Almost all the games in the franchise included the game mode of police pursuit, which started with the first game in the series The Need for Speed and returned with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. On the first game, the player races against the X-Man, the objective is to beat him without getting arrested. From the third game onwards, the player can play as the felon or the cop; as in a real police pursuit, the player must elude the police, or if playing as the cop, must pursue the felon. Introduced in Need for Speed: Underground was the concept of drifting and drafting, which are used in drift and drag racing, respectively. These new mechanics are included in the tournament/career mode aside from the regular street races. In drift races, the player must defeat other racers by setting higher points than the other racers; these points are earned by the length and timing of the drift made by the player's vehicle. In drag races, the player uses a car set in manual transmission. The objective in this type of race is to follow an opposing car and mimic its performance to gain a boost in the player's speed. Like an ordinary street race, the player must finish first to win the race, though if the player crashes into an obstacle, the race ends.
The idea of car tuning evolved with each new game and it focused mainly on the mechanics of the car rather than the looks of it. The more the player knows how the car behaves to each setting, the easier to get the right setup which in turn helps to win races. Underground introduced customization of vehicles based on the 2001 film The Fast and the Furious. With this feature, the player is able to modify cars to their choosing. The two categories in which the player can choose to modify his cars are visual and performance. In the performance section, the player can customize their vehicle's racing performance, including changing the horse power of the car's engine, the suspension, the traction of the tires, and the shock absorbers among other features. In the visual category, the player can modify how the car appears from the outside, which includes the car's paint, vinyls, rims, and body kits alongside other features. The visual of the player's car becomes an important aspect in tournament/career mode after the release of Need for Speed: Underground 2. The way your car appears is measured by a visual rating out of ten possible points; the more visual points the player's car has, the more likely it is for the car to be featured in fictional automobile magazines. When a car has a high visual rating, the player is told that their vehicle is eligible to be on the cover of a magazine; thereafter, the player must drive to a specific location to take the photo of the vehicle.
Like all racing games, the Need for Speed series features an extensive list of cars that are available for the player to use. The vehicles included in the game are modeled and named after actual cars in real life. Cars in the franchise are divided into four categories, the exotic cars, the muscle cars, the tuners, and special vehicles. The exotic cars feature cars like the Lamborghini Murciélago and the SLR McLaren, the muscle cars refer to cars like the Mustang GT and the Chevrolet Corvette Z06, the tuners are cars like the Nissan Skyline and the Mitsubishi Eclipse. The special vehicle category refers to the police cars that are available for use in the game.
Originally the series took place in international settings, such as race tracks in Australia, Europe, and Africa among other settings. Beginning with Underground, the series has taken place in fictional metropolitan cities. The first game featured traffic on "head to head" game mode and on later games traffic can be toggled on and off at the options screen. Starting with Underground, traffic is an obstacle added during a race. Unlike the Midnight Club series, a racing video game series developed by Rockstar Games, the Need for Speed series does not included civilians in the game, which is an "avoided distraction.," as stated by IGN.
When V-Rally was released in 1997, it was developed by the European based company, Eden Studios, and had nothing in common with the preceding Need for Speed games. EA however, bought the rights to title of the game and produced it in North America as Need for Speed: V-Rally. Eden Studios would develop V-Rally 2 in Europe, while EA would publish it in North America under the Need for Speed title. V-Rally 2 however, followed the same formula as the other Need for Speed titles. In 1999, EA announced plans to make a spin-off of the Need for Speed series with the release of Motor City Online. The game however, was later confirmed that it would be included into the Need for Speed franchise and the spin-off series was never produced.
The original Need for Speed was released for 3DO in 1994 with versions released for the PC (DOS) (1995), PlayStation & SEGA Saturn (1996) following shortly afterwards. Most cars and tracks are available at the beginning of the game, and the objective is to unlock the remaining locked content by winning tournaments. The first version featured chases by police cars which remained a popular theme throughout the series - the so-called Hot Pursuit editions (Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2, Need for Speed: Most Wanted and Need for Speed: Carbon) have sold better in the marketplace than intervening versions. The initial version also featured an obnoxious opponent who taunted the player if the computer won the race or the player is arrested (if the player is ticketed several times).
