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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Re: A Chronological Exploration of the Need for Speed Series

Postby itsgood2slide » Tue Jun 06, 2017 10:32 am

Image

Title
Need for Speed II

Developer
EA Canada

Format
PS1

Peripheral
UltraRacer

Preface
The PC version of Need for Speed II was the first game in the series that I played, and is one of only two I have spent a significant amount of time playing. I first came across it in Europress' Total Racing compilation alongside International Rally Championship and Screamer 2, which I bought on the basis of it containing sequels to two of my favourite racing games of the time. While the former did not live up to its Network Q RAC Rally Championship heritage, and the latter turned out to be the awkward stepping stone between Screamer and Screamer Rally, Need for Speed II quickly went from bonus freebie to the star of the show. I remember it was very exciting to be driving these weird and exotic supercars; the first track being a secretive test centre only added to the sense that I was driving something special and exclusive. Looking back, my feeling is that the handling was probably quite simplistic and not a key factor in my enjoyment of the game, but then I would have been playing with digital acceleration and brake, and possibly also digital steering (I will either have used a Joystick or a digital gamepad); given the importance of analogue controls in The Need for Speed, I may not have experienced the full potential of the game before now.

Progress
After a quick trip down memory lane with a lap of each track, I began the championship and won the first three races.

Impressions
Upon loading the game up, I immediately felt a wave of nostalgia: the music, the sliding menus, the cars, the tracks, the swooping camera movement prior to the the start of a race... it was all familiar and many fond memories came flooding back.

Moving on from The Need for Speed, the handling has certainly evolved. Fine control of the accelerator is now of greater importance than the brake, as is more common across racing games as a whole. Naturally, corner entry speed is important, but the brake can be slammed on pretty much indiscriminately in order to achieve this.

There also seems to have been a shift in focus with regards to the track design, with scenery and spectacle taking greater precedence. While its predecessor was content with simple US themes for each track, Need for Speed II takes you on an intercontinental world tour, with the greater level of trackside detail allowing for more easily recognisable (but no less stereotypical) locales.

The tournament structure is also different: you still need to win a race on each track, but this time the races must be attempted in a set order. You are still able to choose a different car for each event, and with no car class restrictions this time you are free to jump straight into the fastest road car of the time, the McLaren F1. In fact, the game puts you in the McLaren by default, and you might as well stick with it for the first race...

Image
The tournament begins in Norway's Proving Grounds, a banked oval which allows you to keep your foot on the accelerator while you marvel at the dark, dangerous, almost futuristic premise of this top secret test track. While the circuit allows you to challenge the top speed records, the only real danger comes from dodging your competitors, who are achingly slow and can be particularly difficult to squeeze past during the enclosed right kink. The driving challenge is otherwise essentially nullified by the steep banking, so while Proving Grounds does let you revel in the extreme speed of your exotic supercar, it is a far cry from the well judged design of Rusty Springs Speedway.

Image
With its unimaginative name foreshadowing a journey across stereotypical rather than iconic international destinations, Outback takes us to the Australian wilderness, although for half of the lap we are also treated to a section of a coastal city (presumably inspired by Sydney). We begin in the city, with narrow, flat turns giving us our first real test of the game's driving mechanics. I imagine most players will find themselves bouncing off the walls a fair bit in this section during their first couple of laps; the experience is somewhat jarring, but things will be getting tighter and twistier in the tracks to come so this is your chance to get to grips with the handling. The 'outback' section lets you stretch your legs again with wide turns punctuated by a couple of jumps. Towards the end of the lap the game introduces a couple of splits in the road; the course on each side of the split is essentially the same and their inclusion seems to be simply to cause some carnage prior to the finish line.

Despite hitting walls, spinning after a jump and crashing into one of the central dividers on the penultimate lap, I was still able to win the race at my first attempt, illustrating that the difficulty setting was still very low for this race. This is shaping up to be a game with easy AI on the 'novice' tracks and hard AI on the 'advanced' tracks, leading to an exponential difficulty curve.

Image
As an 'intermediate' track, North Country indeed sees an increase in the level of the AI in addition to its more challenging layout. I quickly came to realise that top speed was not as important any more, so I switched to the Lotus Elise GT1 because it has the best handling statistic. This enabled me to carry more speed in the many tight corners and win the race at the second attempt. At times the track seems string together a series of rather similar corners, but there definitely are some highlights. Passing through 'Kinder Welt' and the castle offers a certain charm (even if there is not much to see inside them) and the forest section that follows the castle was a pleasant reward having persevered with the black hell that was the final section of Vertigo Ridge in The Need for Speed.

There is one particularly interesting corner next to a waterfall about halfway round the lap; the track descends and twists to the right leading to a narrow bridge that immediately curves left with adverse camber. The entry is rather tricky due to a wall sticking out on the inside and then the camber and change of direction make it quite a challenge to avoid the outside wall (the designers clearly liked adding opportunities for pile-ups, and this one is even more effective than the split tunnel that immediately precedes the finish line).

