With the recent announcement that a new Need for Speed game will be ready for reveal at Gamescom 2019, I had the familiar mix of emotions that always seems to follow the announcement of a new instalment in this franchise. Will it be good, like I remember NFS games being when I was a younger man, or rubbish like some of the entries in the series? Or will it just be a bit “meh” like the most recent games? Not good, not bad, but not setting the world on fire either?
The natural course of this particular train of thought was to try and rank the games, from best to worst, or, for a little bit of spice, worst to best, and to pursue this train all the way to the station, so to speak, which games would be eligible? I personally remember playing Need for Speed on the OG PlayStation, way back in the mists of time, but that wouldn’t be right for a primarily Xbox oriented website, and so I finalised my thoughts on just including those Need for Speed games that were published on any iteration of the Xbox console. And so here, without further ado, is my list of the best and worst NFS games in the history of the world! I’ll run worst to best, so if you want to know which is the best ever Need for Speed game, you’ll have to read on.
Need for Speed : The Run
I was majorly disappointed by Need for Speed: The Run. As were many others.
After a promising build up, where the protagonist has to win a race from one side of the USA to another or bad things would happen, it just devolves into a mess. A series of seemingly unconnected races, where you are given such uninspiring targets as “Finish higher than 10th” and so on, and also featuring sections of the game where you ditch the car and take to things on foot (why, in a driving game?), this is one of the few NFS games that massively disappointed. In fact, I returned it to the shop and traded it in two short days after buying it.
There have been some ropy games in the history of the Need for Speed franchise, but in my opinion, The Run should never have seen the light of day.
Need for Speed Carbon
Carbon was always going to struggle with me, as it was the continuation of the mighty Most Wanted, and that was always going to be a hard act to follow. Choosing to follow the preceding game by releasing a title that dramatically cut the number of police pursuits was a very weird decision, and not one that sat well.
But further to that, instead of tearing around a city in the daylight, you were reduced to driving around only after night fell, and in the canyon races, the darkness was seemingly just a way of making the game harder, as it was supremely difficult to see where you were supposed to go.
It wasn’t all bad though, and seeing the drift events return was a high point however. Although Need for Speed Carbon wasn’t an entirely bad game, it didn’t live up to the source material and ultimately left me feeling a bit cold.
Need for Speed ProStreet
In an attempt to make the series feel a little more legitimate, and possibly to remove the stigma attached to the series’ connotations of Midnight Club racing, ProStreet saw us take on the world of professional motorsport.
With all the events taking place on closed circuits, the free roam element was removed, and made for a much tighter experience. With different disciplines to compete in, including Drift, Drag and Grip racing and Speed Challenges, the hook was that one car couldn’t be good at everything. A drift car needed to be set up very differently to a drag car, for instance, and this level of realism actually attracted me at first. My overriding memories of the drift races were that the handling model was a mess, however, and that impression still lives with me now, as the counter steering seemed to be counter intuitive (see what I did there?).
Drag racing was fun though, what with the need to warm the tires and so on, but ultimately whilst ProStreet wasn’t necessarily a bad game, it just wasn’t a good NFS game.
Need for Speed: Shift and Shift 2: Unleashed
Another entry in the “more realistic” series of Need for Speed games, the Shift titles came about from Slightly Mad Studios and seemed to be aimed squarely at taking on the Forza Motorsport series, with an emphasis on proper racing and tuning.
Sadly, the gameplay, which featured a mix of real world and fictional tracks, wasn’t up to the challenge, and while it was a perfectly adequate driving game, the number of cars and tracks in both instalments couldn’t match those in Forza, or even in Gran Turismo 5 which it was pitched against on the PlayStation.
Looking at the evidence of these titles and ProStreet, it seems that NFS is at its best when it embraces the arcade racing roots and goes all out with outrageous drifts and handbrake turns, rather than needing you to hit the perfect racing line on a real world circuit.
Need for Speed Undercover
Most famous for its use of a real life actress in the story cutscenes – Maggie Q – Need for Speed Undercover does what it says on the tin. You are charged with being an undercover operative taking part in the world of illegal street racing, taking down racers from within.
Interestingly, Undercover was announced as seeing Need for Speed going back to its roots, mainly after the disappointing sales of ProStreet, and while it certainly did that, it actually reviewed poorer than ProStreet. It just goes to show that sometimes the public don’t really know what they want!
It was however with this game that the damage system was introduced, where parts could break off the car after a crash, leading to some battered looking vehicles at the end of a race. Tuning and police chases also featured, but this is very much a middle of the road effort from EA.
Need for Speed
In 2015, EA decided that what Need for Speed needed was a complete reboot. Obviously.
