Earlier this year, highly respected developer Criterion stated that its release of Need for Speed: Most Wanted U would be based on the PC version, taking advantage of the technical improvements Wii U can offer over Xbox 360 and PS3. The technical capabilities of Wii U in comparison to these rivals has been hotly debated by some, not helped by some rather mediocre ports that perform slightly worse than alternative versions.
Criterion, for its part, has maintained a line that the Wii U is a thoroughly capable machine that, given the right effort and expertise, can deliver visually attractive and high-performance games. The studio's promises with this Need for Speed port have naturally been put to test by the Digital Foundry team, and the overall assessment is undoubtedly positive. The report states that while some lower priority assets are still of typical console quality, improved textures and lighting in some areas do contribute to be more comparable to the title's performance on a high-end PC. In some areas, the overall impression appears to be a middle-ground between older console versions and a top-of-the-range PC on its highest settings.
If you're interested in full details, including areas where the Wii U version is weaker or specifics on its generally more reliable frame rate, we recommend reading the full article; below is the conclusion.
All in all, having taken a decade-long break from Nintendo since the release of Burnout 2 on GameCube, Criterion Games has used the Wii U to conjure up the definitive console version of Need for Speed: Most Wanted. It's not an overwhelming advance that matches the visual fidelity of the PC version in all regards, but additions and tweaks are numerous and well-considered. At no expense to the frame-rate, textures stand at the midway point in the quality spectrum, between the more blurry assets we're seeing on PS3 and 360 and the highest possible settings on PC. It's a worthwhile upgrade that extends to reflection draw too, with all other visual facets being identical, and the frame-rate coming away smoother regardless.
Tweaks to night-time lighting are welcome too, bringing a more natural darkness to the environments, while at the same time enhancing the look of directional lights. It's a bold change when compared to the more vibrant lighting of the previous releases, and crucially one which doesn't interfere with the core racing experience. There are shortcomings to the Wii U package that must be noted though; starting with the uncertain release schedule of future DLC, and the cut down to six players for online play. The lack of analogue triggers on both the GamePad and Classic Controller Pro may also be a factor for some, where re-mapping acceleration to the right analogue stick is a necessary workaround for those who prefer to modulate their speed.
In summary, this ranks as the version to get if those points can be overlooked. The conversion is a sound one, and GamePad features are well-implemented and useful - if not all absolutely essential. Many are luxuries, such as the ability to hop into any car immediately, which ultimately make exploring Fairview a much easier experience. Meanwhile, the inclusion of off-screen play brings this version to life in a way no other release can at this time. When considering the mixed quality of ports that have hit the Wii U so far, this ranks among the stronger and most committed efforts to cater for its strengths - a tradition we hope will long continue.
Beyond technical details or comparisons to other systems, we've written that this is "a stunning game, and one of the most visually impressive titles we've seen on the Wii U - or any console - to date." If you haven't already, you can see the full details of our strong recommendation for this title in our Need for Speed: Most Wanted U review.