Need for Speed: High Stakes

Arguably the flagship of arcade driving games, Need for Speed has a long and successful history of combining luxury sports cars with sharp graphics and fast action to give bench racers the ultimate quick fix. Rather than just switch a car here or there and update the graphics and multiplayer options each time, Electronic Arts has begun to add new modes of play to offer something fresh.

Last time players were treated to dedicated police chase modes in NFS III: Hot Pursuit. High Stakes builds on the classic tournament and “hot pursuit” modes by adding a “career” mode in which players race for cash to upgrade their current rides or save for more exotic one in a series of races around the world. Capping off these circuits is the “High Stakes” race, where you and one other driver race flat out for pink slips. Career mode is a good addition, but an extremely grinding one – with races stretching on for six to eight laps, too many are a merely a matter of endurance, and they start getting repetitive real fast.

Need for Speed has long been celebrated for its brilliant presentation, and High Stakes, while not the most famous iteration of the series, advances that brilliance by a good margin. From car models to environmental effects (rain, fog, light reflections) to music and engine sounds that fit the bill perfectly. A physics model, arguably one of the game’s greater additions, gives each car believable mass, and makes them react more realistically when driving through rain, snow or uneven terrain. Driving up a hill stalls your speed while hitting roadside obstacles (such as sign posts) will send them flying through the air. Heavier objects will trash your car, but the damage modelling overall is forgiving. All cars enjoy fully modeled 3D interiors (complete with working instruments) that pitch and roll as you corner, creating an effective illusion of ‘there’.


Chevrolet, Ferrari, Lamborghini, BMW, Porsche. All the usual brands turn up in High Stakes.

Even with the added physics, driving here is squarely centered on fast, arcade fun, so a simulation this is certainly not. The developers went a little to far in simplifying the driving. For example, the steering is so extremely dampened that all the cars exhibit extreme understeer. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to spin out of control without using the handbrake or violently bumping into something. Not only do the understeering cars forgive lock-to-lock wheel thrashing, they flat-out demand it. In order to keep up with your competition, it’s important to practice with the throttle and brakes, which can bring the rear end around just enough to keep the car on track.

Graphics and handling aside, the challenge and entertainment is definitely there. Tracks are used and reused often in the various circuits, but each time something is different to keep it fresh—either a night race, a race in the rain, or perhaps driving the track backwards. Combine the variety of gameplay modes, slick presentation, and challenging AI and what you have is a finely polished showroom racer.

System Requirements: Pentium 200 Mhz, 32 MB RAM, Win 95/98

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