Additional notes
While I generally favour the neGcon, the UltraRacer is often my controller of choice when games do not offer full calibration options. Usually this will be when a game will not let me reduce the the maximum values for the twist or I/II buttons, but while NFS2 does allow these calibrations, it will not allow a zero deadzone setting. Beyond accommodating a malfunctioning controller, I do not understand why you would ever want a deadzone, so to make it mandatory seems like a very strange choice. Thankfully the deadzone is less appreciable on the UltraRacer due to its smaller range.

The options menu offers the choice between 'simulation' and 'arcade' handling; switching to 'arcade' has a similar effect to the cheat code in The Need for Speed, simplifying the handling and allowing much greater cornering speeds. It seems to eliminate the possibility of losing traction and essentially nullifies the nuances and challenge of the handling model.

With the game now credited to EA Canada, it is interesting to see the Pioneer Productions logo used as the symbol for Proving Grounds. Using their logo to represent this particular track was perhaps a little 'easter egg' message that although the original development team had now been absorbed into the EA fold, they were still very much proud of their roots and the series' genesis.

Next stage
To win the final three races of the tournament.
Last edited by itsgood2slide on Thu Jun 22, 2017 9:06 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: A Chronological Exploration of the Need for Speed Series

Postby itsgood2slide » Thu Jun 22, 2017 9:06 am

Title
Need for Speed II

Format
PS1

Progress
Won the final three races of the tournament.

Impressions
I was expecting the final three races to be tough, with the AI at a higher level and the tracks becoming more complex, but in fact I only needed to restart twice across the three events. The reason for this was a simple combination of heavily rubberbanded AI and some good luck. The catchup effect is so strong that only the final two thirds of the last lap really matter: you can drive a perfect race and mess it up with a mistake on the final corner to finish fifth, or you can spend three laps in last place, bouncing off the walls, but still win the race comfortably if you keep it clean for the final lap.

One race was particularly laughable: I would be last but then catch the pack who were bunched together and travelling much slower than me; I would inevitably crash into them and end up facing the wrong way and/or upside down in last place again, but it would not matter because I could catch (and crash into) them again in a few corners time. This sequence of events went round and round for most of the race until I managed to squeeze through the pack near the end of the race to take the win. Rubberbanding of this severity can ruin games for me, and is the reason I gave up on Hot Pursuit (2010), but that's another story for another day. For now though, a few words on the tracks:

Image
Despite being set in the home country of the game's developer, Pacific Spirit has little scenery of note and I am not sure I would have had much of a clue where I was supposed to be if I had not been dutifully informed by the loading screen. A fun part of the track is the weaving climb and descent through the mountains, with the downhill section featuring more gentle curves to compensate for your increasing speed. Also notable are the two alternative routes: a shortcut through a carpark, and an offroad section that runs parallel to one of the straights. Both of these paths lose you time, but in a game where you are generally hemmed in by narrow (and sometimes invisible) walls, it is nice that this track has a couple of more open sections.

Image
Speaking of invisible walls, Mediterraneo begins with an extremely steep, undulating and hazard filled descent which is sadly undermined by one of the worst examples of such a wall I have ever come across. This section is dangerous enough as you try to avoid the AI cars flying off crests and bouncing off buildings as you try to maintain control has you hurtle down, but alas being just a step up in challenge from Pacific Spirit's mountain section was not enough. The designers seem to have been hell-bent on causing collisions and they certainly succeeded: the invisible wall in question juts out on the left, and colliding with it is guaranteed to send you into a head-on collision with a building on the right. What makes matters worse is that the rest of this sequence lets you cut close to the buildings, but on this occasion the edge of the track is a fair few meters closer than the nearest visible obstacle, so you are lulled into a false sense of security. The only saving grace is that you still have the rest of the lap to catch up, and there are not any other particularly tricky sections, and by the third or fourth lap you might have learned to spot the slightly differently coloured ground that is your only hint that there is a wall you need to avoid.

Image
So previous tracks have had one or two examples of almost vindictive track design, but with Mystic Peaks we have a circuit littered with such sequences. Rather than utilising invisible walls, the primary trick employed by the designers here is to place crests just before tight corners so you are airborne when you need to be braking. The central divider also makes a return just before the finish line. Despite crashing a lot, I won this race on my first attempt, again pointing to the significant rubberbanding. The most enjoyable part of the track had to be the 630 degree corner of gradually increasing radius which provides an unusually extended overtaking opportunity (and it also made me wonder if there is a reverse option to explore the challenge of gradually increasing curvature).

Additional notes
Winning the tournament unlocked a bonus car rather than the bonus track. It seems I must win the knockout mode in order to unlock the latter. This involves a series of seven races in which the car that finishes last does not progress to the next race. To further pile on the pressure, there is no option to save part way through, nor are you able to restart a race. I am not sure how willing I am to put up with a system whereby if I lose the last race I must do all seven races again in the hope of winning the last one, especially given the level of rubberbanding I experienced in the tournament. I will give it a go, but I may just enter a cheat code to access the track if this mode proves frustrating.

