Need for Speed is now 17 years old and spans 20 titles. Like slicing open a great redwood to see the rings, let’s take a look how time has changed the racing mainstay.
Need for Speed 3DO
NFS started life as a simulator of sorts, originally a 3DO game you cruised in a rough straight line in a variety of sporty looking cars. I never owned the full title but instead played the demo over and over again, marveling at the in game dashboards with moving steering wheels!
In later years I picked up the full title on Sega Saturn. I also some how ended up with two Sega Saturn steering wheels. Surprisingly this version played pretty well.
Need for Speed: Road Challenge
Skipping ahead into the fourth title – Road Challenge (High Stakes in the US) we find the first NFS I actually bought and ranks amongst my favourite driving games. Each expertly crafted track has its own unique themes, the best being reserved once again for sunset Coastal drives.
This was the second title in the series to introduce the police mechanic after the original Hot Pursuit. The cops and robbers system gave a new urgency to racing that captured my 14 year old imagination like no other racing game.
A solid career mode on top of these features left me playing this with my 3DFX Voodoo 3 for many years.
Need for Speed Underground
In 2003 the future was upon us, driving was no longer a big enough draw. The matrix had changed action movies, and Eminem had replaced Will Smith. EA responded by taking their driving arcade/sim and turning it into an urban boy racers wet dream.
Neon under-lights, vinyl sponsorship and bass ridden tunes infected the series. The beautiful Coastal vistas were replaced with night time city tracks. A world of perpetual darkness left me feeling cold and disengaged.
Need for Speed: Shift - Shopto.net £9.85
6 long years past. History became legend. Legend became myth. Until, when chance came, the game remembered its pedigree.
Shift saw the series return to some level of normality, in a move away from the urban environment the series re-branded itself as an arcade racer. Codemaster’s (GRID) influence is seen in every aspect and a Forza style speed ribbon (I made that term up) helped give the game a sim like edge. However this was all dry humping for what was to come.
Need for Speed : Hot Pursuit (2010) – Zavvi £17.95 (or ~ £12 second hand)
Stripping away the years EA took the series speeding back to its greatest moment. Back were the coastal views, back came the Rodney King style policing. The development now safely in the hands of proven veterans Criterion (Burnout series).
The main reason I fell for this game was that is mixed my two favourite racing games of all time - Burnout and Road Challenge. The sense of speed, an often touted cliché, really is immense in this game. The difficulty just so that races can be won on the last corner. Social network interaction has also been added so you can compare your times to your friends with the game. Whilst not completely perfect, I would like to see less time trial/novelty and more straight Hot Pursuit, the series has finally come home.
It feels remiss to speak about the series and not mention the new game landing this Christmas - “The Run”. Watching the trailers I am a little concerned. It seems that whilst finding the perfect match with Burnout, EA have decided to look at another series for inspiration, Outrun. Too early to write off yet, as it is built on the very capable FrostBite Engine (Dice’s battlefield engine). The major kicker is that it is developed by wanna-be gangsters Black Box , of Underground fame…