EA hasn't exactly been a huge supporter of the Nintendo Wii U, despite the first impressions they gave when they exalted Nintendo and their new system at their E3 2011 presentation. Instead of bringing the games like they promised, EA has so far only released 4 game on Nintendo's new system. Need for Speed: Most Wanted U, developed by the EA-owned team "Criterion Games", is the most recent game in that batch (and could potentially be the last).
Being released a whole 6 months behind the other versions of the game, it makes you wonder exactly what on earth Criterion was doing. They weren't just wasting time, as unlike most of the other ports that the Wii U currently has in it's library - they were working hard to really use the Wii U's hardware.
As like the other versions of the game; Need for Speed: Most Wanted U is an open-world racer, set in the fictional city of 'Fairhaven'. Here, the streets are ruled by the professional street racing group, dubbed the "Most Wanted". Your goal is to race around the city, finding cars, smashing through billboards and security gates, pulling of insane jumps and stunts, and simply causing mayhem where-ever you go, and moving your way up the ranks, taking down the other Most Wanted drivers, to set your place at the "Number 1" spot on the list.
If you've played "Burnout: Paradise" (which was also developed by Criterion) - then the gameplay of Most Wanted should be very familiar to you. The take-down system, as well as the drive-through repair shop system have all made a return from the late Burnout series, more recently, the aforementioned 'Paradise'. Is this a bad thing? No, not at all. Having the freedom to move at your own pace and simply explore every nook-&-cranny of the relatively large city is a joy, that doesn't get old very quickly.
When you're not free-roaming, you might find yourself in a high-speed police chase. Returning from the original "Most Wanted", released in 2005 - police cars will patrol the city, keeping a very close eye on you. If you streak past them at high-speed, knock into them, pull of stunts in front of them, hit traffic in front of them, or simply just park your car in front of them for more than 10 seconds, it will trigger an all-out chase. Similar to the GTA-series, you have a "heat system. The more damage you cause, specifically - taking down police cars - the higher your heat level raises. There are a total of 6 heat levels. The higher the level, the more powerful and faster the police units become. You're going to have to be on your toes at all times, as they will stop at nothing to detain you.
Outside of the chases - there's the high-speed races. There are multiple races to choose from, which come in different types. There are "Sprint" races - where you must travel from point A to point B, and cross the finish line in first place. Then there are "Circuit" races, which are regular lap races, where you must cross the finish line in first place to win. Then there are "Speed Runs" - where you'll have to keep an average speed, as you pass through multiple checkpoints to win. Finally, there are "Ambush" races - where you're going to have to escape the cops in a set amount of time to win. Finally there are the "Most Wanted" races, where you'll go toe-to-toe with one of the Most Wanted drivers, in a sprint race, and you must beat them in order to release their car into the world, and take them down in order to obtain their ride.
All of these different kinds of races have different difficulty levels. Some are harder than most, and vice-versa. But despite their being different difficulty levels - I have found that regardless of it being "Easy", "Medium" or "Hard" - they're all "Hard". The AI is a little bit smarter than you'd think, and that goes for both racers and police units. On top of that, the handling of the faster cars takes some getting used to. It's easy to open the throttle on the highway, but when you're bobbing-and-weaving through the cramped city streets, you might find yourself careening into a wall more than you'd think.
On top of that - the traffic can be an excruciating nuisance. Despite the fact you can turn it off in this version, when playing multiplayer, I've found that your car is significantly weaker, so if you do crash into the traffic - chances are you'll wreck (which will more than likely cost you the race).
"The Wii U Difference":
Need for Speed: Most Wanted U makes good use of the Wii U's Gamepad. Exclusive to the Wii U version - is the 'Co-Driver' mode, which brings in some form of a local 2P co-op. While one player pilots their vehicle using another controller, another player is essentially 'God'. They can swap out the car, change it's color (which also repairs the vehicle), change the time of day, switch traffic on/off, disrupt cops (when in a free-roam pursuit), view a detailed map, and even take control over the vehicle, if necessary. While the Co-Driver mode was designed with two players in mind, one player can also use this feature. It take some getting used too - as you will have to turn your attention from the T.V screen to the Gamepad, but it's rather easy to get used to it. Outside from the Co-Driver mode, Most Waned U also gives you the option to pull all the action down to the Gamepad's screen.
In the end - the gameplay of Need for Speed Most Wanted U is fairly solid. It has a few difficulty spikes, but the grand open world of Fairhaven, brimming with stuff to do, things to smash, cops to irritate, and cars to find - makes up for it.
Criterion didn't just take time to improve the gameplay of Most Wanted on the Wii U - they also decided to use the extra juice that the Wii U provides over the current-gen PS3 & 360. Most Wanted is a beautiful game, regardless of which platform you play it on, but the Wii U version does look a bit closer to the PC-version of the game, as Criterion imported the PC textures into the Wii U version. Aside from that, they also re-vamped the lighting (specifically, the night-time lighting) to create an overall stellar-looking game, all while running at a solid 30FPS (which is the standard across all of the platforms).
While there are a few framerate-drops from time-to-time, they don't happen often enough to be considered a real problem. There can be at times a few pop-ins, and there are a few bland textures in some areas, but overall, Most Wanted U is an amazing looking title through-&-through.
The online multiplayer is essentially the same as it is on other platforms. There are many different kinds of activities, from races, to checkpoint challenges, to take-down events, to drift challenges, to jump challenges, to even parking challenges. The multiplayer activities are fun and over the top, and will keep your entertained for hours. The only problem I've found with the online is that it can be spotty at times. It was just randomly cut off, and sometimes, you'd have to restart the game in order to get a connection going again. A framerate drop can also occur every-so-often, which can get a little annoying, but other than that, things are a-okay.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted U is definitely one of the better ports out there. Not only does it try it's best to use the Gamepad in an innovative way, but it also pushes the hardware of the Wii U, by showing a noticeable difference from the PS3/360 versions of the game, which is a welcome bonus.
But there are times things can get a little annoying. From a spotty online-system, to some slightly loose controls, and irritating difficulty spikes. Some races really shouldn't be as hard as they are, and crashing into a wall so much due to slippery controls is a nuisance - but all~in~all, Criterion did a great job with bringing their revision of the popular 2005 title - to Nintendo's new system.
Hopefully this won't be the last Need for Speed title (or EA title for that matter) - that the Wii U sees. But even if it is, it's good to know that it was a very well-done port, even if it did arrive a little late.