Next stage
Try the knockout mode and the bonus track.
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Re: A Chronological Exploration of the Need for Speed Series

Postby itsgood2slide » Thu Aug 10, 2017 9:22 pm

Title
Need for Speed II

Format
PS1

Progress
Completed Knockout and unlocked the bonus track.

Impressions
The knockout mode was easier than expected, although there were a couple of close calls. This was partly due to the leading AI opponents driving Jaguar XJ220s rather than McLaren F1s or Ferrari F50s, but possibly also due to the catchup which seemed to be functioning very much in my favour. It may perhaps have been that with dwindling numbers of cars in the race I was getting a greater boost from being in last place more often(!)

Knockout required me to use the same car for every race and I decided to try the car I unlocked from winning the tournament, the Ford Indigo concept car. I did not realise this at the time, but the Indigo is categorised as a B class vehicle (despite having better stats than the Lotus GT1 in 3 out of 4 categories) which must have led to there being no A class vehicles in the field, contributing to less challenge than I had anticipated.

I chose the Indigo because like the Lotus it promised excellent handling and acceleration at the expense of top speed. This meant that the first couple of races were just about keeping it clean in the midfield while the Jags pulled away, and this went to plan with me finishing 4th of 8 at Proving Grounds and 3rd of 7 at Outback. North Country was twisty enough for my car to come into its own, and despite some surprisingly spongy brakes (at odds with an almost full stat in this category), I was able to cruise to a comfortable win, 1st of 6.

As with the point-to-point races in The Need For Speed, grid order was determined by the finishing positions of the previous race, so Pacific Spirit was my first opportunity to record a lights-to-flag victory. I was on target to achieve this until some floaty physics and sticky collision detection conspired to leave me in last place with four corners to go. Cursing my luck (I had actually braked earlier than on the previous lap because I had a comfortable lead) and wondering if I should just unlock the bonus track with a password, I watched the pack fly past me as I tried to get my car pointing the right way again. This was when I learned just how generous the AI rubberbanding appeared to be, as I was quickly able to catch and effect a straightforward pass prior to the last corner to finish 4th of 5.

The Indigo's propensity to leave the ground and roll around a bit was a common theme from this point onwards, but fortunately so was the favourable catchup. Meditterano's initial descent was more perilous than ever, but with plenty of the lap remaining, a lead was easily secured: 1st of 4. Mystic Peaks' wicked concoction of jumps, dips and twists was relentless; I am not sure I have every spent as much of a race upside down, yet still considered it successful. I rarely saw the leader on the second lap, but regaining second place never required more than a couple of clean corners, which I just about managed at the end of the final lap. 2nd of 3 and I had my Hollywood pass, but would it be for one night only?

The final race was a 1v1 race through the uncharted territories of Monolithic Studios; win and I would unlock the ability to use the track in other game modes, lose and (cheats aside) I would be back at the Proving Grounds. I was able to take the lead and hold it until the closing stages of the race when my approach to a couple of corners was a little too conservative and for the first time that day I was overtaken while my car was on all four of its wheels and facing the right way. Being behind gave me the opportunity to use my opponent as a guide and I was able to follow and outbrake them to retake the lead and win the race, 1st of 2.

On reflection, I have written up my experience of Knockout mode in more detail than it perhaps warranted, so props to anyone that stuck it out and actually read all that!

So was the bonus track a worthy reward? Yes, but then I did not have to work too hard for it after all.

Image
Monolithic Studios is immediately reminiscent of the bonus tracks from The Need For Speed. Particularly in its early stages, it all looks and feels very similar to the futuristic rollercoaster of Lost Vegas, except this time it has the conceit that you are racing through a film studio so it is okay that reality is being left behind as you drive past dinosaurs and spaceships, and through hollograms and burning buildings. As the setting fancifully diverts from each film cliche to the next, The Need For Speed: Special Edition's bonus tracks also come to mind, and this feeling is reinforced as the developers throw as much trackside detail in as the engine can handle.

In terms of track design I have only one note: in keeping with the sense that the developers were seeking to incite carnage at every opportunity, there is a downward corkscrew that is so steep that it takes slowing to a relative crawl in order to retain a semblance of control over your vehicle. Just to make sure though, this corkscrew is also blind and occurs at the fastest point in the circuit!

Overall, this track is definitely a case of style of substance, with scenery taking substantial precedence over layout.

Additional notes
In terms of cheat modes, NFSII does not offer as much as its predecessor. Still, being able to drive pretty much any 3D object from the game can certainly provide some amusement (a market stall versus a tyrannosaurus rex, anyone?). I also spotted another little reference to Pioneer Productions: when you enter the code POWRUP you are greeted with a message that all cars have been upgraded to 'Pioneer Engines,' proportionally boosting each vehicle's acceleration and top speed.

Next stage
Try Need for Speed II: Special Edition and its exclusive track.
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