It’s hard to measure digital distribution platform Steam’s impact on the game industry, especially because they don’t disclose sales numbers, and as a company that isn’t publicly traded, no one can force their hand. And yet, there was a time when every new game was $49.99 to $59.99, and a “Greatest Hits” version might sell for $39.99. With digital distribution and competition from big players in the industry, a top game can go on sale for $5—basically half the cost of a movie ticket—not long after its release. Someone will argue a game gives at least ten hours of entertainment and a movie gives you two. But in my mind, it’s the same idea. You play it, you enjoy it to the ending, you move on.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2012) features the most deplorable thing in this industry: micro-transactions. I have long warned people that micro-transactions can run up a bill that is anything but “micro,” and if you’re buying a game, buy it outright and full, not “freemium” or in other words “free now and pay later.” A NeoGAF message board user informed me that Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2012) was free years ago on Electronic Arts’ digital storefront, Origin, and I claimed my copy. Playing it now, years later, I have learned that Electronic Arts wants me to pay thirty dollars for all the content of this game, or spend five dollars here and there on the content I really want. The “freemium” business model caught up with me.
So again, it’s a thirty dollar price tag. But to be a member of Origin (Electronic Arts’ competition to Steam) with “Premium” access, means you can play from a library of over one hundred games, with all of the content of the included games, for one hundred dollars a year. Clearly this is preferable to paying for Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2012). A subscription model to entertainment, not unlike Netflix. Assuming I’d play more than three games start to finish, all games would be less than $30 which is what EA wants me to pay as a non-member. But even that logic is flawed. The way I go about deciding on a new game is some sort of math equation. Like “the last game was enjoyable because I was driving. Now I’d like to play an RPG.” There would be too many games I’m not in the mood for. Perhaps game shopping has gotten more complicated. Perhaps EA is the only company that’s complicating matters.
I did play the game Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2012) start to finish, with the exception of downloadable content. It’s actually a pretty good driving game. It was developed by U.K. developer Criterion Games, who made their mark in the game biz with the Burnout series, where you crash cars for the thrill of it. Many would say Burnout Paradise was their peak game in terms of quality – Burnout Paradise Remastered is part of EA’s subscription program. Though I spent only a couple of hours with Burnout Paradise, I understood the idea. It’s a massive map filled with challenges for fictional cars. Some challenges ask that you crash your car as severely as possible. Some challenges ask that you win a race.
What sets Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2012) apart is we now have licensed cars. You can get a Maserati, a Ford, a Dodge, a Chevy, a Porsche, a Lamborghini, and more. And true to Criterion’s signature style, you can crash cars and watch the replay. For those interested in history, this is significant. As far back as I’m aware, the game Gran Turismo had many makes of real licensed cars, but there was a catch. No car company wanted to see damage to their vehicles. You could drive straight into a wall, and the car would simply stop. It was a very powerful move from a very powerful auto industry. Most Wanted (2012) upended this tradition.
Yes, you do get the replay, but no car crash is an objective in the game, with the exception of the “Most Wanted” cars. To earn a Most Wanted car, you have to beat that car in a race, and after the race, run the car off the road by bumping into it. After that, you’re free to drive it. There are ten Most Wanted cars, including your own. That said, there are cars everywhere in the game, with the logo of the car’s maker floating above the car. It’s usually parked in a visible area off of the main road.
When you own a car, you can enter it into races, of which there are eight. I really have to give Criterion credit: the races are hard. Races are ranked Easy, Medium, and Hard, and even the easy races are still hard. This is polar opposite to a series like Forza Motorsport, where every race is stupidly easy. If you place first or second in a race, you get one to two upgrades for the car. You have to suspend disbelief. The police might set spike strips to slow you down, and a common upgrade is tires that automatically re-inflate after going flat.
The police are a big part of this game. Often, one of your challenges is to evade the police. If you ever drive so fast and maneuver so deftly that you aren’t in the police’s line of sight, you enter a cool-down period, until they just give up looking for you. I’m not one to run from police, and always felt a little uncomfortable in these moments. It’s worth saying Criterion put a lot of work into cinematic scenes before the start of a race, like playing with the color of a city and its skyline, or watching your opponents levitate before racing. It can be silly, but it’s touches like this that give the game a little personality.
Again, if you beat the other nine cars on the Most Wanted list, you win the game. The credits roll, and it’s a lot of credits. The soundtrack, which has ample space in the credit roll, was largely forgettable. Of course, the game never really ends. You can keep finding new cars, racing them, and upgrading them until there are no more upgrades. The real problem, is the game gets formulaic. That is the exact process: get a car, upgrade it in every possible way, and get a new car. There’s a multiplayer aspect where you can challenge your friends, but my friends don’t have this game. Also, there’s that thirty dollars’ worth of downloadable content (DLC), but after seventeen hours of a simple formula, I know all I need to know about this one.