Most Wanted takes place in a sprawling open-world city, and it drops you in the middle of it without much warning. You're free to explore at your leisure and the game offers you waypoints to nearby races via a contextual menu. Drive too fast or cause too much damage in the presence of a police car, and you'll find yourself in a chase. They'll try to stop you using road blocks, spike strips and by slamming into you. The longer the chase goes on, the higher your wanted level will get. If you manage to escape, the wanted level will begin to drop, and the cops will stop looking for you when it reaches zero.
Oh no! It's the boys in blue!
Apart from the roads, the city is dotted with stunt ramps and other fun makeshift playthings which will let you stray from the streets. The city is also filled with speed cameras and billboards, all of which will record your driving skills. There's a big focus on multiplayer and Need for Speed's autolog social gaming system takes center stage: Every time you go past a speed camera or complete a stunt (which ends with you smashing through one of the previously mentioned billboards), your Autolog profile will be displayed publicly for all to see. Your friends can then spend the rest of the day trying to break your record.
An unconventional feature is that almost all the cars in the game are available straight away. Criterion has stated that they felt it was poor design to force the players to spend time unlocking car after car if all they really want is to play in one specific car. To add a bit of a challenge, the cars are hidden in parking lots around the city, and you have to find them before you can drive them. Once you spot a vehicle, drive up close to it and it will become available in your car list. You can then switch on the fly. In single player though, switching cars will teleport you to where the car is parked, which can be a hassle at times.
Smash that billboard, and they'll put your face up there instead
Each car has it´s own unique races, but there's only five races per car. Each race will unlock new upgrades for your car, such as performance tires and different gear boxes. In addition, workshops in the city will let you change the color of your car, which aids in disguising your vehicles in order to evade the cops. Each completed race, police chase or stunt will also give you points. Enough points will let you take on one of the ten "most wanted drivers", and beating them will give you a chance take their cars. The ultimate goal of the game is to become the best driver in the city by beating all ten of the most wanted.
Multiplayer is great fun and lets you compete in a series of events with a group of players, taking on various challenges, from team races, to solo races, speed events and stunt challenges. When playing online, though your cars remain unlocked, you lose all the mods you've accumulated and need to re-earn them.