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Need for Speed: Most Wanted keeps on climbing

Everything about Criterion's Need for Speed: Most Wanted is designed to keep players climbing over their friends to the top of the ladder. Brenna Hillier talks to producer Leanne Loombe.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted seems like a perfect fit for Criterion - the social competition the developer loves so much is right there in the title. Players strive to be the Most Wanted and to obtain the Most Wanted vehicles; it's a perfect fit for the Autolog-driven formula it debuted in Hot Pursuit, taken to an all new level.

If you're a quietly competitive type, like me, this is a kind of torture; I'm flat out terrible at racing games, and a reminder that Pat has beaten my high scores again is the last thing I want when I'm trying to throw back and relax. But there's no turning that off, because as producer Leanne Loombe noted, it's more than just an important part of the Most Wanted experience - it is the Most Wanted experience.

"It's an integral part of the game; it's all about playing with your friends. That social competition; that's what we're trying to encourage," she said. "There's no way to turn it off because it is integrated into the core game.

"It's your choice whether you compete against whoever Autolog suggests you compete against; it's just a recommendation, you don't have to action it. You can just go through the game without doing any recommendation for people who want to play that way - but Autolog's there as distraction gameplay for people who do enjoy that social competition."

Happily, Most Wanted's unusually relaxed take on the racing genre means there is plenty to do besides answer the summons of your petrol head colleagues. There's a wide variety of events on offer in both single-player and multiplayer - it's not just a case of driving from A to B, something which Loombe believes helps keep Need for Speed ahead of the the pack when racing game sales drop off at the end of a generation.

"That's why we wanted to shake things up a bit, have the open world, have all cars available from the start so you didn't have to grind through segmented races," she said.

"It just makes it more fun because you can do what you wanna do. If you don't wanna do races and you just burn around the open world in free drive and look at things and hide and get away from the cops. Or if you wanna do races, well."

Become the Most Wanted.

There are five kinds of event - race, team race, challenge, and speed test - and each of these categories includes several different kinds of activity spread across the whole city. In multiplayer, a Speedlist challenges you and your crew to a series of events, like a jukebox, with players competing for the highest total score at the end.

Those keen to boost their ranks can make their own Speedlists, filling them with their favourite event types and picking a vehicle specifically to meet these challenges.

"It's really important to us that you can feel the difference in the different cars that you're driving," Loombe said of each vehicle's unique handling.

"And it helps people find what their favourite car is. Then different cars will do better at certain events; that's part and parcel of learning the game, finding out which car to use for each race."

There's even more scope to stack the deck in your favour thanks to mods, five of which can be applied to your car at one time. There are two to three mods in each category, and which one you choose will make a significant difference to your performance in each kind of challenge.

"We made sure that Autolog shows you what mods your friends used in each race as well - direct comparisons," Loombe pointed out.

"If you had a friend who was really really good at the game, and they had their car set up in a specific way with mods, you could copy that. Essentially you're getting the best gear there, if they understand what they're doing."

As an example, I asked Loombe for her ideal kit out for a specific event - drifting.

"I don't think I can answer that," she said, but then stopped to work it out.

Multiplayer! That's a thing.

"Obviously you'd need track tyres; lightweight chassis if you're drifting; probably short air? And nitrous, obviously. Who doesn't want nitrous?"

But despite this emphasis on technical chops, as Loombe herself points out, "you could have really good handling and then a not so great game to go with it, and then what's the point?" That's really where the social side comes in again; players earn Speed Points for every action in the game, hopefully propelling them up the Most Wanted list.

"Everything you do in the game, you get speed points for. Even when you're beating friends' recommendations, we give you more speed points if that person is further away from you on the Most Wanted list," Loombe explained.

"You're getting speed points in multiplayer and in single player. Everything you do, even like evading pursuits with the cops; finding cars, unlocking mods, winning races."

Autolog is constantly pushing you to climb the ranks, but as everything you do in Need for Speed Most Wanted sends you climbing ever higher, you're unlikely to find it difficult to answer the call.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted arrives on PC, P{layStation 3, Vita and Xbox 360 on October 30 in the US, November 1 in Australia and November 2 in Europe.

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