I’ve got the need, the need for speed! When it comes to iconic franchises, Need for Speed is one of the all time classics. There aren’t too many series that have rebooted themselves over three times and still managed to retain a loyal fan base quite like Electronic Arts’ racing simulator. Need for Speed has evolved like no other game, chopping and changing styles to suit current and popular trends. From extremely illegal street racing to legitimate track-driving, Need for Speed has had quite the history spreading over 20 years. The action packed street racer made its debut back in 1994 and single handily took the racing genre to a higher level with a plethora of exciting features. In collaboration with numerous developers, the Need for Speed franchise has rolled out 20 official main series games, making it one of the biggest series in history. Some of these games were hot, while some smelt like burning rubber and it has been a long time debate as to which of these main titles ranks best amongst the rest. So we here at TheGamer have decided to try it, ranking every Need for Speed game from best to worst. Of course, once again, this list is sure to upset some fans as undoubtedly one of their series favourites will situate somewhere near the bottom. So please let us know how you feel about this list and enjoy!
20 Need for Speed: ProStreet (2007)
First up on the list and gaining the title of the worst game in the series is Need for Speed: ProStreet. After a long period of time, ProStreet took players back to the track, ditching the illegal street-racing format that had previously been a huge success for EA. ProStreet also brought in realistic damage to cars, which affected the way you raced, while also allowing the player to drive around real life circuits. However, following the success of the open world format, ProStreet, also without any inclusion of police intervention, lacked the fun factor its predecessors brought. Along with this, the game failed to upgrade the realism of the driving and had lower quality of the production compared to other titles in the series.
19 Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit (1998)
Coming in at 19th and avoiding last place is Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit. The first instalment of the Hot Pursuit franchise, the game allowed you to be both the felon and the police. With every new game in the series brings a new feature and the original Hot Pursuit brought in split screen, as well as improving on the graphics greatly, which were impressive even for its time. Unfortunately for Hot Pursuit, its graphics aren't enough to make up for some generic gameplay and it lacks the open world style that fans of the game enjoy so much.
18 Need for Speed: High Stakes (1999)
Following on from Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, we move to its direct successor, Need for Speed: High Stakes. Building on Hot Pursuit, High Stakes introduced racing for pink slips, as well offering a tournament mode and bringing back the pursuit style racing in Getaway and Time Trap mode. Also, if you happen to have had a PlayStation at the time, High Stakes mode allowed two players to pit there cars against each other by inserting two memory cards. The loser would have his car deleted immediately after the race, which we’re sure broke up a few friendships along the way. A cool feature, but not enough for the game to be seen as a high point in the series.
17 Need for Speed: World (2010)
Coming in at #17 is the fifteenth instalment in the franchise, Need for Speed: World. Need for Speed: World, was a PC exclusive, taking the style of Most Wanted and Carbon and implementing MMO elements. As the title suggests, World had a large map which players could access through an open world format, as highways interconnected between Palmont and Rockport from Carbon and Most Wanted. It also offered over 100 licensed cars, a game mode called treasure hunt and introduced a new system of customization, which was based on skill points obtained through racing. The reason it's so low down our list is because World no longer runs, with EA shutting down services for the game saying “that the game no longer lives up to the high standard set by the Need for Speed franchise.” So, if you did a bunch of work in this game, it's vanished and that's hugely disappointing.
16 Need for Speed: Nitro (2009)
Up next on our list is another game from the main series of titles to feature on just one platform and that’s Need for Speed: Nitro. Published only on Nintendo hardware, Nitro attempted to make the game purely fun, ditching realism to create a sense of excitement. However, that’s as much as it did, with limited tracks and cars to chose from compared to other titles in the series. Despite its early excitement factor, Nitro’s quirky zest deteriorates into a tedious strain. Along with this, Nitro didn’t offer any new features of racing and it’s only new attribute was ‘Own It’, an aesthetic placed upon driver's screens to indicate who was in the lead. It also had a shallow campaign, which is what has this title very low down on the list.
15 Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed (2000)
Back in the year 2000, the EA went slightly off track with its next version of the franchise, introducing Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed. Focusing on a unique market, the game targeted Porsche enthusiasts, as it was the only kind of car available in the game, but had a range of cars from the 1950s all the way to 2000. The game offered incredible detail on each of the cars included, allowing fans of not just the game, but of the German made sports car, insight into the vehicle they were driving. The game even offered a feature where you could play the role of a Porsche test driver, completing various tasks in order to sign with the Porsche Company. However, the choice to stick to just one make of car is the reason Porsche Unleashed is ranked so low. Picking a single make of car was not a new thing either, as competitor Gran Turismo had already put this style into practice while offering a lot more in there games, where as in Porsche Unleashed, that was all there was to do.