The first installment of the NFS series was the series' only serious attempt to provide a realistic simulation of car handling and physics without arcade elements except Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed, which is the most realistic. Electronic Arts teamed up with automotive magazine Road & Track to match vehicle behaviour, including the mimicking of the sounds made by the vehicles' gear control levers. The game also contained precise vehicle data with spoken commentary, several "magazine style" images of each car interior and exterior and even short video-clips highlighting the vehicles set to music.
Another version of the game, called The Need for Speed: Special Edition, is based on the 1995 PC release of the game, and was released only for PC CD-ROM in 1996 It featured support for DirectX 2 and TCP/IP networking, two new tracks, and various enhancements in the game engine.
The Need for Speed and its Special Edition are the only games in the series to support DOS, as subsequent releases for the PC only run on Microsoft Windows 95 or above.
Need for Speed II featured some of the rarest and most exotic vehicles ever available, including the Ford Indigo concept vehicle, and features country-themed tracks from North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. A new racing mode was also introduced in NFS II dubbed Knockout, where the last racers to finish laps will be eliminated until the only leading racer remains, and wins.
Many fans of the first edition of Need for Speed were disappointed to find NFS II was arcade-like instead of preserving the realism of NFS. Though the gameplay was arcade-like, the levels were intricately well designed. In addition, track design was more open-ended; players could now "drive" off the asphalt, and even cut across fields to take advantage of shortcuts.
The special edition of NFS II, Need for Speed II: Special Edition includes one extra track, extra cars, and support for Glide, the then-burgeoning 3D graphics standard used in 3dfx's Voodoo and Voodoo 2 graphics cards.
Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit added Hot Pursuit mode, in which the player either attempted to outrun the police or be the cop, arresting speeders.
NFS III took advantage of the multimedia capabilities of the CD-ROM by featuring audio commentary, picture slideshows and music videos. This game also is the first in the series to allow the downloading of additional cars from the official website. As a result, modding communities have sprung up to create more vehicles which would otherwise be unavailable to the game.
V-Rally 2 (also known as Test Drive V-Rally for the U.S. Sega Dreamcast release and Need for Speed: V-Rally 2 for its U.S. PlayStation release) is a rally racing video game and sequel to V-Rally. It is succeeded by V-Rally 3. It was developed by Eden Studios and Atari Europe, and published by Atari Europe and Electronic Arts.
High Stakes (North America title), also known as Road Challenge (European and Brazilian title), was released in the summer of 1999.
Nevertheless, High Stakes introduced several new types of gameplay: High Stakes, Getaway and Career. High Stakes is a racing mode in which the reward was the losing player's car. Getaway requires the player to outrun a pursuing police vehicle for a given time period. Career mode incorporates a monetary reward system that allowed a player to purchase vehicles and performance upgrades while earning cash by racing in a chronological set of tournaments. It is also the last game in the Need for Speed series for PC to feature a split-screen two player mode introduced in Need for Speed II.
Another innovation is the introduction of damage models. Vehicles which have been involved in accidents featured visibly crushed car bodies and suffered from performance penalties. After a race in Career mode, the player is given the option to purchase repairs. The mode also allows players, for the first time, to upgrade cars, although the feature simply consists of switching between three upgrade levels for each car.
The PlayStation version of the game, released some months before the PC version, features improved gameplay. Only all-new tracks were implemented without the additional rehashes from NFS III in the PC version. Additionally, the AI in the game was more advanced; the five AIs known as Nemesis, Bullit, Frost, Ranger, and Chump featured different driving characteristics (ie. Nemesis would hound the player until a slipup occurs, whilst Bullit exhibits a more aggressive style, occasionally ramming into the player's vehicle). Also, The Aston Martin DB7 was in the game at release while the PC version required that you would need to download it online to put it in the game. In the Playstation version, the Mclaren F1 GTR was based off the 1997 Long Tail while the PC version was based off the original 95/96 version.
