Written by  :  Trixter (9128)
Written on  :  Dec 28, 2000
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.75 Stars4.75 Stars4.75 Stars4.75 Stars4.75 Stars

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The best racing game I have ever played, bar none.

The Good

Need for Speed: High Stakes is a logical upgrade to the previous game in the series, NFS3: Hot Pursuit.

I wrote all about what I enjoyed in NFS3 in my previous review for that game, so I won't rehash it here. What I will write about is what's been added to the game since NFS3 and what's been improved:

  • Campaign mode. There is a very long campaign mode that takes from 20 to 40 hours to complete, ranging from many different racetracks and natural settings, to "knockout" competitions, to the game's namesake "High Stakes" race where if you lose the race, you lose your car. That's right: You have money to spend and earn, which also leads to the inevitable garage of cars you can purchase if you do well enough. Of course, it also means you might have to sell your cars to earn money for upgrades or tournament entry fees.

  • Car damage is finally a part of the NFS series. The more you bang up your car or excessivly redline, the more you damage your engine, suspension, body, etc. The more banged-up you are, the worse the car performs, even to the point of your body scraping the ground during a sharp turn and slowing you down (complete with a hideous scraping noise and a shower of sparks). And in campaign mode, you have to pay to get your car repaired or it's still damaged in the next race.

  • The number of tracks have nearly doubled.

  • True Internet play. EA's beta Racing Program let me race 8 total strangers over the internet, which was a refreshing change from High Stakes' computer AI.

  • The number of songs that can be played during gameplay have nearly doubled.

  • The 3D hardware acceleration support has been improved. While some texture layering issues still exist (license plates sometimes flicker during odd object orientation or distance), most of the display glitches are gone.

    As Kasey Chang wrote in his review, it's the game that NFS3 was supposed to be.

    The Bad

    No game is perfect. As enamoured as I am with High Stakes, I have to point out a couple of flaws that may turn people off to the game.

    The online racing portion seems to need a lot of work. Over a year now (2000) and their EA Racing online program is still in beta, which is evidenced by the long sync time when trying to start a race and the confusing interface. Worst, however, is that in all versions of the game v4.44 and lower, it is possible to cheat by modifying the default car statistics and create a supercar under the guise of "Chevy Camaro" or some other car that can't possibly go 250mph. This was so offputting the first time I encountered it that I went back to Campaign play. I'll wait for a patch that prevents cheating, thank you very much.

    Some of the 3D elements aren't handled properly by all 3D cards and drivers. This is nitpicky, and I probably shouldn't even have mentioned it. I guess I just really wanted to see what "fog" looked like on my 3D card (a GeForce II GTS), but enabling that option turned the screen into a murky blue mess.

    Realism isn't exactly out the window, but it is annoying that cars won't flip over under extremely hard turns like they would in real life. I'm sure this decision was made so that you could master the arcade racing art of "powersliding" (which, I hate to admit, is a guilty pleasure of mine in any game that supports it).

    The interactive music of NFS3 is missing, replaced by songs that play once through and then switch to a new song. The songs are good, and there are many of them, but the single best thing about NFS3 was how the music was tied specifically to portions of the track and really helped build a powerful immersion into the game. I was really sad to see the interactive music missing in High Stakes.

    The car showcases have been pruned down a lot to just a few pictures and stats. This is a continuing trend in the series, as the first few games had full-motion video of the cars, and the latter games have only narration of statistics to a few static background pictures.

    The Bottom Line

    Simply the pinnacle of sportscar racing, if you don't mind a few arcade assists now and then. What it lacks in true realism, it makes up for with long replayability and good clean fun.