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Need for Speed: Most Wanted, a DVD-ROM in English by EA Games, distributed with a 16-page Hebrew-language user's manual by Hed Artzi Multimedia, requires Windows XP and a 1.4 Ghz Pentium IV PC or better, for ages 13 and up, NIS 199 to NIS 229. - Rating: *****
The National Road Safety Authority would surely not approve of this racing game, but teenage boys and young men will undoubtedly regard this latest in the Need for Speed (NFS) series as a rip-roaring, spine-tingling and intoxicating escapade.
It successfully combines the benefits of the older NFS titles going back to 1999 (which offer a variety of customized vehicles that collide with others) with those of the more recent Underground titles (in which the aim is to evade arrest).
Most Wanted makes you an illegal street racer who must climb up the "blacklist" ranking of 15 ruthless male and female drivers to become the most notorious racer in the fictional American coastal city of Rockport, sections of which can be unlocked as you proceed. The final driver to defeat is a punk nicknamed Razor; in this long game, you win races, explode, evade the police, unseat Razor and eventually get to be the champ.
To compete against the blacklist racers, you must carry out a variety of assignments. Breaking the law, driving too fast, crashing into police cars and deterring them by exploding petrol stations and toppling a pile of lumber on them are definitely encouraged. Among the cops' tactics for stopping you in your tracks are roadblocks, metal spikes to puncture your tires and helicopters.
Sprint, drag and circuit races are offered as well as free roaming through town. If you are apprehended, your car can be tagged; if you get three of these, the vehicle is confiscated, and you have to walk home if you lack the money to buy another. You can also use a Get Out of Jail Free card, obtainable when you beat rivals, for a temporary reprieve.
As you win races and earn "bounties" (points), you can upgrade your jalopy from ordinary models to a fancy Mercedes, Corvette, Lotus, GTO, Porsche or Lamborghini; a total of 32 licensed models are included. Safe houses where you don't have to worry about the cops are sprinkled along the route and offer "body kits" for decorating your vehicle. You can change the color, add vinyl decals to the doors, tint the windows, choose a new speedometer, upgrade the engine and make other improvements, but all of these will cost you points and may make you more noticeable for the police.
The graphics are outstanding - so much so, that you can almost smell the burnt asphalt. Shiny cars reflect rain, sunlight, leaves and road scenery; snow-capped mountains rise on the horizon, and the neighborhoods you pass through are very varied. Everything is presented in amazingly high definition, photo-realistic quality. There are a few minor graphical bugs, however, such as patrol cars that suddenly disappear or seem to be invisible with only their warning lights showing.
In between races are cut scenes using genuine actors who have been transmogrified by digital enhancement. There are also 26 songs (mostly rock and rapper style, which annoyed me but will please most users) that you can listen to while you race. You can also install your own MP3 music.
But police radio communications will regularly interrupt to tell you when the cops are on your tail. The chases begin with a radio call, perhaps the operator reporting that someone has complained about your speeding. Pay attention to these dialogues, as chases usually begin when somebody has called the police to complain about your speeding; thanks to the game's artificial intelligence, your car is specifically described according to its color and type and not just called a vehicle. You are permitted - in fact encouraged - to knock over trees, traffic signs and street furniture.
Unlike the Grand Theft Auto series of driving games, which encourages players to run over pedestrians heartlessly, NFS shows no humans at all, just vehicles. So there is no blood in this game, and your own car retains its highly buffed waxy exterior throughout each race - it never suffers scratches or dents, has to be repaired or turns into a wreck. The police cars, however, do get smashed.
One hopes the younger generation will play this game only for fun and not to learn road manners or how to drive.