A Chronological Exploration of the Need for Speed Series

From the first in the series to the latest Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted

A Chronological Exploration of the Need for Speed Series

Postby itsgood2slide » Sat Feb 25, 2017 12:01 pm

Over the past few years I have been buying Need for Speed games, but I have spent very little time playing them. In fact, there are only two games I would say I have played extensively: Need for Speed II and Most Wanted (2012), and only two more that I have played for perhaps a few hours: Hot Pursuit (2010) and Shift 2: Unleashed.

I am now going to play each of them in chronological order, starting with The Need for Speed (which I have on PS1, but is also available on 3DO, PC and Saturn). I hope to complete each game, or at least each one I am enjoying, so it will take me quite some time to get through them all! I will post my impressions in this thread, and I am hoping that some of you might like to play some of them at the same time and see how they hold up today.

Whether you have the means to play it right now or not, do indeed share your thoughts and/or memories of the game that started this juggernaut of a series: Road & Track Presents: The Need For Speed!
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Re: A Chronological Exploration of the Need for Speed Series

Postby itsgood2slide » Mon Feb 27, 2017 2:13 pm

Image

Title
Road & Track Presents: The Need for Speed

Developer
Pioneer Productions and EA Canada

Format
PS1

Peripheral
neGcon

Progress
Won all C class and B class races in Tournament mode

Impressions
The handling is surprisingly sim-like; the fastest way through a corner seems to be to maintain traction and not to drift.

The camera cuts to a third person, elevated view if you crash your car slides by about 90 degrees, which helps you get back on track, although it is a bit disconcerting the first it happens.

I have had a lot of fun getting to grips with the cars. Winning seems to be a combination of the right car (Supra for C class, Viper for B class) and then getting the braking right, which massively affects how much speed you carry in through the corner. This seems to be a game in which utilising analogue braking is of equal (if not more) benefit to analogue acceleration (which I would have said is unlike the norm, even in sim racing - in most games I am much more conscious of needed to modulate my accelerator input, especially on the arcade-side of things).

The tournament mode requires you to win a race on each track, which can be attempted in any order. There is one circuit and one point-to-point race for each car class (and a seventh track is unlocked upon winning them all). It is not really a tournament as such then, and oddly there does not seem to be any way of keeping track of which races you have already won.

I found the setup of the point-to-point races quite interesting. They are held over three stages, with a grid start at the beginning of each stage based on your position at the end of the previous. The winner of the race is not necessarily the first car to reach the finish of the final stage, but whomever has the shortest total time for the three stages. You can restart each stage individually, but you will have to start from the back of the grid if you do so. This leads to some difficult decisions. For example, having won the first stage you might come 4th on the second stage, leaving you second overall. Do you retry the second stage (from the back of the grid, rather than the front) in the hope of improving your time, or do you back yourself to be able to win the final stage with enough of a margin to win overall?

The first track, Rusty Springs Raceway, is a great example of game design. The first corner is so wide and banked that it offers no challenge at all, and simply lets you get a feel for the controls. Next up is a mild chicane to let you get used to shifting the steering direction, and then you have a tighter turn that you can just about do flat out which leads to a clearly tighter final turn which you clearly must brake for. It looks simple, but it is really well designed and is essentially the game's tutorial.
Image

The second circuit, Autumn Valley Speedway, increases the difficulty with tighter turns and significant elevation change. Like Rusty Springs, its final corner steps up the difficulty, this time by removing the banking. The sequence of corners 4 and 5 is also quite tricky, so you have two key challenges per lap, rather than Rusty's one.
Image

In the relatively early days of 3D racing games (1994 for the original 3DO version), I really feel like the developers are setting a very good standard for track design here.

Additional notes
The highlights replay option is welcome, given the length of the races, and it does a good job of picking key moments in the race like overtakes and collisions.

I do not remember if this was something I already knew, but the game was developed by the same team responsible for first two Test Drive games, and I immediately got the sense that this was the case from the nature of the in-car view that the game defaults to, and from the point-point open-road stages ahead of me.

The Road & Track elements provide a surprisingly in-depth analysis of the cars in the game. This was more than just a brand slapped on the box to sell more copies; it really adds a sense of passion for the subject matter of the game.

Next stage
To complete the A class races of the tournament and unlock the bonus track.
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Re: A Chronological Exploration of the Need for Speed Series

Postby Ghegs » Mon Feb 27, 2017 5:19 pm

Very cool project. I haven't played the early NFS' much, if at all, so I can't really tell any thoughts of my own until a bit later. Hopefully others will.
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Re: A Chronological Exploration of the Need for Speed Series

Postby bVork » Thu Mar 02, 2017 6:15 am

Your writeups are always fascinating, itsgood2slide.

