I'm tearing down a busy intersection, weaving in and out of gridlocked traffic, in a head-to-head sprint against a prototype Alfa Romeo. Every cop car in Fairhaven seems to be on our tail, setting up roadblocks and trading tactics over the police radio.
I bust through heavy iron gates to take a shortcut through an abandoned hanger, then churn up a cloud of dirt as I skid into the finish line.
That's a pretty typical race in Need for Speed: Most Wanted. A thrilling, white-knuckled orgy of high-speed metallics, as illegal street racers do battle with the cops. Only - I must admit - I was describing the PlayStation 3 version of the game before.Hot Pursuit
The Vita version is extremely similar, don't get me wrong. The same route taken through the same city, with the same cars being chased by the same cops. But a few elements got lost in translation. There aren't enough cars on the road to cause gridlock, for example, and the graphics have been scaled down so there are no gates and no dirt.
You've got to give Criterion credit for delivering almost the entirety of Most Wanted on a Vita, though. It's an enormous racing game, after all, with a colossal open world city that can be explored at your leisure.
You see, your goal in Most Wanted is to race and then demolish the ten fastest super cars in town. You earn the right to battle these reining champions by collecting speed points. You get these for doing all sorts of things, like busting through billboards, tearing past speed cameras, getting into chases with the cops, and beating events.
Each car in the game has five events. There are circuit races, sprints, ones where you have to escape the law, and ones where you have to maintain a high average speed. It's a little odd though because, like Criterion's Burnout Paradise, there's no obvious path to the progression. You've got to figure out what to do all by your lonesome.Undercover
You find these cars just parked on the side of the road. You then jump in, and get a new series of races (as well as trophy-style milestones) to beat. It's fun to have the city as a hub and to be able to sample the game at your own pace, but when you just want to make sure you've come first in every event, you'll be longing for a bog standard menu.
The actual racing is a thrill. Every car is feisty and boisterous to handle, but will whip around corners with a satisfying snap once you've tamed them. The game also feels seriously fast - especially in the stomach-turning bumper cam that's so close to the road it might as well be scraping on the tarmac.
But, the Vita's small screen will lead to more head-on collisions than you might like. It can be really hard to see what's coming up - the horizon just looks like a blur of pixels and blue headlights, shortly before you slam into a tree or a lorry.
There are actually a number of areas where the Vita version suffers. The music controls are relegated to the rear touch panel, which means you'll shut off the soundtrack with every fumbled finger. And because of an annoying quirk of the hardware, if you shut the system off for longer than - no joke - 15 seconds, you'll be disconnected from Autolog until you re-enable it from the menu.High Stakes
Autolog, by the way, is the social system where your friends' accomplishments appear in your game. Every time you enter a race you'll see your pal's best times, and every time you jump a speed camera you'll see how fast your friends blew past it. It's a really smart way to bring out your competitive streak, and make the single-player campaign feel less insular.
There's a more typical multiplayer mode, too. A few pals can explore the open world of Fairhaven at the same time, and get stuck into races. It's not as fun as Burnout Paradise, where the missions were more often silly stunts than basic races, but it works as advertised.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted is, on any system, a thrilling racer set in a city that gets divided up into seemingly infinite number of brilliant race tracks. And those ten most wanted races - practically the game's boss fights - might just be the most tense and rewarding races that you'll ever enter.
But, the Vita version does not come without its compromises. The indecipherable graphics, weird radio controls, and low traffic count all sap some of the life out of the game. They defang a ferociously fun and fast racer. In the end, Most Wanted is a good version of a great game - which is good enough.