Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a 2005 open-world racing video game, and the ninth installment in the Need for Speed series. Developed by EA Canada and EA Black Box and published by Electronic Arts, it was released on November 11, 2005, for PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, Nintendo DS, Microsoft Windows, Game Boy Advance and Xbox 360. An additional version, Need for Speed: Most Wanted 5-1-0, was released in the same year for PlayStation Portable. The game focuses on street racing-oriented gameplay involving a selection of events and racing circuits found within the fictional city of Rockport, with the game's main story involving players taking on the role of a street racer who must compete against 15 of the city's most elite street racers to become the most wanted racer of the group, in the process seeking revenge against one of the groups who took their car and developing a feud with the city's police department.
The game features a selection of stock cars to choose from, each of which can be modified during the game's career mode with upgrades to enhance its performance and visual appearance. Customization of the car's appearance is limited; the main emphasis of customization is to reduce the car's heat level rather than for reputation as in the Underground series - while some elements that were possible in the previous installments were removed, others received minor changes such as players being able to make use of whole body kits on cars, the use of only one vinyl for the vehicle, and exterior colours being limited to the car's main body, wheels and window tinting. Additional cars are available for the player to use - most of which are acquired from the game's Blacklist Racers or unlocked after defeating a Blacklist Racer, while others are bonuses available from completing challenges; a number of cars available in the game are exclusives added in by the Black Edition copy of the game. Police cars cannot be driven in the game, except during special events in the game's Challenge Series mode. Most Wanted, like the Underground series, avoids the use of major vehicle damage on all racing models, with only scratched paint and heavily cracked windshields constituting the whole of the racers' damage modelling. Police cars, on the other hand, sustain heavy damage when hit by the player's car or caused by the player to crash into other cars or obstacles.
While the concept of players being engaged by police had been a feature of most entries in the series since the first Need for Speed title, the development of Most Wanted saw the gameplay mechanic enhanced and firmly introduced into the series through the employment of a complex system. When players become engaged in a police pursuit, usually from conducting a traffic offence (referred to as "Infractions" in the game) in sight of a police unit (such as speeding), their aim at this point is to escape from the pursuit by either evading or taking out pursuing vehicles. The game's on-screen HUD is modified during a pursuit, including highlighting pursuing police units on the mini-map, displaying the vehicle's heat level, and adding a Pursuit bar at the bottom detailing the number of police units in the pursuit, how many have been evaded, and how many have been taken out. The pursuit system calculates how the police handle the player via the heat level accumulated against the player's current car. Heat accumulates from committing offences and continually evading capture by the police, with higher levels of heat causing the police to be more aggressive, from employing additional tactics and tools (such as roadblocks, spike strips, and police helicopters), to involving stronger, faster police cars such as police SUVs and Federal units. If a player has only one car actively pursuing them, reinforcements may be called in and arrive after a period of time. 2b1af7f3a8