Drafting in Ghost Games, the reboot went down the chavtastic, yoof-oriented route which seemed to be rather popular at the time. Being an old man, it was all a bit lairy and shouty for my liking, and while the driving parts were quite good, the whole vibe really put me off.
Again though, this rebooted Need for Speed seemed to embrace the darkness again, and while there was plenty to do, with various celebrity drivers to beat and take down, it was a game I just didn’t get on with, mainly due to the outlandish take on racing culture.
Need for Speed Payback
Continuing the reign of Ghost Games, Need for Speed Payback was different in a number of ways from previous Need for Speed games. Eschewing the whole “Just go and race” approach, Payback featured an actual story, something that hadn’t been seen in an NFS game since the sublime Most Wanted.
Following the exploits of three racers, each of which has, luckily enough, different sets of skills, Payback allows you to take part in all manner of events; off road races, escape missions and so on.
It has to be said that I actually enjoyed much of what Payback provided, with the emphasis on story missions and following a narrative making a nice change from the all out racing action that was found in previous instalments. We’re not talking Oscar level acting here, but the actors did enough to make us gamers care about what happened next.
Need for Speed Rivals
The first entry of the franchise on Xbox One, NFS Rivals needed to make a splash when it was launched, and with the help of Criterion, who apparently helped out Ghost Games, this was a solid entry in the series.
Building on the foundations that Criterion laid in Hot Pursuit, we could choose to play as either Racers or Cops, and with advancement in either skill tree, new weapons were unlocked that allowed either team to shut down the other side.
The addition of seamless online play and an Autolog system – an almost social media like list of recommended events and news about what your friends have done – ensured playing with others was encouraged and very easy to partake in. With a host of events and stunts to attempt, Need for Speed Rivals was a hugely enjoyable entry into the Need for Speed franchise.
Need for Speed Hot Pursuit
Criterion Games and Need for Speed, could there be a better marriage than this?
The gameplay was fast and massively furious, with racers and cops trying to outdo each other; unlocking new cars and more gadgets as progress was made.
I remember my very first time in loading Need for Speed Hot Pursuit up, instantly being blown away by the sheer speed of the game as I blazed through the countryside as a police car in the Interceptor mode, which tasked you with getting to a certain place in a tight time scale. This proved so exciting that my colleagues and I were soon swapping times at work, with photographic evidence being needed to prove the claim and bragging rights.
Obviously the next step was to have a massive ruck online, with roadblocks and EMPs going everywhere, and Hot Pursuit allowed that to happen with ease.
This edition of NFS was a real throwback to the old style, and was all the better for it, and it helped that it also contained the genesis of the Autolog system, so we always knew what our friends were doing.
An absolute classic game, Need for Speed Hot Pursuit is one of the very best entries in the series.
Need for Speed Underground and Underground 2
Set in the world of underground racing, taking in the dark city, these are the defining games in the Need for Speed series for a lot of people.
Featuring proper chavvy features like neon lights bursting out from under the cars and NOS coming in plentiful supply (every car had to have NOS in the wake of the Fast and the Furious film), both Underground and Underground 2 featured a lot of things that were to become staples in the NFS series.
Customisation was front and centre too – new lights, window tints, graphics and even some performance parts made every car a masterpiece. I still remember my tricked out Corsa competing way above its level and winning races.
These games had a huge influence on my life, so much so that I even fitted a bad boy exhaust and air filter to my real life car at the time, and it is for that reason I look back on these with an awesome amount of nostalgia.
Need for Speed Most Wanted
Need for Speed Most Wanted – my favourite all time game from the NFS franchise.
A combination of a villain who I couldn’t wait to take down, a great story (for a racing game) and barnstorming races and police chases combine to make the quintessential Need for Speed game.
And obviously it isn’t just me who feels that way, as this is by far the best selling game in the series, with over 16 million units sold across all platforms. I played this back in my PS2 days, and even on the creaking hardware was blown away by the speed and intensity of the game. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that by the time I lost the cops, I had a proper sweat on!
Taking down the Blacklist was an achievement in itself, and beating Razor and getting the BMW M3 back was sweet vindication.
Need for Speed Most Wanted was redone in 2012, with Criterion behind the wheel, and this is also a worthy entry into the series, but the original will always be my favourite.
So there we go, the Need for Speed games that can be played on the Xbox ecosystem ranked from the bad, to the great. As always with these kind of pieces, the idea is to spark debate, so please tell me in the comments if you disagree with my choices. And yes, I’ve left out Need for Speed Hot Pursuit 2 from 2002 as I never played it, so if I offend by my ignorance, I apologise in advance. But hey, there’s no chance it was better than Most Wanted. Is there?