The Need for Speed franchise has been going strong for 16 years, with 15 titles under it’s belt including a free-to-play MMO and about 100 million copies sold worldwide. The latest title in the series, Need for Speed Hot Pursuit, is just around the corner and we would like to take you on a trip down memory lane to explore the origins of one of the most popular racing franchises in the industry.
Unlike other racing games such as Gran Turismo and Forza, the central theme of a NFS game will change with each title. In one game players will be out-running the cops, while in another title they’ll be playing a cop undercover. One moment players can be illegal street racers and in the next they can be professional racers, taking part in drift and circuit competitions to gain sponsors.
While the main mechanic in the new Need for Speed Hot Pursuit focuses on the player being on either side of the law, it wasn’t always like this in previous NFS titles. In fact, the series started out as a racing sim targeting car enthusiasts.
To see just how far this series has come take a look at our visual representation of the Need for Speed timeline. Hard to believe there were so many games.
1994 – Road & Track Presents: The Need for Speed
In an attempt to create a realistic racing sim, Electronic Arts partnered with Road & Track Magazine to create The Need for Speed. The game was first released on the 3DO and was later ported to the PlayStation, PC CD-ROM, and Sega Saturn. The game featured only nine cars, including the Porsche 911 Carrera, Mazda RX-7 and Lamborghini Diablo. The game also had audio history and commentary on each car.
Some fun features of the game was a secret tenth car called the Warrior which was propelled by a jet engine. There was also a very basic ‘Pursuit’ mode where all the cop had to do was pass your car in order to issue a ticket. After about three tickets you were arrested and the race was over.
1997 – Need for Speed II
This title was similar to the first, with car enthusiasts as the main audience. Audio commentary for each vehicle remained, however this time you could view the interior of each car with a 360 panoramic shot. There were also cheat codes to unlock more wacky vehicles, such as an outhouse, western style wagon and a green T-Rex. Many of the backdrop cars could also be utilized using the cheats.
1998 – Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit
This is the beginning of the central theme which would be prominent in many future installments of the NFS series. The game’s main focus was the police pursuit. EA ditched the sim-style racing of the previous two titles and went full arcade.
The A.I. was greatly improved over the past two games. Cops used spike strips, road blocks and sent special super cars if you evaded them too long. This was also the first game where you could tune your vehicle to alter the handling. I will jump in here and say that if you asked me for a top ten list of my favorite games of all time, NFS III: HP would definitely be in the top 5.
1999 – Need for Speed: High Stakes
High Stakes is the first in the series to bring improved physics and damage models to the cars. The damage also had an effect on the handling of your car and had to be repaired with in-game money. This money also was used to purchase upgrades and new cars.
The main feature of this game was the ‘High Stakes’ mode. In this mode, two players would race and the loser would lose their car. The game utilzed two memory cards–yours and your friend’s–and would delete the car data off the losers card. It was a very interesting mechanic, however this was the only game that would ever use it.