Porsche Unleashed (North America and Latin America title), Porsche 2000 (European title) or simply Porsche (in Germany) is different from the previous versions because it featured only Porsches and featured a wealth of information regarding them. The cars handled more realistically than in any other NFS game, and there is an in-depth catalogue of different Porsche parts that span throughout the years. The player had to win races in the Evolution career mode to unlock cars in chronological order from 1950 to 2000. Porsche Unleashed also featured a Factory Driver mode, where the player had to test Porsches with various stunts and move on with his career. The game is also the first in the series since the first NFS game to not feature a split screen mode. However, the game did contain a well constructed LAN multiplayer feature. In later years, it was released for the Game Boy Advance.
In terms of game construction, it is most often hailed as Need For Speed's best collaborated effort to bring forth one singular car brand and amplify and deepen the depth of knowledge both on history and motor functions. It features historical videos and many pictures of old photos of Porsche vehicles. The Evolution concept was a hit for many people, creating many new Porsche fans due to the game's high level of academia and depth of Porsche cars. The Factory Driver was also a different kind of unlocking, except to do with performing and excelling in certain slaloms, speed races, deliveries, etc. Many of the missions were considered to be really difficult. In addition, the graphics of the game were relatively impressive for the time the game was released.
Although officially bearing no Need for Speed prefix, Motor City Online was an MMOG variation of Need for Speed released by EA Games on October 2001, featuring mostly American coupés and muscle cars from the 1930s to the 1970s. The game allowed players to pit each other in several modes of racing through the Internet, and were allowed customization of the player's driver, garage and vehicles. Motor City Online officially shutdown and went offline on August 29th, 2004. One surprise was that near the end of it's online days, 2 imports (a 1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse and a 1997 Toyota Supra) were put in the game having unrealistic V-8 engines
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 was the debut Need for Speed title from the newly formed EA Black Box (created after the purchase of Black Box Games in Vancouver), and the first Need For Speed for the "sixth-generation" of consoles. Hot Pursuit 2 draws primarily from the gameplay and style of NFS III; its emphasis was on evading the police and over-the-top tracks featuring lengthy shortcuts. Although the game allowed players to play as the police, the pursuit mode was drastically less realistic than preceding versions of NFS; players merely needed to "tap" a speeder a certain number of times to arrest them, as opposed to using actual police tactics such as the PIT maneuver to immobilize a speeding vehicle.
This was the first Need For Speed version since the start of the series that did not feature a true "in the driving seat" camera view, complete with steering wheel, dashboard etc. In some ways this can be considered to be the landmark in EA's move from realistic racing to arcade street racing.
For the multiplayer mode of the PC version, GameSpy's internet matchmaking system was used in place of Local Area Network (LAN) play. Hot Pursuit 2 is also the first Need for Speed to forego an original instrumental rock/techno soundtrack in favor of songs sung by licensed song artists under the EA Trax label.
Different versions of the game were produced for each game platform; the Xbox, GameCube and PC versions were developed in EA Seattle while the PS2 version was developed by Black Box Games in Vancouver, B.C. Canada.
A complete re-imagining of the series' formula, Need for Speed: Underground shifts focus to the import tuner culture, offering a career mode that features a storyline, and a garage mode that allowed players to fully customize their cars with a large variety of brand-name performance and visual upgrades. Races take place fully at night, and police pursuits were also forgone—characteristics that were reused in the sequel Need for Speed: Underground 2. Instead of hundred-thousand dollar exotics, Underground featured vehicles associated with import tuner culture. This, plus the increasingly arcade-like controls, became points of controversy for NFS fans. Despite this, Underground was commercially very successful.
While the PC version of the game featured Internet multiplayer, it strangely lacked LAN multiplayer capabilities. This limitation could be overcome with the use of third party utilities.
Need for Speed: Underground 2, the sequel to the commercial hit Need for Speed: Underground, was released on November 15, 2004. A demo of the game was placed as a "late" easter egg in finished copies of the EA Games and Criterion Games collaboration Burnout 3: Takedown, and completed versions of NFSU2 also have a demo of Burnout 3 in the game.
In Underground 2, the story continues, but there are new racing modes such as the Underground Racing League and Street X, new and more tuning options, as well as a new method of selecting races—just driving around the city (similar to Grand Theft Auto and Midnight Club II) and selecting race "beacons". Also included is an "outrun" mode where a player can challenge random opponents on the road and the race leader will attempt to distance themselves away from the opponent to defeat the opponent (similar to Tokyo Xtreme Racer). Underground 2 also introduces several SUVs, which could be customized as extensively as other Underground 2 vehicles and used to race against other SUV racers.
