Need For Speed: Most Wanted PS3 preview

Like any good social device, Criterion’s Autolog has snuck up on everyone rather than announced itself with a street parade and its own theme song, but the extent of its enhancement to your racing experience has been limited until now. In Hot Pursuit it told you when a friend came online, or when they beat your fastest lap. In this follow-up, Autolog goes 2.0. It’s not there to accompany the game – it is the game.

The objective in the original Most Wanted was to become more notorious, nefarious and trick out your car more obnoxiously than a gaggle of leering crims who’d aggravated the local fuzz to the greatest degree. Win races, earn some rep, beat the crims, get their drive. This time, those heavy-browed reprobates are gone, in place of your own online compadres.

It’s all about, as executive producer Matt Webster says, “becoming most wanted among your friends”. Everything you do in the game – grab air off a jump, smash through a billboard, and, obviously, clock a sick time in an event – is collected by Autolog, stored away in its omniscient data banks, then fed back to you in the form of tasty Speed Points. This is the precious ambrosia that determines who sits atop the Most Wanted list like a power-sliding John Dillinger.

Hearing the theory is one thing, but actually being part of the smoke-churning, cop-wrecking monstrosity that is online play is quite another. We take to the streets with the Criterion devs, and are promptly mauled like Lady Gaga in her meat-dress meeting a pack of wolves – and that’s before the chequered flag drops. In fact, it’s before we even get to the start point.

There’s an SP reward for getting there first, and no rules in place to make anyone act gentlemanly about it. As well as a straightish race mode, we also fight to get the biggest air over an interpass: everyone takes their first run at it, then spends the rest of the time parking up in awkward positions, ruining each other’s run-ups and generally being a dick. It’s incredible fun.

That the handling model’s been completely rebuilt for Most Wanted says a lot about Criterion: it certainly wasn’t broken in Hot Pursuit – it made you feel like a Schumacher-brand Cyborg guiding a rocket ship through a Polo mint. No one would have minded if those familiar physics were plonked into Fairhaven City, too: the team just wanted to make something better.

And to our thumbs, the improvement’s tangible. Cars writhe and squirm as you try to lay the power down, but not to the extent that you can’t still powerslide between lanes of oncoming traffic without busting your retinas in concentration. Fairhaven’s still a locale held together with scaffolding, but it’s looking much more Los Angeles than Lowestoft. We want it first!