NFS: Most Wanted is an "arcade" racer... physics exist, but not if they get in the way of enjoyability. Similar to Burnout, this game is about speed, sliding around corners, slamming into things, and sweet cars.
And cops. As you slam into civilian cars, or (gasp!) into cop cars, or inflict property damage... your "heat" goes up. The higher your heat, the more you will attract Mr Law Enforcement. If they spot you, then the chase is on. The cop chases are simply awesome. It ends up being a crazy, wild spin around the town, trying to shake them. Certain environment features can be collapsed onto the cops to knock them out of the chase. Or you can slam into them, send them into walls, whatever... eventually, they'll get crushed and fall out. Others will eventually come to replace them, but if you can shake them or disable them, then you move into a "cooldown" period where a timer counts down until the chase is called off. But! If you just keep flying around town without ending it, your heat will continue to get upgraded. From simple cops, to SUVs, to FBI, and eventually to helicopters. If you've seen the coppers' escalation in Grand Theft Auto, then you're familiar with this. Shaking helicopters is tough... underground parking lots work, but you also have the ground cops after you.
The controls are awesome... very responsive, easy to manage, and the cars respond as you would expect. The graphics are very good, althought I think it suffers a bit of "least common denominator" since NFS: MW was ported to all platforms... In other words, it doesn't fully represent the power of the 360, but it is beyond what you'd find on the previous generation. The sound is unbelievable... tire noise, rain noise, engine noise, other cars, ... everything. The NFS series has done excellent work on the audio for a couple game generations now (starting back with Need for Speed: Underground).
The story lines and missions and progression in this game is excellent. The overall feel and attitude is spot-on for a street racer.
Now... I would highly recommend this game, but for just one thing... Need for Speed: Carbon came out just last week. If you're going to buy just one racing game, then you may want to see my review of that one first.
Wait. What? ... yup. Bonus review: I've been playing Carbon and will throw in a review of that game as part of this series.
Seriously, though... with NFS: Carbon out now, I expect NFS: MW to hit the bargain bin. I'm seeing it for $29.99 at EBgames.com and Amazon. This could make an excellent bargain gift for the holiday season. Great game, very much recommended!