A Brief History Of Need For Speed Part 1 – Setting The Wheels In Motion

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With the recent release of Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered, I thought this to be the perfect opportunity to go for a drive down memory lane and take a look at one of the most successful racing franchises of all time with A Brief History of Need For Speed.

Dare I say, one of the most successful video game franchises of all time with over 150 million games putting it just ahead of Sonic The Hedgehog and just below Mario Kart.  Sonic, will not be pleased!  In this four-part feature, we will be focusing on the main games by generation.  To begin our journey, we need to zoom all the way back to August of 1994.

I Feel The Need…The Need For Speed

Oasis were at number one with their hit song “Live Forever”.  The car of choice for boy racers was either a Vauxhall Nova or a Peugeot 205 GTi if you had a bit more cash.  Life was good!  Since its inception, EA has published over 25 main games from the series across many platforms and arcade titles.  Thanks to commercial success, a movie has been released and there was a deal with Hot Wheels toys.  Buckle up, it’s time to check out the games with A Brief History of Need For Speed!

If you liked this article, check out one of my racing game reviews here, join in the conversation on Twitter or leave a comment below letting us know what your favourite Need For Speed game is.

Road & Track Presents: The Need For Speed (1994)

The Need For Speed Playstation (EU) Cover – Image: GameFAQs

Developer: EA Canada – Publisher: EA – Platforms: PC, 3DO, Playstation, Saturn

DID YOU KNOW? The Need For Speed partially inspired NFS ProStreet, Shift, and Hot Pursuit 2010!

EA collaborated with Road & Track magazine to obtain vehicle data to make the game as real as possible.  The Need For Speed was developed for the 3DO and then ported to the other systems.  There was an intended port for the Atari Jaguar CD which never materialised.

Back in 1994 audio clips and FMV was a big thing and this was used within the game to detail information on the tracks and cars.  This iteration of NFS had obtained licenses for 24 cars with only 9 playable.  These were generally Japanese imports and exotics, the rest were used as traffic and a Ford Mustang SSP police car.

There only 9 tracks on offer, 3 open tracks for road races, and 6 closed-circuit tracks.  With open races, it was common to become involved in a police chase.  If you happened to get caught you would either be given a ticket.  If you got 3 tickets then you would get arrested.

The Need For Speed was a little short on game modes.  Modes available were Time Trial, Head to Head, Single Race, and Tournament.  It’s only in the Head to Head mode you would encounter traffic and cops. This title did very well with the critics often being praised for its realism and use of FMV.  It even reached Number 5 in the UK sales chart and was nominated for “Action Game of the Year” for Computer Gaming World magazine.

Need for Speed II (1997)

Need For Speed II Playstation EU Cover – Image: GameFAQs

Developer: EA Canada/Seattle – Publisher: EA – Platforms: Playstation, PC

Known as Overdrivin’ II in Japan, development for this game remained in Canada but drove down a different route.  EA dropped the ‘the’ from the title and the license with Road & Track magazine.  This was in favour of going directly to the manufacturers for vehicle data.

As well as a PC and Playstation version, it was also planned to be released on the Panasonic M2, but ultimately got cancelled as did the planned console.  The sound aspect went down a very old school route of hooking up microphones to each car and recording them into an 8-track recorder for them to be digitally encoded.  The gameplay also followed a different path.  It switched to a more pacey arcade-style racer with a focus on speed and a simpler driving style.  Also, this is the first game not to feature any cops in it.

Need For Speed II had only 8 cars which were concept cars or high-end European sports cars.  An additional 4 cars were added for the Special Edition.  All of these could be finely tunes and came with a video talking about the car and the manufacturer’s history.  Of course with the lack of presence of the police, we lost the open stages.  But what we did get were circuits that were based in real-world locations.

The music that accompanied these locations was adaptive to the setting as well.  For example, Mystic Peaks set in the highlands of Nepal, and Mediterraneo, a coastal route based in Greece.  This game had 3 game modes, Single Race, Knockout, and Tournament.  These could be played in single-player, or 2-player split-screen over LAN or modem.  Winning the tournament event would unlock a bonus car, the Ford Indigo.

