disrupting cop cars as you see fit, changing your car's model and color outside of races, or even just turning off traffic.
You can also use the GamePad either exclusively to drive or to assist someone else driving who is using the Pro controller. The ability to disrupt cop cars with the GamePad is especially notable, as it makes it much more fun to drive to each race and take in the scenery without needlessly getting trapped in another insane cat-and-mouse game every single time you speed past the police.
All of the other shortcuts from the other versions remain, such as giving total power over tweaking gameplay control down to button assignments, or jumping straight to each race without the boredom of driving to a checkpoint every time. The biggest differences here are minor improvements, such as being able to play exclusively off of the GamePad, or even being able to use the GamePad as a miniature screen while still using your pro controller to drive.
This may seem a bit silly considering the fact that most players will want to play off their HDTV, but anyone living with a partner or kids knows that this isn't always possible in the face of compromise and it's wonderful to still have a pretty sweet-looking game run on the GamePad screen without sacrificing your preferred controller for racing games. You can play the game exclusively on the GamePad, but it may feel awkward to control, and even more so with the included motion options unless you're really going for the sim experience.
The online mode of Need For Speed: Most Wanted U is just as much chaotic fun as the other versions, immediately calling back the awesomeness of Burnout Paradise's free-form challenges and social multiplayer component. Just as before, you can jump into public online play or private matches between friends and find yourself competing in a variety of challenges, from sprint races to long distance jumps.With the Wii U version, there's also the expected social ability to pause the game to post on Miiverse whenever you feel like it, though the game never nudges you or otherwise bothers you to do so.
Overall, I have to admit that I'm returning much more often to the Wii U version than my copy on the 360. The game runs smoother and most importantly smartly gives you the option to clear away the annoyances of constant cop chases when all you want to do is drive around Fairhaven at reckless speeds and steal hot new vehicles to illegally race with.
After all, isn't that the way it should be?