14 Need for Speed: Shift (2009)
Offering an open world MMO (World) and arcade style road racer (Nitro), the series' second reboot also included a third game, the touring car simulator Need for Speed: Shift. Shift aimed itself at real hard-core driving fans, turning its attention to the touring circuit, which presented gamers with 60 plus super cars, which were all customizable on both a cosmetic and performance level. What was cool about Shift was, although they had moved away from the street racer format, the player could still use some of the tactics he would employ on the street, such as taking out opponents mid race, while still allowing players to play more professionally. Unfortunately for Shift and the Need for Speed franchise, it was going up against two long time touring car simulators in Forza Motosport and Gran Turismo, which were superior games making look Shift look underwhelming.
13 Need for Speed: The Run (2011)
We're moving forward in time for our next entry and it’s what some call the dark horse of the franchise, Need for Speed: The Run. What was cool about The Run was how different it was from the rest of the series. A mixture of Shift and Hot Pursuit, The Run follows a very rigid storyline. Taking on the role of Jackson “Jack” Rourke, players are tasked with competing in a cross-country street race from San Francisco to New York, while trying to avoid both the mob and the police. There are numerous styled races you compete in as you dash past picturesque settings. Need for Speed: The Run ditches the racing for “respect” theme of racing for your life. However, the game lacks replayability and is sadly a short game. Considering you drive across a country, you would have hoped there was more on offer.
12 The Need for Speed (1994)
Here it is, the game that started it all off, the original The Need for Speed. This classic arcade game is where the inspiration for all of its successors stems from and every new game that is introduced has elements of this first instalment. Every game has parts from this game, like the timeless circuit racing and point-to-point tracks, as well as the definitive police pursuits. The Need for Speed was arguably the racing game of its time and the only reason it features so low on this list is because its successors managed to go beyond the lofty standards set back in 1994.
And good news 3DO owners, the game is also on that system, so if you actually kept one of those, you can get the game on that system too!
11 Need for Speed II (1997)
The first game to reach, and surpass, the original's ‘lofty standards’ is the direct sequel; Need for Speed II. Released on less systems than it's predecessor, only appearing on the original PlayStation and PC, the second title of the franchise took everything its predecessor had and made it even better and more exotic. Need for Speed II was also the first game to introduce the ‘Knockout’ race mode, where the last racer is knocked out after each lap until there is one driver left. Perhaps Need for Speed II’s downfall was its decrease in difficulty, taking away from the realism of the first entry had introduced. However, even with that minor hitch, the game was a huge success and built on the first game.
10 Need for Speed: Carbon (2006)
We’ve reached the midway point and its Need for Speed: Carbon that rounds off the first 10. Carbon was the first game to make the step up the to PlayStation 3 and Wii back in 2006 following on the story from Most Wanted. Carbon was a brave attempt and threw in a host of new features that differed from its prequels. Removing drag racing, Carbon added “Canyon Duel,” a cat and mouse style race where the chasing driver needs to stay as close as he can to the leader to acquire points. Carbon also introduced team racing into the franchise, where you could recruit teammates for your crew and raise their stats. The AI of your teammates was decent for its time, as you could team up with them and give them orders to help you win events. However, Carbon had a couple of downfalls, the first being the lack of police intervention, its inclusion being more of an aesthetic than anything else, and secondly, once again, the game was just simply too short.
9 Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2012)
The countdown to #1 begins! And we'll start off with the 2012 remake of Need for Speed: Most Wanted. After a seven year wait, Need for Speed fans finally got their second Most Wanted and they got the game they asked for. Almost a carbon copy of the original, EA brought back all the similar style races, a rendition of the original ‘Blacklist’, as well as police integration. The game followed a similar format to Burnout Paradise, with a big open world and a socially competitive online, with a host of new cars. However, it was the story that was its biggest let down. Unlike the unravelling mystery of the original, the newer generation title was cliché and corny, which took away from most of the great new features the game had.
8 Need for Speed: Undercover (2008)
Sneaking in at #8 is Need for Speed: Undercover. Undercover came at a time when Need for Speed needed it most, after the poor release of its prequel, Need for Speed: ProStreet. Because of this, the game took a significantly longer time to develop unlike previous editions, as the franchise went straight back to its “roots.” Now when we say roots, we really mean roots as Undercover incorporated nearly every element of Need for Speed you could thing of; street racing, police chases, opportunities to be the police, a storyline, an open world and, of course, MORE CARS! However, once again, it was the story that let this title down, with fans and critics alike voicing their distaste for the campaign.