Need For Speed II didn’t reach the acclaim of its older brother and received average reviews.  This was mainly due switching to the arcade style and a bit of a downgrade in graphics and frame rate.

Need For Speed III: Hot Pursuit (1998)

Need For Speed III: Hot Pursuit PC Cover – Image MobyGames

Developer: EA Canada/Seattle – Publisher: EA – Platforms: Playstation, PC

After the mediocre reviews of the previous game, EA bounces back with Need For Speed III: Hot Pursuit the following year.  Once again, exotic cars are the focus though for some reason you were unable to take part in a police chase while driving a Mercedes or Ferrari.  Of course, there is a hack for this on the PC version.  Maybe it was an image thing.

The tool to create the cars was actually included on the CD.  This inevitably led to players creating cars with crazy levels of performance.  EA also made available 4 additional cars to download from their website.

As opposed to world locations from the previous game, NFS III is based in 5 locations with North American themes across 9 stages.  The Atlantica track even has its own Electronic arts office to whizz by at 120mph  The familiar race types, Single Race, Tournament, and Knockout make a return with one additional mode, the namesake Hot Pursuit.

In Hot Pursuit mode, you and another racer are tasked with outrunning the cops, but they don’t make it easy.  They will constantly ram into you, drop spike strips, and set up roadblocks to halt you in your path.  As a result, the gameplay can be quite frantic and extremely fun.  On the PC version, for the first time you can actually play as the cop, and winning events unlocks more pursuit cars.

Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit received favourable reviews and cemented itself as a serious racing franchise.  This game was so popular that it spawned a reboot in 2010, which itself has recently had a remaster.

Need For Speed: High Stakes (1999)

Need For Speed: High Stakes cover
Need For Speed: High Stakes Playstation cover – Image: GameFAQs

Developers: EA Canada/Seattle – Publisher: EA – Platforms: Playstation, PC

DID YOU KNOW? There is a song on the soundtrack called Callista, and a remixed version can be heard in the Afterlife club in Mass Effect 2!

Need For Speed: High Stakes is the North American title, but goes under many names due to localisations.  It is commonly known as Need For Speed: Road Challenge in the UK and South America.  So what’s new this time?  This is the first Need for Speed to feature collision damage.  Not only does this change the appearance of the car, but it affects the appearance also.

Customisation is a first as well.  Not just a paint job, but you can purchase spoilers, wheels, and other visual embellishments as well as fine-tune the performance of your car.  Though these are only available to you in career mode.  The cars also received significant visual enhancements including transparent windows.

For game modes, we have the usual Single Race, Career (the only mode where you can spend money), and Hot Pursuit which was born in the last game.  Race modes include the self-explanatory Tournament and knockout modes.  Additionally with have High Stakes, which are essentially pink slip races where players bet their cars and with winner takes the other players car at the end.

Pro Cups is restricted to a single manufacturer and the winner is awarded a car from the said manufacturer.  Special Event is similar to a tournament, except the winner is the driver with the most points.  Lastly, there is Test Drive, which is exactly what it says on the tin, take a vehicle for a spin to get a feel for it.  Yes, this does include the police chopper if you wish to take it for a fly, and good luck with that!

High Stakes continues the franchise’s run of good scores, despite being up against the likes of Gran Turismo and R4: Ridge Racer Type 4.

Need For Speed: Porsche Unleashed (2000)

Need For Speed: Porsche Unleashed (2000)
Need For Speed: Porsche Unleashed Playstation cover – Image: MobyGames

Developers: EA Canada (PC), Eden Studios (PS), Pocketeers (GBA) – Publisher: EA (PC, Playstation), Destination Sofware, Zoo Digital Publishing (GBA) – Platforms: Playstation, PC, Game Boy Advance (2004)

DID YOU KNOW? A special metal box edition was released in Germany called 40 Jarre 911 to commemorate 40 years of the Porsche 911 and included a copy of the game’s soundtrack!

