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SummaryA buggy yet entertaining driving(?) game to kill time with.
The GoodAhh... the father of one of the most successful video game series of all time (financially, of course) and apparently a close relative of the Test Drive series. Just like the Test Drive series, The Need for Speed should be able to entertain some speed-demon wannabes and veteran drivers alike.
Flashback to 1996: The packaging was very appealing; the cover art of a Ferrari Testarossa tailing a Lamborghini Diablo at dangerously high speeds immediately caught my eyes as a kid browsing the computer retail stores. The back cover begins advertising its tantalising claims of brilliance such as "8 PUREBRED EXOTICS", "Rich graphic detail in... 640x480..." , and (this is my favourite one!) "Cars behave like they should so you can drive them like you shouldn't." All that made me want to buy that game dearly, but with parents tightly controlling me, how could I? Thus was the power of the package.
Back to the present: I took with permission a copy of The Need for Speed: Special Edition from a relative of mine and, after tricking out my darn old Compaq Presario 7400, played the game. Soon enough, WHAM! Then plays live video recordings of the "8 PUREBRED EXOTICS" in breakneck action. I went "Wow!" at the sight of the video. Once at the main menu, I went straight to the informative car showcases to read more about the cars and watch their videos. Even before racing, I had so much fun browsing for info on cars I can only dream about driving. Heck, with Road & Track magazine assisting in the development of this game, I should be!
Then there was the mesmerising rock and techno music. I really loved listening to the music, which would play a major role in me seeking out the later Need for Speed games. From rockin' guitar riffs to atmospheric electronic music, they were all there to soothe my easily agitated soul during and after exhilarating drives through challenging tracks.
The engines of the each of the cars sound unique to each other and might give you a glimpse of each of their personalities. Though useless, slamming the horns making a ridiculous racket makes for small entertainment. The screeches do some good in reminding you that you are not cornering like a true professional driver. Still, I always loved driving cars like I shouldn't...
... and drive like I shouldn't I did, resulting in sometimes hilarious crashes and pile-ups. In a high-speed race of 8 Diablos on the wild Lost Vegas bonus track, after ricocheting from a barrier at 250 mph (that's MILES per hour!) I managed to knock out SIX other Diablos in the process, resulting in a pile-up sending a Diablo flying 15 metres into the sky! Kudos to sadistic Need for Speed entertainment!
The tracks were nicely decorated with bridges, billboards, cities, resorts, forests, beaches - pretty much anything that makes the tracks look and feel lively. Even with only 256 colours and 640x480 resolution, the tracks looked well coloured. Kudos to the track artists and designers! To think that true road races would only return four years later in Need for Speed: Porsche...
Additionally, being the Special Edition, it rewarded me with support for Microsoft Windows and steering wheels and pedals and configurable track settings!
Then things started to really tick me off...
The BadI was so ready to punch the driving physics modelers after realising how dysfunctional the brakes were. Yes, they slowed me down proper, but somehow braking whilst cornering would only result in you slamming into invisible and nonsensically placed (driving to a barrier-less sidewalk would only result in a ricochet of the invisible walls) walls.
BAH! Darned invisible walls deny all possibility of taking down a seemingly unobstructed S-curve with simple straight-line driving!
Forget using the keyboard to drive in this game. It is near impossible to complete the game with the keyboard. No joystick? Use the keyboard-mouse combo. Man, even setting the controls becomes a hassle here.
The menus in the Special Edition are shockingly a step down from the near seamless menu navigation in The Need for Speed (DOS, 1995). While here you have to go through two screens to get to the options menu, the 1995 original needed you to go through only one screen to get there.
The AI seems to be able to do wonders I wished they never could, like being able to catch up with you in a Mazda RX-7, after falling a kilometre behind down the straights against your Testarossa or Diablo, once you start using the broken brakes to slow down prior to deep corners, and flying off a humongous ramp at 120 mph before slowing down IN MID-AIR to 40 mph to dodge the wall at the ramps landing (which is THE IMMEDIATE START OF A 90-DEGREE TURN) and corner nicely.
That brings me to the Coastal and Alpine Rallies and the Special Edition-only tracks Burnt Sienna and Transtropolis, where some of the jumps really ruin the game; they are ridiculously placed right before a tight turn. Also, the AI seems to have no darn problem of getting through them, ruining otherwise perfect first-placed-in-all tournament runs by NFS veterans.
The DOS version seems to be very subjective to memory leaks, which often occurs during heated races. The Windows version, while safe from memory leaks, refuses to work easily in Windows versions later than 95, requiring some careful tricks to run.