Need for Speed
Need for Speed is a series of mostly arcade racing games created in 1994 by EA and still going. This series is hard to define as a whole since there have been many radical changes throughout the 20 games released so far, but the most recurring theme is racing fast cars (supercars or riced out shitboxes) and escaping da popo. NFS games are following a standard yearly release calendar.
NFS made itself one of the major series in racing games because most titles are high quality games (despite the flaws they all have). Because of that, everyone has played an NFS game at least once, and anyone is likely to be biased by its own experience: typically the game they played through in high school is the best game ever, the games before that one are outdated shit and the games after that one are casual shit. If you manage to abstract yourself from these feelings, you’ll probably get a fair amount of fun out of all the games.
In the following recommendations the default platform is PC, unless stated otherwise.
- 1 Main games
- 1.1 PlayStation era
- 1.2 PlayStation 2 era
- 1.3 PlayStation 3 era:
- 1.3.1 Need for Speed: ProStreet (NFS 11, NFSPS)
- 1.3.2 Need for Speed: Undercover (NFS 12, NFSUC)
- 1.3.3 Need for Speed: SHIFT (NFS 13, NFSS)
- 1.3.4 Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit  (NFS 16, NFSHP2010)
- 1.3.5 [Need for Speed:] SHIFT 2: Unleashed (NFS 17, NFSS2U)
- 1.3.6 Need for Speed: The Run (NFS 18, NFSTR)
- 1.3.7 Need for Speed: Most Wanted  (NFS 19, NFSMW2012)
- 1.4 PlayStation 4 era:
- 2 Mobile platforms
- 3 Oddities
- 4 Conclusion/TL;DR
The games can be put in different era, usually synchronized with the releases of the new generation of consoles.
Some of those games can be tricky to run on a modern PC, but check the NFS Help page for some information on how to run those good old games. This page also contains useful links such as mod resources.
Games from this era are mainly about driving supercars and escaping (rather than destroying) the police in the process. Gameplay is a mix between arcade fun and okay physics.
The Need for Speed (NFS 1)
1994 – PC/PS1 – EA Canada
First entry in the series, this game allowed you to drive 8 supercars (+ 1 bonus car) around a bunch of imaginary but realistic tracks, both point-to-point stages and closed circuits. The police also made an appearance here, trying to fuck you over and distributing tickets.
This game doesn’t have a real SP mode, instead you get tournaments that would unlock stuff. Gameplay is arcadey but not unrealistic and fun. Notable features are a very detailed showcase of each car (with a lot of pictures, videos and audio commentaries) and a bitmap interior view.
Recommended since it’s the first game of the series, try to get a hold of the PC Special Edition that includes more tracks. Or just play the PS1 version, it’s easier to setup and use than DOSBox.
Need for Speed II (NFS 2)
1997 – PC/PS1 – EA Canada/EA Seattle
This game improved over the first game’s recipe on many areas but traded the police in return. The showroom has been improved with longer videos and panoramic views of the cars and a new knockout mode has been added (the last racer is eliminated at the end of each race). This game contains 9 cars, keeping only the F50 and McLaren F1 from the original game and adding 3 concept cars. Point-to-point tracks have been removed from the game in favour of closed circuits remotely based on real-world locations. The simple interior view has been scrapped as well.
Gameplay is close to the original one, with the addition of a basic tuner to set gear ratios or spoiler angles. Still no real career mode, but this game introduced a bunch of weird cheat codes to drive traffic cars or parts of the scenery.
Mildly recommended, especially if you really liked TNFS. The PC version runs very well on modern computers with a small patch.
Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit (NFS 3, NFSHP)
1998 – PC/PS1 – EA Canada/EA Seattle
Police chases are back! With a new AI that is probably still in use nowadays, NFS3 also introduced the police chatter, roadblocks, spike strips and everything else you still see in use in modern NFS games.
