In the (unlikely) event that someone asked me to explain the meteoric rise of mobile gaming over the last 10 years, this is how I’d do it.

About 10 years ago, I was playing this on my mobile phone:

Now, I’m playing this:

Think about it for a second – is that not absolutely staggering? I know that musing on the speed at which technology is hurtling through the information age until the point at which it eventually turns on us and starts to seek world domination is hardly a new thing, but every so often something will come along and shock you once again. The latest example for me is unquestionably Need for Speed: Most Wanted on my smartphone.

Yes, there’s a certain (huge) amount of shallowness to being impressed purely by remarkable graphics, but in this case they really are quite something. The lighting effects, the motion blur, the flawless recreations of the cars themselves - these are visuals that would have seemed impossible on most of the home consoles 10 years ago; the fact that they’re now possible on a mobile phone, a device that fits in your pocket and for which true hardcore gaming isn’t even a primary concern, is amazing.

Sadly, it has to be said that much of Need for Speed’s beauty is only skin deep. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, and in fact EA has to take credit for making the control setup as tight as it is (touch steering is surprisingly responsive), but the simple fact of the matter is that I’ve yet to find a driving game on a mobile phone that hasn’t had to dumb itself down to make up for the limitations of its control scheme to some degree, and Need for Speed: Most Wanted is no exception.

Yes, the controls are well thought through, but the huge width of the streets that form the tracks and the forgiving crash outcomes mean this is a game that you’ll rarely need to worry about decelerating in. In fact, there’s not even an option to control the acceleration yourself, which seems a bit perverse in a racing game. Granted, in recent years Need for Speed (nor indeed Burnout) hasn't really been about precise, technical driving before high octane thrills, but this is an extreme example of that philosophy in which the challenge often feels weakened as a result.

Being an EA game, there are of course a number of in app purchases that can be made to accelerate your in game progress. Quite why someone would want to spend five times the cost of the app to unlock all of the cars that form the entire reward structure of the game is a mystery to me, but maybe I’m just old fashioned that way. That clamour for instant gratification, which EA have focused on exploiting in their business model since DLC became a viable way to deliver content, dumfounds me sometimes. Who decides that they love a game so much that they’ll pay more than the cost of the game itself for the cheat codes?

Anyway, I digress. Need for Speed: Most Wanted is ultimately a solid enough racing game for a console format that makes it difficult for developers and gamers alike to harness it’s true potential. It’s definitely one of the best racing games I’ve played on a phone, and the fact my phone is capable of playing it alone makes it worth the purchase purely for the spectacle. Online multiplayer would seem like a logical evolution for the mobile series, but for now the excellent Autolog feature, hooked up to an Origin account, ensures that it has replay value if you can encourage your friends to get competitive. If you enjoy collecting a decent sized garage of beautiful looking cars in your racing games you’ll find a lot to like about this game, though you might just wish that it felt as pleasing to play as it does to look at.

This post was edited on the 04/01/12 to account for the fact that the original Xbox was released 12 years ago and had games of comparable visual quality to this game.

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