Here it is, at last: a game on the Vita that can sit proudly alongside it’s console sibling without too sizeable of an inferiority complex. The reason for this, partly, is that unlike so many other Vita games it hasn’t been outsourced, hastily made by a mercenary developer. It’s been made by Criterion, the same exacting developer responsible for the console version, right under the same roof. And that’s apparent from the moment you start the game.
It has the same title sequence, tunes, cars and city streets. Even the controls feel largely unaffected by the change in platform.
What's not quite there, however, are the visuals. Most Wanted on PC and consoles is a visually sumptuous game. A large party of that beauty derives from the little touches: the dust motes that accumulate on the screen as if it was an unwashed windshield or the cool graphical fizz when you hit the nitrous. And sadly those graphical flourishes have sadly been left behind. Without them, it all feels slightly flat and occasionally a little rough. Draw distances are great and there’s some niggles with pop-in and textures. But ultimately that’s an uncharitable comparison, especially when the entire city of Fairhaven has been recreated on a handheld. The jumps, the tunnels, the highways and back streets. It’s all there for you to explore. There are even a few Vita-specific races thrown in too.how un-lazy Criterion has been. You’ll start off with access to nearly anyone of the game’s cars, from banal hatchbacks to expensive supercars. All you have to do to drive a Lamborghini Gallardo is find it. Each car comes in a vanilla form, with stock tyres, chassis and gears. To upgrade your vehicle, you need to earn Speed Points – and you’ll earn them for flagrantly breaking the law. Speed through cameras, break through billboards, and evade the cops, and you’ll be rewarded with SP. The quickest way to earn them and upgrades for your car is by taking part in races. Each car has five events open to it, from standard circuit races to speed runs, in which you try to maintain a terrifyingly high average speed, while avoiding traffic.
And this is where some of the Vita’s limitations begin to seep in and affect gameplay. Some races don’t contain as many opponents or as many cops on your tail. It all feels a lot less hectic, a bit safer, and unfortunately not as exhilarating. And that’s one of the best things about Most Wanted – it’s not just the thrill that comes with transgressing the law, it’s your spectacular break from freedom. It’s antagonising 20 cops, not just five.
As well as diminishing the excitement, it also impacts on gameplay. During chases you’ll hear the police controller say things like, “Watch out for oncoming traffic,” as he desperately attempts to reduce the number of accidental casualties. But the roads and highways of Vita’s Fairhaven are eerily quiet. You’ll overtake the odd civilian vehicle but they are far and few between. It’s obviously a limitation imposed by the Vita’s inferior hardware but it unfortunately dials down the game. And Most Wanted is all about being turning it up to 11. Some challenges, like speed runs, are even easier with the lower risk of collisions..
The rhythm of Most Wanted is perfectly suited to a handheld device. It’s bite-sized: you can finish one or two races in the space of ten minutes, and feel happy with putting the game on hold. Apart from these few limitations, gameplay remains fundamentally unchanged – it’s still raw, aggressive, responsive – and doesn’t suffer from a change in hardware; it’s just as easy to drift around corners using the Vita’s analogues as it is a Dual Shock.
Structurally, it suffers from the same problem as the console version: there’s too much freedom. The only really incentivised aspect of the game are the ten central Most Wanted races, in which you can take down a notorious street racer, increase your standing, and steal their wheels. Apart from that, there’s no clear trajectory or advice on how you should approach the game. It’s all there for the taking. In many ways, this ungated structure is more suited to the type of play encouraged by a handheld. You can dip in and out of it, and still feel like you’ve accomplished something meaningful. Autolog is still there to record your progress – one of the best things is that every speed point you accumulate carries over to your console save. Multiplayer is also fun mixture of events presented in the same open-world setting. And again, every speed point you earn in multiplayer carries over to single player and vice versa, and even between Vita and PS3. It's a neat symbiosis.