Police chases can happen during certain races. Nitrous can be refilled automatically in Most Wanted. Brand promotion is in Most Wanted also. The races include; Circuit, sprint, speedtrap, tollbooth, lap knockout, and drag.
The game provides players with three game modes. The Quick Race mode allows the player to select a car and an event and immediately start racing. The available cars and events are unlocked as the player progresses through the storyline in the Career mode. Achieving goals by winning races and performing a number of actions, dubbed "Milestones", during police pursuits, as well as a minimum Bounty are needed to advance in the storyline and race against any of the mode's 15 Blacklist racers. In the Xbox 360 version, the player is awarded with Achievement Points each time a Blacklist opponent is defeated. Career mode introduces a new feature - the ability to win a Blacklist opponent's car ("pink slip"), bonus functions, extra cash or car parts and decors, after defeating the opponent in question. These come in the form of six markers - the rival's pink slip (which is concealed as a bonus marker), two bonus function markers, and three custom backroom parts markers of which there is a body part, visual upgrade, and performance marker ("Junkman Marker") that the player can select - of which the player can choose only two. New cars and parts are also unlocked as the player progresses through Career mode by beating Blacklist racers.
In addition to the Quick Race and Career modes, there is also a "Challenge Series" mode involving 69 progressively difficult challenges where players are required to successfully complete Tollbooth races and pursuit challenges, such as tagging a number of police cars. The pre-tuned cars used in each Challenge is fixed, ranging from mostly Career cars with poor handling to traffic vehicles such as a dump truck or police cars. Additional bonus cars may be unlocked as the player progresses through Challenge mode.
In terms of actual variations of races, Most Wanted inherits several racing modes prevalent in its Underground predecessors. The game's four existing modes: Circuit races, point-to-point Sprint races, lap knockout races and Drag races, remain largely unchanged since the first iteration of Underground, while Drifting, Street X, Underground Racing League tournaments and Outrun racing are removed. Meanwhile, Most Wanted sees the introduction of two new racing variations, which places emphasis on speed. The first mode is known as "Tollbooth," where a player races alone to designated checkpoints along a point-to-point route before time runs out; the more time a player has as they reach a toll booth, the more time they have to arrive at the next one. The second mode, dubbed "Speedtrap", sees racers competing with each other to get the highest accumulated speed record at multiple traffic cameras. At a speed trap/traffic camera, players accelerate their car to aim for the highest possible speed. Accumulated speed is reduced over a period of time after an opponent crosses the finish line first.
Most Wanted features pursuit evasion in the game for the first time since Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2. In Career mode, police pursuits may occur during a race or during free roaming through the city, depending on the frequency of the police units in the area and the offenses players have committed. The player can initiate a pursuit immediately from the game's Safe House or menu by choosing an unfinished Milestone or a Bounty challenge. Pursuits can also be initiated by selecting an appropriate Challenge in the Challenge Series mode. Traffic offenses committed by the player are known in game as Infractions. These include speeding, excessive speeding, reckless driving, damage to property, hit and run (the player hits traffic), ramming a police unit, resisting arrest, not driving on the road (driving on pavements, grass etc.).
The police pursuit system is significantly more complex than its previous Hot Pursuit incarnations. The manner in which the police handle a player is now determined by the "heat level" of the player's current car (although this has been similarly utilized in Hot Pursuit 2). Heat levels, which increase with the length of a police pursuit and the amount of damage caused by the player during the pursuit, add a twist to the pursuit. The higher the car's heat level, the more aggressive the police units are against the player, employing additional tactics and tools, such as roadblocks, spike strips, police helicopters and heavier and faster police cars such as police SUV's. However, not all police tactics can appear in all heat levels. For example, roadblocks can appear in any heat level (even in heat 1, although it is rarely noticed), but spike strips only appear in high heat levels. Up to five police cars may be observed pursuing a single car at Heat level 1 and up to twenty-five may be present in Heat level 5 (thirty police cars are pursuing the player's car in the final pursuit). There are five heat levels in the game (with a hidden sixth and seventh heat level at the end of Career mode and in the Black Edition respectively). The type of police chasing the player is dependent on the heat level. At lower heat levels the player will be pursued by Civic/Local cops driving generic Crown Victoria style cars. At the intermediate heat levels, State police driving Pontiac GTO's will pursue. At the higher heat levels the player will be pursued by Federal police driving Corvettes and/or SUV's. Each cop type has both the marked and undercover versions of their particular cars.