One of the best games in the entire series, this game had better graphics, better gameplay, more cars (including crazy prototypes), more tracks, more gamemodes (including playing as a cop in the PC version) and even supports car modding out of the box! Tuning is more advanced, tracks are even more varied and back to the realistic feeling of TNFS, including day/night settings and weather. The interior view was added back as well.
Also known as “the game that took the CLK-GTR from GT2 and locked up the Porsche license forever”.
Highly recommended as it’s one of the games that really defined the series, works flawlessly on modern computers with a little patch.
Need for Speed: High Stakes (NFS 4, NFSHS)
1999 – PC/PS1 – EA Canada/EA Seattle
Basically an incremental update over NFS3, this game is even better in every way imaginable. This is the first game with a career mode and a damage model. Sadly, this is one of the few NFS games with relatively big differences between the PC and PS1 version: the career mode isn’t the same, the pursuit mechanics are slightly different and the PC version has more tracks.
Multiplayer mode is still usable thanks to some community efforts and still being played in 2014 by some very dedicated fans. The community also created many car and tracks mods for when the default content gets boring.
Highly recommended since it’s the first game with a real career mode and the high point of this first era.
High Stakes was also known as Road Challenge in Europe and Brazil and Over Drivin' IV in Japan
Need for Speed: [Porsche (GER)/Porsche Unleashed (US)/2000 (EU)] (NFS 5, NFSP, NFS2000)
2000 – PC/PS1 – EA Canada (PC)/Eden Studios (PS1)
A game obviously centred on Porsche cars, the line-up consists of a selection of that brand’s top cars. The game gained an improved physics engine and an impressive array of realistic upgrades, all based on Porsche factory modifications. Cars are all given a “showroom” mode where you can open the engine compartment, doors and bonnet, and learn about their history. Police only exist in certain missions in Factory Driver mode and special circumstances otherwise, and they only push you around as opposed to pulling you over and giving you tickets like the previous two games.
Career mode is split in two parts: Factory Driver (do random tasks like a real Porsche test driver) and Evolution (acquire and race cars, earn money, advance through Porsche’s history, repeat). Like NFS4, multiplayer is still active thanks to the community’s efforts.
Recommended especially if you like Porsches, get the PC version as the PS1 version is very different (and worse in many regards).
PlayStation 2 era
The games from this era are running fine on any modern computer, but the first ones lack extra features like widescreen. The NFS Help page contains patches to add those features, and some mod resource links.
Also known as the “rehash” era. The PlayStation 2 era was marked by F&F’s success and mainly revolved around ricing cars and pretending to be a mexican immigrant. The second trait of this era was the switch to even more arcade gameplay starting at NFSU, considered by some as a reboot of the franchise and how close the 4 later games are to each other. Nevertheless, the games are still pretty good.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 (NFS 6, NFSHP2)
2002 – PC/PS2/GCN/Xbox – EA Black Box (PS2)/EA Canada (other platforms)
The sequel to NFS 3, featuring more or less the same gameplay elements but with the addition of a better career mode and the loss of the interior view. The graphics have been improved a lot with the bump to the new consoles and a rare feat: the PC version actually has less appealing graphics than the console counterparts. If you piss the cops off enough they'll call in a helicopter and - in true Michael Bay fashion - drop explosive barrels on the track ahead of you. There isn’t really anything more to add, aside from the PS2 version being (once again) very different from the other ones.
For the PC version, online multiplayer is based on GameSpy - meaning it's dead - but there are lots of mods available to spice up the game.
Moderately recommended for fans of the original Hot Pursuit. Ideally you would want to play both the PC and PS2 versions. The game isn’t that good compared to the old NFS 3.
Need for Speed: Underground (NFS 7, NFSU)
2003 – PC/PS2/GCN/Xbox – EA Black Box
First reboot of the series, NFSU completely discarded the 6 games released before it and instead focused on racing tuned imports on underground street races. Many features were removed: police chases and interior camera are among the biggest ones. NFSU also ditched the open career mode for a story-driven one (including laughably bad 2003 CGI). This game set the tone for the entre PS2 era. The biggest feature of this game is the extensive car customization, ranging from more power to extreme bodykits and sikk vinyls. This game introduced drag and drift racing, and countryside tracks were replaced with a moderately big city, driven exclusively at night. It also introduced the now-standard nitrous oxide system.
