Though strangely named identically to the 2005 release in the franchise, Need for Speed: Most Wanted looks to change things up quite a bit, and with developer Criterion Games behind the wheel of this entry, fans might be in for quite the thrill ride if the demo I played is any indication.

NfS: MW puts drivers in an open world city, much like Criterion’s fantastic Burnout Paradise did in 2008 but picks up on some of the gameplay from the original Most Wanted.  The police will still play a major part in the proceedings.  The demo focused primarily on the multiplayer aspects which shows how Criterion is taking past Need for Speed staples and pushing them one step further.

The multiplayer session was comprised of a few rounds, each a variation on a race or trick event.  At one point players are simply racing through the streets, and the next they’re seeing who can jump the farthest over a highway.  What improves the proceedings is the constant opportunity for points and the rivalry that will come at each step along the way.  Players increase their scores for their performance in each round, but in between, while driving to meet-up spots for example, by arriving to the spot first or crashing into another player, more points can be earned and turn the tides of the leaderboard.  It’s a smart incentive to constantly keep players on their toes, forcing them to invent new ways to frustrate other players all for their benefit.

The multiplayer leaderboard also takes advantage of the Autolog system introduced in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.  The system itself is now integrated into the social aspect, and not only your competing friends will be aware of your scores and times, but the incentive to one-up those on your friends list will prove to have players shaving seconds off their time in the race to the top.

The racing itself felt great, insuring corners were no problem for seasoned gamers and newcomers.  Destruction is as beautiful or horrific as ever, depending on how much it saddens you to see such amazing cars utterly wrecked.  Though I could only explore a small part of the city, Criterion certainly seems to be building a varied world for drivers to explore.  i toured several bridges, normal city streets and areas under construction, which provided the perfect routes to outrun a few chasing police cars.

Speaking of the police, in the short singe player experience, normal races would be suddenly interrupted by policemen hoping to take down the street racers.  Coming in first was no longer the primary concern – I had to outrun jail time too.  Though hopefully not every event or race will be interrupted by this predicament, it definitely changes up gameplay on an unexpected but welcome note, and I’m excited to see how this is implemented throughout the game.

Throughout my time with Need for Speed: Most Wanted, I saw hallmarks of the series pushed to their logical next step, and I couldn’t not be more excited for the final product.  The franchise is once again in the good hands of Criterion, who impressed with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, but are bringing their Burnout influences to the franchise in strong fashion.  The game looks gorgeous, the open world bathed in a beautifully sunny day that made the auto carnage all the more enthralling.

And for those looking to take the experience with them, the iOS version is equally impressive.  Though not open world, the mobile version takes the Hot Pursuit route of going race-by-race on a world map, but the game looks beautiful on the handheld.  Lighting effects in real time complement a streamlined control scheme that allows for even more of an arcade feel results in a worthy mobile companion.

The total amount of content has not been announced, as all the playable cars have not been announced for the console version, but expect more information to arrive in the coming months.  However you choose to play the game, Need for Speed: Most Wanted is on the road to blending the Need for Speed and Burnout franchises into one great experience when it releases on October 30 for iOS, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita and Xbox 360.