Players will have to be careful in pursuits as a higher wanted level may prompt Cross to join the pursuit in a Chevrolet Corvette C6 with customized paintwork. Cross may likely be the most seasoned member on his police force due the fact that he drives cleanly, not hitting any other cars or scenery, and generally hanging close behind to the player's car even at high speeds. Although the level of resistance offered by Cross is not exceptionally greater than that offered by the other Heat Level 5 Corvettes. Difference, if any might be felt, would be, that the "dirty" trick of changing your direction quickly near on and off ramps, dividers, and different roads, and dodging in and out local traffic may not be applicable on him.
In Career mode, pursuits are integrated into the game in such a way that it is necessary to participate in pursuit in order to be able to challenge Blacklist racers. The player must complete "Milestones," which involves committing at least a specified amount of traffic offenses or pursuit lengths during a pursuit, and collecting an amount of "Bounty", a form of credit accumulated as players continue to evade the police or damage police units. A car's Heat level may be reduced by changing the physical appearance of a car by changing body parts or paint color, or by using another purchased car with a lower heat level to race in the streets. If a car is not being used by the player (it is in the “safehouse”), its heat level will slowly lower over time. Rap Sheets, with records such as the player's infractions, cost to state, deployed tactics and pursuit lengths, are also available for viewing by "hacking" into police records, and also includes the player's standing in each individual record against those of other Blacklist racers.
Players are provided with several additional features which are useful during pursuits. The Speedbreaker, provided within the driving interface, slows down time (similar to bullet time), momentarily adds weight to the player's car allowing it to become more difficult for other vehicles (especially police vehicles) to push around, and induces a drift. This allows the player a limited amount of time to quickly maneuver the car out of difficult situations, or assess an escape route through a road block or spike strip blockade. Another feature in Most Wanted are Pursuit Breakers, road-side objects which are designed to collapse when a player uses their car to knock down its support, either damaging or disabling following police cars (which can be visually seen in many cases). In one example, if a player smashes through a gas station, the roof of the station falls crushing unlucky police units following them. In order to evade the pursuit, players must get out of the pursuing police’s line of sight. This is accomplished by getting a certain distance away from the cops or by disabling the cops. Once the player has evaded the cops they enter “Cooldown” period. While in “Cooldown” the player must avoid being detected/seen by the police. If the player is detected while in “Cooldown” the pursuit continues. After a certain amount of time and if the player is not detected/seen by the cops the “Cooldown” period will end and the cops will give up and officially end the pursuit. Hiding spots (a.k.a. cooldown spots) are areas in the world, usually not seen from the street/road, where players may stop and wait for the “Cooldown” to end. If the player finds a hiding spot and stops they will spend significantly less time in “Cooldown” mode. Hiding spots can be found using the mini-map (an icon will appear indicating where the hiding spots are) and are scattered around the city in places like underground carparks and back alleys.
While the game features police cars, Most Wanted does not allow players to play as a pursuing police in chases. However, players may drive several police cars in Challenge mode, but are solely used in checkpoint races and police pursuits, where the police are still pursuing the player
Tuners and Exotics are back in Most Wanted. Better and faster cars are unlocked as you progress through the game. When you purchase cars at car lots those cars are stock. Customization has been reduced in Most Wanted also.
BMW M3 GTR
Subaru WRX STI
Ford Mustang GTR
Mercedes Benz SLR
Porsche 911 GT2
Dodge Viper SRT10
Aston Martin DB9
Chevy Camaro SS*
- black edition only
Online multiplayer is available on Xbox 360, Xbox, PC and PlayStation Portable. Up to 4 players can participate in an online race and can race in 4 game modes including circuit, sprint, lap knockout and speed trap. Furthermore, there is the option to enable Performance Matching in an online race. When performance matching is enabled, all cars in the race are automatically upgraded to match the performance (i.e. top speed, handling, etc.) of the fastest car in that particular race. However, as soon as the race is over all modifications made to the cars by performance matching are removed.
EA eased support to the Windows version of the game very early in its life cycle. The latest patch for the Windows version (1.3) was released on December 6, 2005.
A major online phenomenon that surfaced shortly after the game came out was drifting. Racers would go backwards on the map "Omega" and get off of the map under a building in the city. One of the more common places to drift was Port Camden also known as "The Shipyard" to most online players.