Mods are scarce and online multiplayer has been killed by EA. However, since this game didn’t attract the same kind of players as NFS 4 no one stepped up to make a replacement online component.
Moderately recommended. NFSU2 does pretty much everything better though.
Need for Speed: Underground 2 (NFS 8, NFSU2)
2004 – PC/PS2/GCN/Xbox – EA Canada
Direct sequel to NFSU and a giant PoS (Piece of Shit), NFSU2 expands on its predecessor by adding more cars (including slow SUVs), a different (and better) city, a lot more customisation options and a free roam mode. The game kept a story-driven career mode, a direct sequel to Underground’s plot but the crappy CGI has been replaced by comic styled panels. Career mode forced the player to drive to the nearest event to take part in it until the next area is unlocked and the events appear in the garage. This game introduced Street X races, short races on small tracks (some of them recycled from NFSU’s drift mode), the URL (a more conventional racing mode around closed tracks) and Outrun races (find some fucker in free roam, send him a message with your Cingular Wireless™ cellphone and try to be 300m ahead).
Like NFSU, online multiplayer is dead and mods only started appearing months ago. However, this game is getting popular right now in BR and Eastern Europe, and as a result most of the recent mods are crappy local cars and quality control is missing. You should probably avoid fucking with your game since it’s pretty good as is.
Highly recommended, one of the most popular games of the entire series and arguably one of the best.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted (NFS 9, NFSMW)
2005 – PC/PS2/GCN/Xbox/Xbox 360 – EA Black Box
Probably the most popular NFS game, loved to death by everyone who was between the age of 12 and 16 in 2005. The car roster was greatly expanded, with the addition of notable exotics and some muscle cars, but customisation was really cut down from NFSU2 (no more vinyl layers, separate front/back bumpers and side skirts were removed in favour of full body kits, etc.). The career mode revolves around climbing up a blacklist to get your cherished M3 GTR back from some asshole no one cares about. This game added back police chases, but this time it is possible to shake the cops off your tail by destroying their cars, making escaping a chase much easier than in the previous iterations. Other features making the game easier include auto-refilling N²O meter, the NFS equivalent of bullet time Speedbreaker, and pursuit breakers that can destroy groups of cops.
On the graphics side, this game is arguably one of the least pleasant ones: colours are completely gone and there’s an omnipresent bloom. Like the two previous games, online multiplayer is kill. Mods have been available for years but like NFSU2 it has a bad case of ham-fisted Russian mods. Quality may vary, but usually models are low-poly with no customisation options at all. Some might argue the game is perfect as is and adding shitty Ladas isn’t really needed.
Highly recommended, probably the most popular game and one of the best from this era even though it is pretty casual.
Need for Speed: Carbon (NFS 10, NFSC)
2006 – PC/PS2/PS3/Xbox/Xbox 360//GCN –EA Black Box (PC)/EA Canada (other platforms)
Direct sequel to MW, the player’s M3 GTR gets #rekt and he starts a new life in a new town, but exclusively racing at night time. NFSC adds a few more cars and a new customisation system called Autosculpt that allows precise shaping of visual parts for extremely adjustable style as well as precisely placed and resize vinyls. Career mode is about conquering the town by taking over rival crews to beat the shit out of the main antagonist. Gameplay is extremely similar to MW’s, the only real new gameplay feature is the Canyon mode (loosely related to touge races).
Online multiplayer is still online, though rather empty. Mods are available, but it’s still cursed by low-quality mods made by kids with toasters for computers.
Highly recommended, it plays as well as MW and has more features. Doesn’t have the larger fanbase MW has though.
PlayStation 3 era:
Games from this era are typically PC-centric games made after 2006 and therefore support all the features of modern-day gaming like widescreen and - in most cases - wheels and FFB. Note that the two first games of this era were also available on PS2, but those versions are so shitty they’re irrelevant. You may also notice a gap between NFS 13 and NFS 16 because the two intermediate games are “oddities” and are explained in detail in a later section.
