The Need for Speed could not be more of a 90s game even if it tried. It’s got all the ingredients of a typical racer that was born in the 90s, but there was something that did set it apart from everything else at the time to make it one of the most beloved racing franchises in the world.
The Need for Speed was originally created for the Panasonic 3DO and later ported to the PC, PlayStation and SEGA Saturn. What made this first outing something special back in 1996 (on the version I reviewed) was the fact that it was as close as a racing game got to some form of simulation racing on a console. The developers had staff members from Road & Track helping with the control of the eight individual cars to bring a feeling of real racing cars to console.
Just enough to keep you coming back for more
Play it today and it’s a bit of a different story. The cars definitely do all have unique handling and physics, but that’s not to say it plays as well as it once did, and it’s most definitely not a simulation. Once you enter your first race it’ll take some time to adapt to this old style of racing game. Seeing as it’s not quite an arcade racer (of the time) you’ll have a hard time beating your rivals. The races are fierce and require you to know the handling of any particular car and the corners of each track quite well. The eight real world cars on offer include Toyota Supra Turbo, Acura NSX, Mazda RX-7, Porsche 911 Carrera, Dodge Viper RT/10, Corvette ZR-1, Lamborghini Diablo VT and the Ferrari 512TR.
Something that made The Need for Speed stand out at the time was the showcase for each vehicle in the game. Here you could check the general (with someone narrating some interesting information), performance, mechanical and history information. It also included a video for each and every car. By standards set today the video quality is terrible, but back then it was state of the art tech to have a video included in the game. Unfortunately you don’t get to tamper with the car settings at all. You get a stock car given to you, and you do the best that you can using that SEGA Saturn controller.
Using the D-pad on the SEGA Saturn is a reminder that we’ve come a long way in the last two decades or so. Surprisingly, even though there is no analogue input, it does not feel twitchy at all, and is probably half the reason it became such a beloved game at the time. It’s quite a smooth steering experience, but the problem comes in with the braking and handbrake. The brake feels like it barely functions and the handbrake, on the opposite end of the scale, just about brings your car to a complete stop when you give it a quick tap, so don’t expect any powerslides. Another great feature for the time was being able to see the dashboard of your car. Look at it today and it looks like a transparent GIF that has been stuck to the screen, along with functioning dashboard dials. When you consider that it’s a 1996 game (of a 1994 port, which means it was developed in 1992 or so) it’s still a very impressive feature. All-in-all you have 4 camera viewpoints to choose from, though I found the dashboard camera being the best of the lot.
In Hot Pursuit
There is lots of racing to be done on the six available locations. Some tracks will have you completing a good few laps, while others are made up of what they call segments – now known as ‘stages’ in rally games. Before taking part in a Time Trial, Head to Head, Single Race or Tournament you’ll have the opportunity to choose the time of day (morning, midday and evening). Other than that there are not that many options available to you. Beat the tournament mode and who knows what might happen? You might just have a little unlocked bonus waiting for you. Ah yes, a time before DLC ruined it all. So what was that secret ingredient? Cop chases. In this particular game you’ll get arrested if you get two tickets and these cops are hardcore. Trying to control your car, while fending off cops is tough, but it brings that something special to make it a unique experience.
You can take some time to enjoy the Two Player mode with a friend, but there are some serious frame rate drops once the screen splits into two. That said, The Need for Speed is better than its direct sequel (Need for Speed 2) in just about every way. It even looks better from a graphical point of view as it’s nowhere near as pixelated as Need for Speed 2. The car sounds are questionable, but for something so old it’s forgivable.
If you somehow missed out on the first game in the series it’s definitely worthwhile tracking it down, but be aware that it has its wheels stuck in some 90s mud – it’s fun, but it’s dirty.