The customization features in the game was significantly expanded to modifications that have no actual effect on vehicle performance. The sound systems, for example, could be put in the trunk of cars, but served no purpose other than sheer flash. The game also features more extensive product placement for companies with no connection to auto racing, such as integrating the logo for Cingular Wireless, an American wireless communications company, into the game's messaging system and displaying it on-screen for much of the gameplay.
The performance and handling of the car is not only affected from "performance shops", but things like spoilers and hoods, also affect the downforce of the car
Based on the Underground series, Need for Speed: Underground Rivals is a PlayStation Portable (PSP) game released on February, March and September 2005 for Japan, the United States and Europe, respectively. In terms of design, the game is largely similar to the Underground series, allowing users to select and drive purchased cars from a garage, as well as customizing the vehicles (with body kits, vinyls, etc.). The game's soundtrack features both new songs and existing songs from past Need for Speed games.
In addition to cars from the import scene, Rivals features several American muscle cars, including those not featured in previous Need for Speed: Underground games, such as the 1969 Dodge Charger, the 1967 Ford Mustang, and the 1997 Chevrolet Corvette C5.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted was released on November 15, 2005, and is one of the first games released for the Xbox 360. Police chases make a comeback and represent a significant body of the gameplay, and includes the Grand Theft Auto-like free-roaming of Underground 2, but with less extensive vehicle customization features than in the Underground series. The story mode is presented in a significantly different style from Underground, with CGI effects mixed with live action. The mode also features the Blacklist, a crew consisting of 15 racers that the player must beat one-by-one to unlock parts, cars and tracks. The player has to meet certain requirements before he can take on the next Blacklist rival.
A special "Black Edition" of Most Wanted was also released, which features additional races and challenges, and a few bonus cars, including a specially-tuned BMW E46 (M3) GTR , a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro a red Chevrolet Corvette C6.R, a Porsche, and a few others, and also includes a Black Edition-only behind-the-scenes DVD. Both versions of Most Wanted are available for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, Nintendo DS, and Windows-based PCs. Only the standard edition of Most Wanted is available for GameCube and Xbox 360 ("Black Edition" was not produced for these platforms).
Need for Speed: Carbon sees the return of nighttime-only racing, and a selection of cars similar to that of Most Wanted, including compact cars and sports cars associated with import culture, American muscle cars, and supercars. Carbon also introduces a new feature wherein the player is allowed to form a "crew," to which members with different abilities may be chosen that aid the player in races. Drift events returned to the series in Carbon.
The game was released on November 1, 2006 for Windows-based personal computers, followed by video game consoles and handheld game consoles. Carbon's handheld port is known as Need for Speed Carbon: Own the City. Drag racing was removed from the series, but a new type of race called "Canyon Duel" was added, where the player and a game boss take turns racing down a canyon, trying to stay as close to the leader as possible.
Another new feature is "Autosculpt", which allows players to custom-fabricate their own ground effects, rims, hoods, and other parts. The cars featured on the front cover of game are Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX and Dodge Challenger.
It lacks online gameplay for the Wii, but makes full use of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk; four ways to play.
EA Games president Frank Gibeau stated that due to the fact that the sales of ProStreet didn't live up to EA's hopes for the game, the franchise will go back to its "roots" with a number of features, including open-world racing and a new highway battle mode. However, Need for Speed producer John Doyle claims, that Undercover has been in development before the release of Pro Street, and the slightly negative reception from the audience has nothing to do with the choice of using the traditional Need for Speed: Most Wanted style gameplay.
Starting with Need For Speed Underground, the series has ventured to immerse the player deeply in movie-like stories. To provide pleasant company of sorts and to relay plot advancements to the player's character (as well as to generally increase the games' appeal), attachment figures have been brought forward, all of them being female, as racing games in general are mostly targeting a male audience. Since Underground 2, these characters have been played by popular real world actresses and models, and were also given distinct cars of their own.