Also known as the Sexually Curious High Schooler era of NFS. Games from this era explore very different gameplay styles from title to title with mixed results. Those games are still quite good despite some of the bad publicity. The reception was probably caused by EA’s decision to try more realistic games instead of the over-the-top gameplay of the PS2 era. Almost predictably, games with arcade gameplay had better reception.
Need for Speed: ProStreet (NFS 11, NFSPS)
2007 – PC/PS3/Xbox 360 – EA Black Box
Another change from the recipe of the 4 last games, ProStreet leaves street racing for track racing. The car selection was widened even more with the inclusion of the new trendy supercars, the Carbon city was removed in favour of a bunch of real world tracks (both closed circuits and point to point tracks) and gameplay did a 180 from the arcade side to turn into something more realistic. Along the reworked physics engine, the Speedbreaker was removed, N2O doesn’t recharge anymore, a simple mechanical damage system (with repairs you have to pay for) and an advanced aero tuning were added to try to make the game a lot more realistic. The end result is a game that only handles well with a wheel, but hopelessly suck without. Career mode is a succession of events all around the world organised in race days, containing a few events on a common location that you have to do with the few cars you selected (one per mode plus a backup). Game modes are the classic circuit race, sprint, drift, drag (quarter mile wheelies with an overpowered American muscle car are priceless) and some quite tough high speed challenges (where the AI keeps wrecking its own ass).
As usual, online multiplayer is dead. Modding scene is quiet because of the bad reputation this game unfortunately has.
Quite highly recommended if you have a PC and a wheel. Probably one of the most underrated games of the entire series, probably because of how unforgiving (for an NFS game) it is.
Need for Speed: Undercover (NFS 12, NFSUC)
2008 – PC/PS3/Xbox 360 – EA Black Box
Yet another 180 from the previous game, Undercover tried to go back to an arcade gameplay on open roads but it didn’t go so well. The reused engine from ProStreet fails to cope with map streaming and loading times are horrendous, the physics engine has been raped, graphics are definitely a step down from ProStreet (and like MW, colours are missing and bloom is omnipresent, with the addition of some sort of particle cloud at all times), the narrative is uninteresting, uninspired and badly acted and the game is really short.
Not really recommended, it can be fun but it’s not high-quality. Worth playing for the laughably bad cutscenes alone.
Need for Speed: SHIFT (NFS 13, NFSS)
2009 – PC/PS3/Xbox 360 – Slightly Mad Studios
SMS tried to turn the series around once again, going back to ProStreet’s recipe of track racing on closed circuits. This game tried to be a racing simulator but failed to do so (rumoured to be an issue with EA not wanting a real racing simulator and SMS sabotaging the engine to make it playable for kids with controllers as well as fuck with EA), even though most of the required features are there but disabled (including fuel simulation). Career is once again a succession of events all around the world, but unlike ProStreet there’s no race days or paid repairs.
Multiplayer should still be working, and the PC version has a lot of mods available to make it handle like a proper game, add cars (including the ones from the DLC PC didn’t get) and restore the disabled features.
Mildly recommended, Shift 2 does pretty much everything better than the first one but it’s still a nice game.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit  (NFS 16, NFSHP2010)
2010 – PC/PS3/Xbox 360 – Criterion Games
And yet another developer joins the NFS series. Criterion basically reskinned the great Burnout Paradise, added a lot of supercars and police chases and called it a day. The fact this game had these two features was enough to have it reuse the Hot Pursuit suffix NFS 3 used. Gameplay is very similar to Burnout’s, with long slides and ludicrous speeds, with the addition of cops that may use weapons such as EMPs to fuck with the racers. The career mode was split in two parts: racers and cops, both with different challenges and goals. NFSHP2010 also introduced the beloved Autolog system, which is some sort of fancy leaderboard.
