A whole city is yours to explore in Need for Speed World, a game that claims to be a freeto- play racing MMO. Though, really, it's only free up to level ten, and it's not an MMO. For the first ten levels, it's an open world arcade racer with a great sense of speed and amazing police chases – but travel past that point and things start to slip.
There are two types of activity available in the huge city: races and pursuits. Completing them earns money and reputation, which unlocks new cars and courses. Single use power-ups are also randomly dropped at the end of each event. Racers gain special abilities such as nitro boost and traffic magnet – an assassination move causing traffic to swerve into the path of the race leader. Pursuit specialists have access to other braces of powers, too.
Pulling up to a glowing race marker lets you kick off a contest with up to seven other nearby players. And here, Need for Speed World lives and dies on its driving model. It's accessible, fast and addictive for a while, but the lack of handling subtlety robs its races of replay value. It was never going to be a purist's simulation, but the perfect racing line always takes second place to raw speed and gratuitous power-up usage, which means there's little incentive to master the courses and the outcome is often decided by luck.
The pursuits, however, are brilliant. Ramming a police car flings you into an instanced version of the city where you'll find yourself hunted by an army of angry cops. Power-ups and environmental hazards can be used to outwit your pursuers and every crime you commit earns more rep. It's an intense and relentless mode that makes good use of the whole city. It's a shame that the most fun you can have here is on your own, but the pursuits alone make the free client worth downloading.
To progress past level ten you have to buy the Starter Pack for £15, which raises the level cap to 50, giving you access to the most powerful cars, more vehicle customisation and tracks. I found getting from level six to ten to be a grind in itself, and the lure of more powerful cars wasn't enough to pique my interest. Customisation options are purely aesthetic. Car tuning consists of upgrade packs that provide a choice of three identical stat upgrades which look slightly different. Outside of the decal customisation system, there was nothing I could to do make my car feel like my own.
There are also micro-transactions; this is where things get silly. At any time you can spend the game's paid for in-game currency, SpeedBoost, to buy power-ups at about 12p a shot or, ridiculously, to rent a super-car for three days. These cars are far more powerful than the cars you have to work hard to earn and can be taken, restriction-free, in to any race. I rented a Lamborghini for around 1500 SpeedBoost, the equivalent of just under £4. Yes, that's £4 to rent a virtual car that disappears without a trace after three days.
Need for Speed World can never be seriously competitive with these overpowered, overpriced vehicles roaming its streets. Better to get the free client, explore and enjoy the magnificent pursuits. You'll likely be done long before level ten looms.