I felt the need, the need for Need for Speed, and I surely wasn’t the first person to have ever made that joke. So I went for a drive. I didn’t intend for it to end in disaster. I didn’t want to cause any trouble, least of all for myself. I just wanted to powerslide expensive cars across town, slipstream my way along the highways and enjoy the satisfied purring of my engine.
Most Wanted is a sleek and shiny thing and it’s so smooth you wonder if it might be greased. The cars have just the right amount of traction, alternately gripping or gliding their way across the tarmac according to how serious you are about taking the next corner, and the game gives a forgiving and undemanding ride compared to many other racers. Even particularly punishing collisions only add a few dents or cracked windows to your car and you’ll need to ram the thing into walls over and over before they start to complain. Not that you’ll want to, mind, because so many of these vehicles are works of art on wheels.
I was making my way across the city that is the game’s open world, driving from one race location to another, when things went wrong. You see, the game gives you an entire city to play in, dotting it with over forty cars to be found (which you transfer between bodilessly), and the streets of this city are the canvas across which these races are painted. Make your way to one of the starting locations, spin your wheels and you’ll be entered into a race that will take you down its highways, through its tunnels and around its many districts.
My modest ambition was to gain a half-decent finishing spot in one of these races so that I could win a new mod for my car, perhaps a beefier set of tyres or a marginally more effective gearbox. It was a sunny day. I’d just finished second in the last race I’d tried. I was having a good time. The worst thing that had happened to me so far, apart from the odd wall scrape, was my satnav taking me the wrong way up a highway onramp, but that was okay, I still have my reflexes.
When the police car pulled up across the road, all I wanted to do was examine it. I cruised past calmly, coolly, because I hadn’t seen any police vehicles in the game so far. Very nice, I thought. I wonder if you can race in them later, I thought. I wonder how fast they are, I thought. I carried on by, slow and steady.
The police car drove into me.
The lights came on, the siren sounded, my police scanner crackled into life. The car lurched towards me like a viper toward its prey and my instincts kicked in. I would’ve crawled down into the footwell and sat on that accelerator if I thought I could fit. My mind flashed blue panic. Why were they chasing me? What had I done wrong? Was this police brutality? Were they going to beat me? What unsolved crimes would they try to pin on me? I couldn’t go to jail!
I was grateful to Most Wanted’s forgiving driving model, because I was immediately weaving through oncoming traffic and gradually leaving generous helpings of my paintwork on the corners of buildings, across the sides of other cars and sometimes along fifty foot lengths of barrier. The police were all over the radio and the only thing they wanted to talk about was me.
My car flew, sometimes literally. I careened off other cars, belted around corners, smashed through fire hydrants, tore up parks as I went off-road and didn’t so much weave through oncoming traffic as pinball my way from lane to lane. My pursuers had a bubble of awareness and if I could just work my way out of its range then I’d be safe from the law. The problem was that the police were pretty good drivers and their colleagues had a particularly annoying habit of lining up across the street in front of me.
The first roadblock I smashed through was a cinch. Aiming for a gap between two cars, I was like a needle sewing a thread of pure speed, but it didn’t remain that easy. The roadblocks became more common and I started to make detours or, in moments of desperation, had to make a neat 180 in the street and outmaneuver my pursuers. I was driving offroad, they’d tell each other, I’d just struck them, they’d say. They were catching up with me, they claimed. Oh no. They were. I chewed my lip and bumped my way through another half dozen cars, all lined up at the traffic lights. It’s okay, they’ve got insurance.
Rocketing through tunnels, the anger in my engine was amplified to a roar. If I was lucky, I could sideswipe the odd patrol car into a barrier or another motorist, but it wasn’t an easy task. Anyway, the police didn’t so much care whether they drove well, just whether they drove into me or in front of me, anything that would stop me. As they tried to close me down, I began smashing them aside and nudging them into walls, anything to give me even a foot of space. The scanner burbled in frustration.
I had a heat level, I realised, and it was increasing. This wasn’t measuring the temperature inside my car, no, it wasn’t anything I could deal with by wiggling those grilled fans on the edge of my dashboard or twisting a knob with a picture of a snowflake on. It was measuring my guilt. That was why I had more and more cars after me, more roadblocks ahead of me and even spikes being laid out to burst my tyres.
It made no sense to me. Nobody had tried to stop me while I was racing, while I was bumping down the highway, while I was driving the wrong way up an onramp. I just wanted to get some new tyres, a better exhaust, a felt tree that smelt of pine. Now the city that I had thought was so exciting decided I was a criminal and was going to punish me. I drove head-on into the side of a police car and smashed it through a row of bollards. I rammed my way clumsily through another roadblock. I deliberately led those behind me into oncoming traffic.
I couldn’t escape, not for more than a few seconds, which was never enough, because I had nowhere to hide my car. Even when I again swerved off the road to skid my way through more plazas and parks, the police were right behind me. I knocked down a lamppost. “Suspect is driving dangerously,” my police scanner crackled at me. Oh, now I’m driving dangerously?
It ended when I launched myself off an elevated roadway and straight into the wall of a cliff. I’d had several oncoming collisions before but, even in the generous eyes of Most Wanted, this was just a little too much. At last, I would have to face the consequences of my actions which, much like they are in other open-world driving games and perhaps even real life, were a sharp slap on the wrist and a token penalty. After that, I was back on the streets once more, but this time without the law thirty feet behind at sixty miles an hour.
But you know what? I’d do it all again, just to show them that I could beat them because, next time, I think I can.