I think you (and everyone else reading this) might find DF Retro's recent video on the various versions of the original NFS quite interesting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjLXLhaGfFA
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Re: A Chronological Exploration of the Need for Speed Series

Postby itsgood2slide » Sun Mar 05, 2017 11:38 pm

Ah yes! That popped up in my YouTube feed, but I wanted to wait until I had been able to dive into the game and experience it first hand. Its Test Drive roots do come through even more clearly in the original 3DO version.

I wonder whether its release being staggered over three calendar years in addition to having debuted on an undesirable console were significant contributing factors to The Need For Speed failing to make a lasting impression. Unlike, say, the equally forgotten and/or ignored original Street Fighter, this game is actually very good!
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Re: A Chronological Exploration of the Need for Speed Series

Postby itsgood2slide » Wed Mar 08, 2017 7:23 pm

Title
Road & Track Presents: The Need for Speed

Format
PS1

Progress
Won both A class races in Tournament mode and won the bonus race

Impressions
Moving up to A Class presented a significantly greater challenge, and I spent over an hour playing each event before I was able to win the races. This was partly because the tracks are much more challenging (see below), but also because the 'rubber band' AI was much more apparent; winning was very much a case of absolutely nailing the latter stages of a race, while the first half of the race was of no importance at all. A couple of good corners is all it takes to get yourself into third place, but sustained precision driving is required to catch and pass the leaders. A bad crash and/or some donuts early on can actually be beneficial because this causes the pack to bunch up, so not only can you breeze your way back into third, the next two cars are much closer. If you are lucky, the leaders might even trip over one another due to the bunching effect, so sometimes you can find yourself going from the back to front in the space of a couple of corners. Overall though, this severe degree of catch-up combined with an 8 lap race resulted in a rather frustrating experience at times; you just have to tell yourself that the first 5-6 laps are your chance to practice, and then hope you will not be a victim of the aggressive AI drivers and some unpredictable collision physics as you try to nail the final laps.

Anyway, let's have a look at the game's third circuit, Vertigo Ridge:

Image

It may not be immediately apparent from the track maps that Vertigo Ridge is another step up in difficulty, but it most certainly is. There is no longer any banking to help you round the corners, and there is even some adverse camber to negotiate. The elevation changes are also much more significant, most notably the climb at turn seven leading to a blind crest at eight which is immediately followed by the steep twisting descent of nine (which really becomes two corners due to a crest half way down), and if you survive that downhill section you will then need to quickly stabilise the car in time to negotiate the hairpin waiting for you at the bottom. There is no time to catch your breath, however, because by the end of 10 you find yourself in a dark wooded area with a chicane to negotiate. It is actually quite difficult to see the track limits in this section so it took me quite a while to stop hitting the invisible walls and then a while longer to find a good line to end the lap well.

The track design is really strong once again, with a good rhythm of difficulty. The first half of the lap gives you breathing space between the tough corners, before you launch into the aforementioned relentless rollercoaster that follows. I also like how turn 10 is a more challenging version of turn 3, which was a more challenging version of turn 1; each time the corner gets longer, tighter, and gives you less time to settle the car in advance.

Having won the tournament, I was then able to access the bonus track, Lost Vegas:

Image

This was a really nice reward: an opportunity to leave reality behind and unleash the power of the A Class cars on a wide, banked, futuristic track that would not seem out of place in a Wipeout title. Winning the tournament event here was incredibly straightforward and a nice way to let off some steam.

Additional notes
The point-to-point courses also follow similar design principles to the circuits, but I am not in a position to analyse them in such detail given their length and the relative lack of time I spent with them.

There is no option to calibrate the I or II buttons on the neGcon, so I had to press I all the way in to get full acceleration. This is not such a problem as for the PS2's analogue buttons, but I did have a sore thumbnail by the time I had completed the tournament! You can calibrate the maximum steering angle and deadzone though, which is always welcome.

I also did a quick race in the head-to-head mode which features (a little bit of) traffic and police cars. It seemed to be the case that the police car just has to overtake you in order to pull you over. Once the police car was ahead of me I was not able to accelerate any more. I was able to resume the race after receiving my speeding ticket. I doubt I will play much more of this mode.

Next stage
Try the various modes that are unlocked with cheat codes. I am particularly interested in what exactly the rally mode entails...
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Re: A Chronological Exploration of the Need for Speed Series

Postby itsgood2slide » Wed Mar 22, 2017 3:05 pm

Title
Road & Track Presents: The Need for Speed

Format
PS1

Progress
Tried rally mode and the various other cheats.

Impressions
The rally mode was mostly as expected: the same tracks, but with the road replaced with dirt or gravel, much like the equivalent mode unlocked at the end of Capcom's Group S Challenge. There was one exception: Rusty Springs becomes the Egyptian themed Oasis Springs, changing the scenery and altering the track layout slightly by tightening the bottleneck between the trackside rocks between turns 3 and 4.

The weird thing about rally mode is how much easier the game becomes. Sliding round the corners is not only a breeze, but you can also carry more speed as you do so. I was breaking my hard-earned records on my first try, and in some cases I was beating times set in the A class Diablo with the C class Supra! I decided not to save to the memory card to preserve my real records because the simpler handling in this mode is not something I will be exploring further.