This game was almost universally loved because it’s god damn fun, but not everyone appreciated the HP suffix as this game doesn’t share the same gameplay as its predecessors. The consoles got some more cars as DLCs that PC never got, but the PC version runs butter smooth and looks wonderful.
Highly recommended since this game can dispense buttloads of fun, as long as you can put the fact that it’s more a Burnout game than an NFS game behind.
[Need for Speed:] SHIFT 2: Unleashed (NFS 17, NFSS2U)
2011 – PC/PS3/Xbox 360 – Slightly Mad Studios
NFS: Shift with a slightly improved physics engine, more cars, more tracks and a lot of historic content added on top of it. Like with the first Shift game, modders have stepped up and fixed some of the features, but this game is even more sensitive to slow computers: the physics engine will freak out and create huge input latencies if your CPU cannot breathe. This sensitivity may be a result of the new visual features (like bits of rubber from the tyres). Otherwise the game is largely similar to Shift, with even more customisation options.
Multiplayer is standard, except for the addition of the Autolog that would force leaderboards all over the game. The first game to have DLCs on PC (a free one). As with the original Shift, mods are available and unlike PS2-era games they don’t suck too much.
Recommended, it’s a nice game (especially with mods) as long as you can get the idea that NFS games should be arcade out of your head.
Need for Speed: The Run (NFS 18, NFSTR)
2011 – PC/PS3/Xbox 360 – EA Black Box
This time, EA thought NFS needed to get with the times, so they grabbed Michael Fucking Bay and said "Hey, make this exciting and new." The result is a short game (about 4 hours of driving providing you never have to restart any race, plus a few hours of cutscenes and loadings) that never lets you play with all its content (seriously, most NFS games don’t let you, but if you stick to the career mode you’ll only race like 8 cars from class 4 to 5 on a scale from 1 to 6) and forces useless QTEs on you. This game only has a few redeeming points: the graphics are very nice, the car list is impressive and contains many iconic cars that aren’t supercars, the levels are sometimes pretty well done and the handling model is almost on-par with the older titles. Car customisation is simple, based around “kits” for each car. But it was not well received and didn’t sell well to the point EA Black Box got “reorganized” and eventually shut down in 2013.
Multiplayer is a grindfest that include some sort of player card personalisation ripped straight from Modern Warfare 2, the PC version never got the cool DLCs consoles got (including a load of Italian cars and more hardcore supercars) and modding is completely locked out thanks to Frostbite 3 being a piece of shit.
Mildly recommended as it can be entertaining.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted  (NFS 19, NFSMW2012)
2012 – PC/PS3/Xbox 360 – Criterion Games
Criterion did it again, except somehow this game isn’t nearly as fun as HP2010. Cars are too heavy, there’s no career mode but instead you have to complete a bunch of random events to climb up a pointless Most Wanted list to unlock cars. Switching cars is done by jumping from one to another and unlocking upgrades is based on completing shitty challenges with each car. At least the game looks very good.
Autolog came back in full force, intruding itself in every single challenge the game has to offer (including jumping through billboards or going in front of random speed cameras).
Recommended, it’s still fun but not really innovating in any way.
PlayStation 4 era:
The first games of this era may be available on PS3/Xbox 360, but those inferior versions are not really relevant and have been discarded.
Unlike the previous era, this one started on a rehash, and then NFS took a break in 2014.
Need for Speed: Rivals (NFS 20, NFSR)
2013 – PC/PS4/Xbox One – Ghost Games/Criterion Games
Another Criterion game, disguised as an original game. This time the career mode tried to have a plot but it isn’t really convincing. The gameplay is still close to the classic Criterion arcade gameplay aside from the 30 FPS cap. Ferrari cars are back for the first time in 12 games.
Multiplayer is based around a simple feature: seamless SP/MP switch, and there’s still Autolog all over the place.
