Need For Speed Most Wanted preview: the social network

What to call our new game, Criterion must have mused. How to state our identity… Hot Pursuit 2? Pshh, how passé. That game was already released in 2002, four years after Need For Speed III: Hot Pursuit, neither of which had much to do with 2010’s Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit. Obviously then, the UK studio opted for Need For Speed: Most Wanted, which is neither a remake of the 2005 game of exactly the same name, nor carries a sequel number.

Need For Speed Most Wanted hands-on preview

Still with us? “We don’t make sequels to other people’s games, and 2005 was a very different world to 2012,” producer Matt Webster tells us when asked why this particular point in the race series’ canon was chosen. One of the more noticeable differences in the larger world during the time period he outlines is the rise of social media, and that’s an area Most Wanted embraces as much as cop chases and crashes.

Rather than climbing a ladder of AI drivers on the journey to ‘most wanted’ status, the Burnout developer is riling up the competition between you and your mates. By refining the Autolog matchmaking/social interactivity layer it pioneered in Hot Pursuit, Criterion’s making Most Wanted the most online focused, social racer on this platform: “For us it’s about being most wanted among your friends,” says Webster.

The cops who want you look similar to those in Hot Pursuit, deploying roadblocks and increasingly quick, stronger vehicles as the chase intensifies. The host for this hub of online competition is the city of Fairhaven, an urban open-world that doesn’t want to tell you a story or reveal itself gradually: it’s simply an online sandbox for you and other gamers to congregate, bash into each other for a bit, then get to the racing in. It’s the next logical step for a studio that perfected open-world racing in Burnout Paradise and invented in-game social networking with Autolog. An improved iteration of that system will fuel the fire of competition in Most Wanted – it’ll be the race organiser, leaderboard and storyteller.

“Autolog was a really powerful tool for us, explains Webster. “The longer players play, the more friends they add. So we know that the social competition is really powerful. We put the tools in place for people to be able to find friends, drive that competition.” There’s no cut-scene-driven plot about a badass racer or undercover cop who flicks lots of cigarettes out of his window; the story’s organic – it’ll come from the rivalries with your Autolog friends/enemies/people with baffling names. A “social story”, as Webster puts it.