EA's Need for Speed series was on hand earlier this year for the PSP's launch with Need for Speed Underground Rivals. That game, along with other subsequent racers, like Ridge Racer, Burnout Legends, and Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition, have all helped set a benchmark for how driving games on the platform should be. So it is with some disappointment that we find ourselves with Need for Speed Most Wanted 5-1-0, a fairly meek street racer that only does a marginal job of bringing the new concepts found in the latest Need for Speed game on consoles to the PSP. It's not all bad, mind you, as the game supports the full roster of multiplayer features for a PSP game, and there's quite a bit of content to play through. But if you were hoping for a step forward from what Rivals offered up, you won't find much of one here.
Street racers on the PSP are practically a dime a dozen at this point, a fact that makes Need for Speed Most Wanted 5-1-0 a less appealing product in the long run.
Regardless of what the subtitle might suggest, Need for Speed Most Wanted 5-1-0 isn't some kind of street-racing adventure set in the city where they shot The Mack. This is, at its core, a basic street racer with all the usual toppings, like a variety of unlockable cars, both performance and visual tune-ups, and rival street racers to duke it out with on the streets of...well, wherever it is that this game takes place. Most of this takes place in the career mode. This career isn't an awful lot like the one you might have experienced on consoles, mind you. There's no storyline to speak of, but there is a blacklist consisting of the top 15 drivers, and you have to beat each and every one to move up in the rankings. Unlike on consoles, there's no open-ended city to drive around in, though that's not necessarily a detriment here, since that could have made playing on the go a far more unwieldy thing. Instead, you'll simply play a series of event races before taking on the boss racer in a one-on-one duel.
It's a pretty simple progression that throws a decent amount of race variety at you in the process. You'll do everything from straight circuit races, to Burnout-style elimination races, to full-blown racing tournaments. As you pass each race, you'll earn both cash and respect, which you'll need to earn cars and take on the boss racer, respectively. The lack of any storyline does make things a little duller than you might hope for, as there's really no interaction with the boss racers. These boss racers are just anonymous faces that you can put to the car you're racing against, and that's about it. Still, the career mode is quite lengthy, and won't leave you hurting for things to do.
Cops are frequently on your tail in 5-1-0, but it's rare when they actually manage to get a leg up on you.
The actual racing itself is mostly quite good, if a bit uneventful at times. You'll find yourself racing against up to three opponents across a decent number of tracks. All the tracks have shortcuts you can find, though it isn't terribly often that the computer-controlled racers are able to find these shortcuts. The cars all have a good feel to them, with just the right amount of weight balance to create mostly realistic slide outs and drifts, and the game's sense of speed is generally quite good. It might take a while to really feel like you're going fast though, as it takes at least a few hours of play before you can start unlocking the seriously fast cars, and even the upgrades you purchase for the slower cars don't make them that much faster. There is also a new "speedbreaker" mechanic that lets you slow down time for a bit to make tight turns, and it makes avoiding potential traffic obstacles a little easier. But the actual number of times you'll really need to use this can be counted on one hand, so it doesn't really affect the game in any meaningful way.
One interesting addition made to both the console and PSP game is the addition of police chases. Your "heat level" is measured throughout every race, and by doing the sorts of heinous things that street racers do with their cars (speeding, wrecking, bumping other cars), your heat level will increase, and the cops will steadily begin to try to run you off the road to bust you. Cops will just start appearing on the track, and as you bob and weave, trying to shake them off, your heat level will just keep going up. Roadblocks will start popping up, as will tougher cop cars, though you'll never really find yourself dealing with more than a few cops at once.