In 1994 Black Box whipped the gaming public in to a frenzy when they released the first of what was going to be a game changing street racing franchise, The Need For Speed. With what then were mind-blowing visuals and super-smooth game mechanics gamers the world over had finally found their perfect racer. Even among all the hype of what #NFS bought to the community few people imagined that even now, 23 years later, the franchise is still going strong (albeit a few development teams later).
I can’t help feeling that this fan-favourite’s longevity goes uncelebrated. That over the years, people have come to take the games for granted and little is known of just how much of an impact these games have had on the gaming scene over the years. That being said, I thought to write a small piece as a kind of personal celebration to a game I grew up with, and love to this day. Over the following, I will talk of some of the famous titles that have shaped racing games since and I will talk of the lesser known games that still hold a place in many-a-heart.
The Beginning - The Need For Speed (1994)
If I was to talk about Need For Speed without starting with the title that started it all, it would be a crime against literacy, so, that’s where I will start.
The original NFS game was launched way back in 1994 and set the bar high for any future titles. Here, we were presented with graphics that you could actually discern, backdrops of mountains, cities and deserts all tied up with a pretty bow called fluid game mechanics. Black Box really were on to a winner. Back then, we thought it could never get better and were in a mind that perfection could never be improved on. Oh, how wrong we were.
Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 (2002)
Another very notable title and one that reintegrated the age-old classic element, cops and robbers (well, in this case, cops and racers). This was a much welcomed edition and perhaps what reinforced the foundations on which this franchise was built. Yes, it had been done before in previous titles such as Need For Speed: High Stakes (firstly) and more obviously in Need For Speed Hot Pursuit 1, but it had never before been done with such gravitas or executed with such skill. The AI of the ‘5-0’ was phenomenal and is thus very deserving of a spot on this article.
Need For Speed: Underground 2 (2004)
For those of you that are among the abundance of fans of the first installment of the Underground games, I can only apologies for skipping it. However, I feel my reasons are just as I hold no real memories of the game. On the flip-side, I have many, many memories of the far superior (opinion alert) Need For Speed: Underground 2. I remember the brilliance that oozed from the cars and the adrenaline inducing drift physics that threatened a laundry bill at every turn. I remember the blur of the streets as I hit the nitro and the late 90s beats the game laid down throughout, but most of all, I remember Need For Speed: Underground 2 having a certain element that is still to be bettered and that’s the vehicle customization feature. This, dear reader, is where the game truly excels.
Back in the 90s under-carriage neons were the ultimate in boy-racer ‘bling’ (‘bling’ wasn’t a thing either). To see this carried on, even in to the mid-naughties was pure and utter eye-candy to me and maybe a reason why I still love this game, even 17 years on.
Need For Speed: Most Wanted (2005)
Out of all the classic NFS games, this one is the the one that really stands out to me. So much, in fact, that I happily spent £17 on it when it was ten years old. This release had it all: great vehicle customization (only lacking the under-carriage neons as in the aforementioned game), a seemingly huge open world to explore and some of the best cop chases seen in gaming history. To this day I still remember Detective Nathan Cross and his cronies chasing me around Rockport. The ‘Chase Breakers’ that were dotted throughout the city delivered a great shot of satisfaction; nothing quite beats the feeling you get when you drive straight through a petrol (gas) station causing a huge explosion and leaving your freshly charred pursuers in your wake. Does anyone smell bacon?
Need For Speed (2016)
It is pretty clear that the latest developers were keen to stick to the grass roots of the original games. In the 2016 NFS we see the same visual stylings as what we saw in its predecessors, most notably, Most Wanted only made so much better with current generation technology. The cutscenes use a weird filter that make you question whether it’s using great graphics or video footage and the result -whatever the methods- is real eye candy. The view is always from a first-person perspective lending a sense of true involvement and the team at EA carry it off with their usual unmatched skill and prowess.
That being said, it isn’t just eyegasmic visuals that make NFS a great game, that’s just the polished cherry on the proverbial cake. What makes this game special is the fact that they haven’t diverted from the beaten path. With this EA have stuck with what made the previous games a success, and for this, I am eternally grateful. If you’re reading this and have never had the pleasure of playing this game, then I implore you to try it. You can get a generous discount on it with this Kinguin coupon code from Gamer Bargain, so no excuses. Get it today. Hell, get 7 for good measure.
The Future of The Need For Speed Franchise
Providing future developers take the age-old formula in to consideration when making future NFS titles I fail to see anything but greatness to come. However, developers of today have a nasty habit of taking old classics and break them beyond all recognition by trying to modernize them. We only need to take a look at the Duke Nukem release of 2011 to understand how badly the older games can translate to a modern overhaul. To keep great games great we need to be keeping what made them so. Certain titles have stood the test of time and the old saying comes to mind when thinking of the future of Need For Speed “If it isn’t broken, then don’t fix it” -ahem, Need For Speed: Shift/Pro Street-.