7 Need for Speed (2015)
The next entry is another reboot of the franchise and it’s the latest one, Need for Speed. Returning to the tuner culture back in 2015, Need for Speed used the opportunity provided by the new consoles to offer stunning visuals, realistic driving and a host of new content. It was also heavily based online, with players having to have an Internet connection to play the game. However, the story is under development and the online modes fail to capitalize on the opportunities at its disposal. However, the in game campaign does offer the opportunity to race real life famous drivers, but disappointing AI took away from this fun new feature.
6 Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 (2002)
From here on out the list becomes even harder to rank, as we move into the crux of the Need for Speed franchise. Coming in at #6 is Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 and the last game of the series' first era, before EA moved to the tuner culture. It was awarded “Console Racing Game of the Year” at the Interactive Achievement Awards back in 2002, as it took the ‘Cops vs. Crooks’ style and made it even better. It added a barrage of new Cop units, including a swooping helicopter! Hot Pursuit 2 was also the first game to feature rock music under the EA Trax label. The only downfall to Hot Pursuit 2 was that it was only perfect on one console, the PS2. The other console versions were inferior to the Sony hardware version, leaving this great game down at number 6!
5 Need for Speed: Shift 2 – Unleashed (2011)
We're back to the track for our next entry, with arguably the best track racer the franchise has to offer, Need for Speed: Shift 2 – Unleashed. Shift 2 didn’t offer any new features to speak of, but it's one of the few games in the series that refined itself, showing that it didn’t need to be bigger than its prequel, just better. Maintaining its character, Shift 2 focused on making the driving experience more real, bringing in an in-car camera view, as well as a helmet cam view. The helmet cam was an excellent added feature and was a popular addition to the game, as the head of the driver would move according to the physics of the car, which included tunnel vision as the speed of the car increased. Shift 2 was a distinguished title in the series and was finally a competitor to its much more famous and illustrious opponents in the field of legal racing.
4 Need for Speed: Underground (2003)
This next title is a big one and I’m sure its position will ruffle a few feathers of Need for Speed fans, but in at #4 is Need for Speed: Underground. The game that took the franchise to the next level, Underground was the start of the extremely popular tuner culture. The game was also the first in the franchise to offer a storyline and a garage mode, allowing players full customization on both a performance and visual scale. Underground also included a new racing mode called ‘Drifitng’, where racers would acquire points the longer they could sustain drifts around a circuit against other racers. As the first reboot of the series, EA hit the nail on the head and Underground would start a chain of games that defined the series.
3 Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010)
We’ve reached the final three and coming in at a very commendable third place is Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Taking on the form of the previous editions, Hot Pursuit added on a playable career mode for both the police and racer. The biggest addition to this instalment in the franchise was signing of new developers Criterion, who were the creators behind Burnout Paradise and the new look Need for Speed showed a significant improvement because of it. The game was praised for its immense entertainment and countless epic moments, making it one of the best reviewed Need for Speed games of all-time, as the new Hot Pursuit was a great success in the franchise history.
2 Need for Speed: Underground 2 (2004)
This one will be hotly debated amongst Need for Speed fans, but coming in as the unlucky runner up is Need for Speed: Underground 2. Underground 2 took a huge step forward for the franchise by offering players the first open world map to play on, where racers had to drive to events to activate them. Underground 2 offered endless content for players to get lost in with plenty of customization, a lengthy storyline, interesting side missions and an improvement on graphics. Underground 2 also offered the chance for players to drive around in SUVs, a feature that has not been available since. Yet, the reason it finishes a close second is due to no police intervention in an incredibly criminal setting, as well as an excessive amount of driving to access certain races.
1 Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2005)
Our favorite Need for Speed game is Need for Speed: Most Wanted (the 2005 version). There is no doubt this instant classic is not just a great racing game, it’s a great game in general. The original Most Wanted brought back the inclusion of police pursuits and it's the game where the law enforcers are best used, even to this day. What makes Most Wanted the best amongst the rest was its toughness. As the game progressed, the police chases became more ridiculous, with a gradual increase in cop car types that got tougher and faster as your bounty increased, like a swooping helicopter, SUVs that attempted head on collisions and a variety of roadblocks that could stop the driver dead in his tracks. Along with that was an entertaining story, as the player made their way up the ‘Blacklist’, eventually toppling them all and cultivating in one of the greatest police chases in gaming history. Most Wanted had a great collection of cars, an interactive open world and well developed customization that made it the best Need for Speed game of all time.