Porsche Unleashed or as it is known as Porsche 2000 outside the USA, or simply just Porsche in South America and Germany is the first title to feature only one manufacturer apart from cop cars.  It never saw a release in Japan and featured a whole host of cars ranging from the 1948 Porsche 359 up to the 2000 Porsche 911 Turbo (996) and Boxster S.

It is possible to upgrade your car’s performance and aesthetics but this was only in the PC version.  Additionally, on the PC version, there was a car showcase called the Porsche Chronicle.  Here you could view vintage promo material and video commentaries on each vehicle.

Porsche Unleashed is filled with the usual race modes as mentioned from other games with one addition called Capture The Flag.  The meat of this lies within the two career modes, Evolution and Factory Driver where the races take place in Europe.

Evolution is easily my favourite mode.  You progress in a chronological fashion split into 3 eras, the Classic, Golden, and Modern era.  Entering tournaments and club meetings as you go.  Factory Driver is the first time Need For Speed game to feature a bit of a story mode.  Essentially your ultimate goal is to become a Porsche Factory Driver.  To become a factory driver reminds me a little of the training level in Driver.  You have to perform various manoeuvres such as 360s and handbrake turns before signing with Porsche.  Once signed up as their test driver you get to take part in events such as slaloms, stunts, and races to beat challenges from other test drivers.

Game Boy Advance Version

Fast forward 4 whole years, and Need For Speed makes its way into the handheld market for the first time.  This is loosely based on the Playstation version.  It doesn’t actually share that much in common with its console counterpart, except maybe the name and a few stripped-down features.  The game itself actually handles pretty well and looks quite good considering the capabilities of the GBA.  It’s not a game I’d recommend you go looking for, but if you find it at a decent price it’s worth a little go.

There wasn’t really a lot to separate Porsche Unleashed from its predecessors and other games of that ilk at the time, but it still sold 340,000 units bringing in revenues of about $6.3 million by 2006

Motor City Online (2001)

Developer: EA Seattle – Publisher: EA – Platform: PC

DID YOU KNOW? When EA shut the servers, players we were given a free EA game of their choice!

Long before the World of Warcraft came about, there was Motor City Online.  This was an EA racing game for the MMO market.  Originally conceived as Need For Speed: Motor City Online, but dropped the Need For Speed part as they threw out all the single-player elements to focus on a purely online game.  This wouldn’t be the last time Need For Speed entered the online-only market.

Sadly, 2 years later the servers had shut down due to a lack of subscribers and degradation of hardware.  Also, The Sims Online had only just come about so EA wanted to redirect its attention towards that.  However, through emulation Motor City Online has been resurrected to it can actually be played in offline mode.

Players would get to choose their avatar and the level up by earning points in events.  Motor City Online took place across 24 different tracks within the fictitious Motor City with events such as Drag Race, Circuit Racing, Turf Wars (a battle between two clubs), Street Racing, and Test Drive.  There was also an Open and a Sponsored Trial in which take part in setting a time on a weekly event to try and become “Top Dog”.

The game featured American ranged from the 1930s to the 1970s starting with the 1932 Ford Coupe and ending with the 1973 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am, with many in between.  Add into that only 2 Japanese cars and the 1932 EA Eight Ball.  Customisation was very in-depth with parts available based on supply and demand.  Rare parts could have been obtained at auction or you could trade parts with other players.  And, these parts wore out over time which is a fantastic addition.

This all sounds brilliant, but that wasn’t entirely the case.  At the time, people just weren’t massively interested in it but there is a small corner of the internet that begs for this to be a thing.  We have Need For Speed: World but that isn’t anywhere near the depth and detail Motor City Online went to.  EA…make this happen.  As a petrolhead myself, it might just be the thing that gets me into online gaming if it was an MMO.

If you enjoyed this, keep an eye out for A Brief History Of Need For Speed Part 2, where we will be looking at the six games of the next generation between 2002 and 2005.

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