Need for Speed (NFS 21, NFS 2015)
2015 - PC/PS4/Xbox One - Ghost Games
As was the craze in 2015, EA pushed a complete reboot of the series - in this case, a reboot means they wanted to make a worse Underground game and didn't want it to be compared to the Underground games. The physics are bland and disappointing, the campaign is bland and disappointing, the whole game is bland and disappointing. The only upside is that the car customization is detailed if inspired by the car trends of the time. So, if you like dressing up your cars to look like stancelyfe drift machines and don't mind the always-online DRM, the game might have something for you. Otherwise steer clear.
Need for Speed Payback (NFS 22, NFSPB)
2017 - PC/PS4/Xbox One - Ghost Games
The 2015 reboot did so well that they decided to completely drop the tone of that game and go onto something inspired by every other game out there! The customization from that game is still in and even has been improved, with players being able to do wild modifications of certain cars ala The Crew. As for the actual gameplay though, it's very similar to the previous entry albeit in a slightly larger open world and no longer always online. So in short, it's an amazing improvement from the previous game and probably the preferred one of the two! Except some genius at EA put in lootboxes in order to upgrade your shit cars so the game's unplayable gg ez
Need for Speed: Heat (NFS 23, NFSH)
2019 - PC/PS4/Xbox One - Ghost Games
Another Ghost Games attempt, probably the best they're capable of. Set in Palm City, a fictionalised version of the city of Miami, Florida and its surrounding area. The in-game map features diverse geography, including mountainous areas and open fields. Unlike Need for Speed Payback, the game does not include a 24-hour day-night cycle, but you can switch between day and night. During the day, you can take part in official race events, which reward cash to spend on new cars and upgrades. At night you take part in illegal street races, which earn REP. The more REP, the more aggressive the police will be during the night. You must escape the cops and get back to the safehouse to bank the REP. The REP multiplier mechanic works similarly to the Speed Points multiplier from Rivals. The game also features a story to skip your way through.
The game features 127 cars from 33 manufacturers, with Ferrari returning to the game after being absent from Payback due to licensing issues. Unlike Payback, performance upgrades no longer come in random Speedcards and are unlocked by earning REP and winning races.
Throughout the years NFS has been ported to many mobile game platforms, from handheld consoles to cellphones.
J2ME versions (old cellphones)
Most of them are rather bad games, with slow framerates on the later ones and shitty gameplay. They’re not really worth it.
NFS: Undercover has an alright iOS port.
NFS: Shift got an iOS/Android port that was acceptable but lacked the feeling of the real game.
NFS: HP2010 got a good smartphone port, but MW2013 is a better game and you should get it instead of this one.
NFS: MW2013 got a very good iOS/Android port that costs some money but is really worth it. It’s easily one of the best racing games for smartphones you can get.
NFS: Underground Rivals is a rehash of NFSU2 on PSP, good but still a Mexican racing simulator.
NFS: Most Wanted 5-1-0 is pretty good, and so is NFS: Carbon Own the City.
NFS: Undercover is a bit less interesting but still good for a PSP game.
NFS: Shift looks more like the PSP version of ProStreet rather than the PSP version of Shift.
On top of all those games, the NFS series contains a few oddities: games that are not part of the main series but still sold as NFS games.
Need for Speed: World
F2P MMO version of a mix between Carbon and Most Wanted. The game contains a shitload of cars but half of them will require you to spend some of your real world money and there’s a shitty dealership rotation system that makes sure you can’t buy the car you want. The map encompasses both Rockport City (MW) and Palmont City (Carbon). Community is shit, no one can drive properly and the balance is shit. It's also dead since EA shut down the servers on July 14th 2015.
Motor City Online
An old MMO game developed as part of the NFS franchise, centred on driving old US cars. It has been dead for years and was never really popular.
Need for Speed: Nitro
A Nintendo-exclusive game released after NFS: Shift, it features cartoony graphics and casual gameplay. Not really interesting.
Need for Speed: V-Rally & V-Rally 2
EA released the two V-Rally games made by Eden in the US with the NFS prefix. Those games are strictly about rallying and have absolutely nothing to do with the NFS franchise.
To sum up, here’s a chart of the games in a loose arcade->sim scale. Stars denote highly recommended games.