There are various other cheats, such as adding an invisible weapon to your car which you fire using the horn button. This could perhaps be amusing in split screen, but the AI opponent was not shooting back.

Another cheat activates 'arcade mode' which simplified the handling and allowed for much higher cornering speeds. Most corners no longer required braking.

Additional notes
Ummm... has anyone else here at rolling start played this game? If so, it would be great to hear from you before I move onto NFS2!

Next stage
Try the two exclusive tracks in The Need for Speed: Special Edition on PC.
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Re: A Chronological Exploration of the Need for Speed Series

Postby itsgood2slide » Mon May 01, 2017 3:34 pm

Image

Title
Road & Track Presents: The Need for Speed: Special Edition

Developer
Pioneer Productions and EA Seattle

Format
PC

Peripheral
DualShock 2

Progress
Played single races on the two bonus tracks

Impressions
Launching on PC two years on from the original game's 3DO debut, The Need for Speed: Special Edition was designed to run on far more capable hardware, and this is immediately evident in the crisper, cleaner visuals. The jump in resolution is naturally the driving force here, but the two exclusive tracks are also primary beneficiaries of the additional processing power and thus do more than just pad out this expanded rerelease.

Image
Burnt Sienna begins in a rather empty desert environment, but we quickly reach some old west style buildings which appear to have a similar level of detail and complexity as similar scenery objects in the forthcoming Need for Speed II; however, rather than 3D models they appear to be combinations of 2D sprites, but the effect is convincing. The descent into the mine reveals stalactites and stalagmites, demonstrating more complex geometry than in the previous tracks. The remainder of the lap takes place in a canyon which feels more like a section of one of the point-to-point courses, although there is a impressively crisp and legible sign to distract you from the bland scenery at one point. As a race track there is nothing that really makes Burnt Sienna stand out, but the setting was nonetheless a nice change of pace.

Image
Transtropolis offers even more trackside objects and detail than Burnt Sienna, beginning with a dense array of storage crates which provide strong 3-dimensional depth. The cranes that emerge a few corners in are particularly impressive; they, like many of the scenery objects, seem to be combinations of 2D sprites, but they give the scenery a complex 3D appearance that feels very much ahead of its time. However, there are some singular 2D sprites that look out of place as a result, such as the cars in the car park section that look like they have been ripped straight out of Road Rash. The biggest eye-sore though is the low-res black and white city-scape sky box which does its best to ruin the sense that this is a real place you could be immersed in. Thankfully, despite a mixed bag on the visual side, Transtropolis is a return to form in terms of track design and I found it anachronistically reminiscent of the fantastical urban rollercoasters of Vanishing Point, Ridge Racer Type 4 and Split/Second, particularly the steep and twisting sequence of turns 11 and 12. Of course the root of this comparison is likely that the track design here was influenced by the same era of arcade racing games that inspired those arcade-style console games.

Additional notes
Getting the game running in DOSBox was reasonably straightforward, but achieving satisfactory analogue controls was unfortunately not. I tried various controllers via various means, including my neGcon and T300RS, but the only way I was able to achieve analogue acceleration, brake and steering was by doing so on one analogue stick. Back in the 90s I had a PC steering wheel which mapped its pedals and steering to the y and x axes of one joystick respectively, and this was what I was essentially emulating with one analogue stick. In the end, I had to settle for analogue steering with digital acceleration and brake, which does not do the game's handling justice at all. While Special Edition will retain value thanks to its two exclusive tracks and superior visuals, it is the PS1 version that I favour overall.

Final thoughts
Road & Track Presents: The Need for Speed has been a rather pleasant surprise. I was curious to play the game that began one of the biggest selling franchises in gaming history, but I never imagined I could be unearthing a classic. It seems strange to suggest that a Need for Speed game could be discovered, given the series' ubiquity, but no-one talks about this game. When people reminisce about old Need for Speed games they rarely go back further than Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit. So why is The Need for Speed not remembered so fondly? I think the main problem was that you only get to launch once (as noted by games that struggle to gain attention when they emerge from Early Access) and it launched on the 3DO, an overly expensive system that not many people owned. Releasing the game multiple times over 4 calendar years (from the 3DO launch in 1994 to the European release of the Special Edition in 1997) I can only imagine an ever dwindling response from critics and public alike, even as the developers endeavoured to spruce the game up each time. Off the top of my head, The Need for Speed might well be the best PS1 racing game released by 1996, but who would be championing a two-year-old 3DO port (that you need a specialist controller to fully appreciate) as the best the console could offer?

Next stage
Need for Speed II
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Re: A Chronological Exploration of the Need for Speed Series

Postby Ghegs » Tue May 02, 2017 7:05 pm

Your posts are always an excellent read and I'm looking forward to the next one.
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