Genre fatigue - Where now for driving games?
Most Wanted is about as good as street racing games get, but where else can the racing genre go?
Need For Speed: Most Wanted is a well-made and entertaining street racing game.
Sure, it isn't perfect. For an open-world game, the playing area feels a little small, and the races seem to loop around the same handful of streets, but what there is offers a good variety of racing styles, from broad, straight freeways to tight and fiddly back alleys. The driving physics feel great, but the world's geometry is a little dodgy, with more than a few weird collisions with invisible objects or sudden plummets through the ground.
The car selection also feels a little pokey - while the hundred-plus vehicles we get in a Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport title might have spoiled us a little, Most Wanted's thirty or so seems a little slim, and the inclusion of some four wheel drives and pick-up trucks feels like wasted space. Worse still is the music selection, which got repetitive so quickly that I disabled in-game music within a few hours of beginning play.
Overall, though, this is a very solid street racing title from Criterion, whose Burnout series - especially Burnout Paradise - positioned them as kings of that subgenre. Still, the mention of Burnout Paradise is timely, as it could be argued that Most Wanted does very little that the earlier game did not. Some critics have even labelled Most Wanted "Burnout Paradise 2".
All of this got me thinking: how much life is left in the racing genre, really? The Need for Speed series has already started repeating itself - Most Wanted is of course a remake/reboot of the game of the same name from 2005, and Criterion's first title in the Need for Speed franchise was Hot Pursuit in 2010, a remake/reboot of Hot Pursuit 1 & 2 in 1998 and 2002 respectively.
While the new Most Wanted definitely feels good to play and features beautifully detailed cars and a gorgeously rendered realistic city (if perhaps a little small) in terms of game structure, there is pretty much nothing new going on.
Electronic Arts and Criterion have been touting this idea of becoming the "most wanted" illegal street racer in the city, taking out rival drivers until you are number one. In practice, though, it is just like any other racing league. You earn points in events or through activities in the open world, and when you accrue enough points you earn the right to challenge one of the city's most wanted drivers and steal their vehicle. In practical terms, it is effectively identical to any other ladder ranking system.
I don't want to detract from the quality of Most Wanted - Criterion has definitely done a great job on it - but it makes me wonder just how many ideas are left in the genre. How much longer can driving games of all sorts keep introducing new features and gameplay?
Perhaps more than any other genre, driving and racing seem to be the most in danger of simply running out of ideas. Dress them up however you like - set them in a science fiction fantasy world or a dark post-apocalyptic future, place them on closed tracks or in an open world - but in the end you're always just working your way up a ladder, earning new vehicles and improving the ones you already have.
Now, I'd like to hear from you, readers. Am I totally off the mark here? Do you think racing games have a bright and diverse future ahead of them, or do you share my worry that it's a genre in danger of terminal stagnation? Please share your thoughts below.
- James "DexX" Dominguez
DexX is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez