Saturday, April 29, 2006

Going Racing

In case you haven't noticed, I haven't been online much lately. Hopefully, I'll be back with you on a more regular basis soon. One thing I've noticed is that when I'm not online I have much more free time that I have to find ways to kill. During my latest hiatus I've wasted a lot of this free time playing video games, specifically one game - Need for Speed: Most Wanted.

I'm not much of a gamer, but I do get the bug from time to time. I don't care for many kinds of games. I'm not into shooter games, fighting games or sports games -- too many gamepad combinations to keep track of and I don't have the hand-eye coordination or the reflexes to pull them off. But I do enjoy a good racing game. And sometimes a good flying game -- which are usually just 3D versions of driving games.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a pretty cool little game. It's probably the most fun I've ever had with a video game. Most Wanted is the third NFS game I've had the pleasure to play. I've also played Hot Pursuit 2 and Underground 2. They're all pretty different. Hot Pursuit 2 has two race trees - one with cops, one without. When you win a race, you unlock the races below it on the tree. After you win the thirty races on both trees, you unlock bonus races. The cops are mostly just obstacles to get around in your quest to win races. Underground 2 has a little bit of a story. You arrive at the fictional city of Bayside, get a car and compete in street races. As the game progresses you pull into shops and fix up your car(s) to make it (them) more powerful and flashier. Finally, toward the end of the game, you start running into the top Bayside street racer. He's trying to get his gang to take you out in races because you're threatening his position. The final race is between you and him. All of the races take place at night. Most take place on city streets with varying levels of traffic. Only a few races are on closed tracks. There are also just random racers running around the city that you can challenge to a race. You come up behind one of these guys, challenge them, and you're off - dashing and darting through the city trying to lose them. There's not a cop to be found anywhere in Bayside.

Most Wanted has a real storyline. Really. At the beginning of the game, you pull into the fictional city of Rockport in your BMW M3. You win a few races, then challenge a punk called Razor. His gang sabotages your car, you get busted and go away for a little while. Razor then takes your car and uses it to move to the top of the Blacklist, a ranking of the baddest of the street racers. When you come back, you have to buy a new car and work your way through the Blacklist. Your ultimate goal is to dethrone Razor and become the most wanted street racer. You start with a stock Chevy Cobalt, Volkswagen Golf, Lexus IS 300, or Fiat Punto, then fix it up and win more cars to help you in your quest. It all takes place in the light of day on city streets with traffic and cops.

In Most Wanted, the cops are an integral part of the game. Not only do you have to win races, you also have to beat Pursuit Milestones to advance in the game. Basically, you have to get the cops to chase you, hit your milestones, then evade the pursuit. Pursuit Milestones might include a certain number of police cars you tag or trade paint with, a time limit (evading a pursuit before or after a certain amount of time has passed), or a certain number of roadblocks you have to go through. There are also cost of state and bounty levels to reach in a single pursuit. Cost of state is a dollar total of the amount of property damage you've caused. You collect bounty only through the amount of time spent in a pursuit or by disabling police cars. In the beginning, you have to have a pursuit in which you tag two police cars. You also have to have a pursuit that lasts at least two minutes and one that lasts less than four minutes. It's easy to get all of these milestones in a single pursuit. Before you can challenge Razor at the end of the game, you have to tag 35 cops and have a pursuit last more than thirteen minutes.

It's all pretty realistic. It looks like a real city. You start the game in the borough of Rosewood, which has a college, a hospital, a baseball field and a bus station to race and be pursued around and through. There's a freeway that encircles the entire borough. Later in the game you unlock the Ocean Hills borough. Here there's a touristy-looking beach town to race through. This section also has a tiny fishing village, a trailer park, a cannery, a prison, and a drive-in movie theater. Finally you open up the downtown Rockport section. It has it's own encirling freeway, a football stadium, an area that sort of looks like Times Square and a little park. Scattered throughout this fictional world are pursuit breakers that you can drive through. They blow up or drop on pursuing cops, allowing you to escape.The pursuits are fairly realistic too. You start out with one or two city cops on your tail. They're easy to lose and easy to disable. As the pursuit progresses, they call for backup. Then they begin blocking off the roads to try to contain you. At later stages, the state cops take over. Their cars are a little tougher to lose and knock out. Finally, the Federal Street Racing Task Force takes over. These are some pretty bad-ass dudes with fast Corvettes and helicopters. They'll pin you in in a heartbeat if you're not careful. There are just a couple or three things that are not very realistic. First, most racing games put you in a car that's basically a souped-up, ultra-fast tank. You can run over just about anything. You might flip the car but you're not going to do any serious damage to it. Racing games wouldn't be much fun if you totalled your car everytime you brushed a wall or ran into something. In Most Wanted, the cars are pretty indestructible. You can crash through a roadblock or some other obstacle with only scratches or broken windows as a result. Second, when you're busted in the game, you have to pay the fines on the violations you've incurred. These are pretty miniscule in comparison to the massive amounts of property damage. In real life, if you do hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage, you're going to have to make a lot more financial restitution than just a couple of thousand dollars in fines. The game is not anywhere near as violent as you might think from my description. It's a cartoon-type violence. No pedestrians out and about to run over, no blood, no serious injuries. If you drive through a gas station and blow up the pumps and drop the roof on top of the cops behind you there's an accounting of how much cost of state and bounty you've amassed for the manuever, but there's no body count. Run head-on into another car at 150 miles per hour and walk away. There's the old problem of video games glorifying this sort of thing without showing the consequences. Somewhere out there in America, there's probably a stupid kid who's pretty good at the game and might decide to try it in real life without thinking through the consequences. Lawsuits and other negative outcomes to follow.

But it IS a lot of fun. Where else are you going to get the opportunity to drive a Lamborghini through city streets at 150 miles per hour or drop a giant doughnut on cops that are chasing you. Soon I'll post a list of tips and tricks to help you win the game and maybe even a few ideas to make Most Wanted 2 even more fun.

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