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The Need for Speed (DOS)

81
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
4.0
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  SiliconClassics (843)
Written on  :  Aug 02, 2007
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4.75 Stars4.75 Stars4.75 Stars4.75 Stars4.75 Stars

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Summary

The Groundbreaking Masterpiece that Spawned a Series

The Good

To fully appreciate the impact of The Need for Speed, think back to 1995. Your desktop PC was probably a midrange Pentium with a quad-speed CD-ROM drive and 16 megabytes of ram. Your game collection consisted mostly of sprite-based adventure titles and some low-res textured driving and flight sims. Most of them came on floppy disks, and the few CD-ROM titles you might have owned (perhaps Myst or The 7th Guest) merely allowed you to click your way through pre-rendered rooms interspersed with poorly-acted video cutscenes.

Along comes The Need for Speed, with tons of Hollywood-quality video sequences, an electrifying 16-bit rock-n-roll soundtrack and spectacular high-resolution 3D textured graphics, with all the cars your pimply teenage ass had been lusting after for years. It was enough to make you turn off your Nirvana album!

Simultaneously innovative, polished and enthralling, The Need for Speed made you realize why you bought a Pentium in the first place. To start with, it offered one of the best implementations of "multimedia" CD-ROM technology to date, providing superb audio, lots of high resolution images, exciting full-motion videos and top-quality narration that described every car and track in detail. Every car had a "showcase" with statistics, historical information, performance characteristics, photographs and a short video clip. Even the tracks were described in detail by the narrator.

Once inside the car, you were treated to high-res textured 3D unlike any you'd ever seen before. The cars had spinning wheels and working brake lights, environments were populated with plenty of trees and buildings, and the steering wheel turned along with your joystick. The artwork was top-notch, colorful and slightly stylized with occasional touches of the surreal, like the half-buried Statue of Liberty at the end of the Coastal track. Burnouts laid stripes on the road surface and hard collisions sent cars tumbling through the air in a physically believable way. Graphically, the game was a jaw-dropping feast for the eyes.

The Need for Speed also offered some of the best sound ever heard in a PC game. Menu screens were accompanied by catchy rock music and once on the track, you were treated to a great variety of sounds from the vehicles and environment. Gearshifts produced a satisfying "clunk" sound, opponents honked at you and the wind howled at high speed. Driving through tunnels even caused echo and distinct changes in ambience.

Gameplay was solid, with excellent track design and superb AI. Each course had a distinct look and feel, offering long stretches of straightaway interspersed with curves and hills that sent you airborne. Your opponents would block you wherever they could, while ordinary road traffic and police cars added to the challenge. Though not as realistic as contemporary racing titles from Papyrus, car handling was believable and each vehicle had a unique character, with the Porche tending to oversteer and the Vette plowing to the outside of tight turns. The Viper was heavy but offered a lot of grunt. The RX-7 was nimble but its rotary engine struggled to keep up with the rest of the pack. Play balancing was excellent, making racing a challenge whether you were driving the Ferrari or the Toyota.

In short, The Need for Speed did an awful lot, and it did it right.

The Bad

It's hard to criticize The Need for Speed without sounding picky, but there are a few minor annoyances worth mentioning. Though you can turn around and drive backwards on each track, the camera always pointed ahead, apparently due to a limitation in the game's graphics engine. This made it very difficult to, say, smash head-on into your helpless opponents as they raced around the circuit.

There is also no damage model, despite the game's quasi-realistic physics. Since TNFS was a cross between arcade racer and serious sim it would have been nice to have a user-selectable damage option, but auto manufacturers are typically opposed to seeing their licensed products demolished onscreen.

The game also limits your driving to the paved track, so wandering slightly onto grass or gravel presented you with an invisible wall. This boundary was a bit too close to the racing line in spots, occasionally making for some annoying moments.

The Bottom Line

At the time of its release, The Need for Speed was a quantum leap for PC driving games. Fully capitalizing on the power of the Pentium processor, its beautiful high-resolution graphics and fun gameplay set new standards across the board. Twelve years later, it's still as playable as ever, and quite a bit better than many of the later releases in the NFS series.