Racing games have always been one of the most popular video game genres. Need for Speed series may be arguably the most successful one among these games. The famous series had an awe-inspiring twenty-six years in which fans of the series got twenty main games. In addition to those games, three side games and one movie adaptation have also proved series’ success.
In this list, all twenty games of the series will be ranked from the bottom to the top. Before starting, it should be noted this ranking depends on solely my own opinions and also you are more than welcome to state your own in the comments section.
20. Need for Speed ProStreet (2007)
ProStreet took players back to the track after a long period of time, abandoning the illegal street-racing format that had previously been a tremendous success for EA. Additionally, ProStreet introduced realistic damage to cars that changed the way you raced while allowing the player to drive around the circuits of real life.
Nevertheless, due to the lacking of the open-world format, ProStreet missed the fun factor that its predecessors carried with it, without any presence of police intervention. In addition to this, the game failed to improve driving realism and had lower production quality compared to other games in the series.
19. Need for Speed Porsche Unleashed (2000)
The EA went slightly off track back in the year 2000 with its next iteration of the game, launching Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed. Focusing on a specific audience, Porsche fans were targeted by the game as it was the only type of car available in the game, but it had a wide range of cars including the models from the 1950s to 2000.
The game offered incredible detail on each of the vehicles used, enabling viewers to see the vehicle they were driving, not just the game, but also the German-made sports car. The game also provided a feature where you could play the role of a Porsche test driver, completing different tasks to contract with Porsche.
The reason why Porsche Unleashed is rated so low in this list, however, is the decision to stick to just one car build. It wasn’t a new thing to pick a single make of car either, as rival Gran Turismo had already put this style into effect. Moreover, Gran Turismo has also been offering a lot more in games where, however, in Porsche Unleashed, that was all there was to do.
18. Need for Speed Nitro (2009)
The eighteenth game of our list is another game from the main title series to run on only one platform. Available on Nintendo hardware only, Nitro tried to make the game solely entertaining, dabbling realism in order to create a sense of extra excitement.
That’s just as much as it was though, with fewer tracks and cars to choose from as opposed to other titles in the show. Nitro’s quirky zest, given its early excitement element, degrades into a boring strain. Along with this, Nitro introduced no new racing features and the only new attribute was “Own It”, an esthetic put on the driver’s screens to indicate who was in the lead.
17. Need for Speed High Stakes (1999)
On the brink of the new millennium, EA introduced High Stakes, a successor to popular Hot Pursuit. Building on Hot Pursuit, High Stakes added pink slip racing as well as providing a tournament mode and reintroducing the Getaway and Time Trap pursuit type race mode.
Also, if at the time you had a PlayStation, High Stakes mode allowed two players to pit cars against each other by inserting two memory cards. The loser would have his car deleted immediately after the race, and we’re sure a few friendships split up along the way. It was arguably a cool feature, but not enough to call the game a high point in the show.
16. Need for Speed The Run (2011)
The thing that was unique about The Run was how different it was from the others in the series. A mixture of Shift and Hot Pursuit, The Run has a very strict storyline. Assuming Jackson “Jack” Rourke role, players are assigned to participate in a cross-country street race from San Francisco to New York while trying to avoid both the mob and the police.
There are many styled races in which you run as you sprint through picturesque environments. Need for Speed: The Run dissects the concept of running for your life for “respect.” The game, however, lacks replayability, and moreover, it is sadly a short game. Bearing in mind that you are travelling across a country, you would have thought there would be more on offer. Although the Run showed flashes of brilliance, before being closed down in 2013, it will sadly be remembered as the last shot of Black Box at the show.
15. Need for Speed Payback (2017)
In short, it is a brazen effort to cash in on Fast & Furious fervour about a decade after the movie franchise first became popular. Payback largely repeats the sins of the 2015 film reboot of Ghost Games, but this time in Hollywood attire glammed up. And while Payback is still completely dismal to drive, the suffering is amplified by the unbearably overworked system of game cards for vehicle upgrades even heavily scripted police chases full of cutscenes.
That combination of poor game design decisions, accompanied by Payback’s dependency on microtransactions was the last straw. And it wiped off any last shred of enthusiasm that anyone else might have for the game. The only good words I can say in favour of this game is due to its beautiful, almost mesmerising graphics.
14. Need for Speed Most Wanted (2012)
Need for Speed fans finally got their second Most Wanted after a seven-year wait, but I do not think it was the game they wished for. EA brought back almost a mirror copy of the original, all identical races of style a variation of the original “Blacklist”, as well as police integration.
The game followed a model similar to that of Burnout Paradise, with a large open world and online socially competitive, with a host of new vehicles. It was the story, though, that was their biggest letdown. The new generation title was cliché and corny, which took away most of the game’s great new mechanics, unlike the original. Overall, the game gives the uncomfortable feeling of being rushed and forced to being released.
13. Need for Speed Heat (2019)
The next game in our list is the most recent instalment in the series. Judging according to latest technologies in the game development industry, Heat offers even more improved graphics. In addition to the beautiful graphics, the game also offers a very detailed modification option along with the daytime and nighttime races with some classic cars from the series.
However, the game cannot keep up with the basic characteristics of the series. However, it should be noted that the game tries to give these features and accompanied experience to the player. Yet, it does not quite achieve to do so. Therefore, despite its more advanced mechanics and graphics, it cannot go up more than the thirteenth place in my list.
12. The Need for Speed (1994)
The original one. The first one. The classic arcade game is the one where the inspiration comes from for all. This game was the one which sparked the ever-growing fire for its sequels and every new game released has elements of this first instalment. Each game has pieces from this game such as the timeless circuit racing and point-to-point tracks, and the iconic police pursuits.
The Need for Speed was probably its time’s racing game. However, as the years pass and new technologies are invented, old ones must make way for the new and young ones to shine. Therefore, the place of this game in this list should not be a direct indicator of its quality.
11. Need for Speed World (2010)
Need for Speed: World, was exclusive to the PC platform, taking Most Wanted and Carbon design and adding MMO elements. In short, it was a very ambitious project. World had, as the name suggests, a large map that players could navigate through an open world system, as Carbon and Most Wanted highways interconnected Palmont and Rockport.
It also introduced more than 100 licensed vehicles, a game mode called treasure hunting. In addition, the game introduced new a new mechanic to the upgrade system based on skill points earned through racing. The reason why the place of this game is so low in the list is that the discontinued support for this game by EA. They shut down the game saying it could not keep up with series’ standards.
10. Need for Speed Carbon (2006)
The first game in the series in 2006 to take the step up to PlayStation 3 and Wii. Carbon followed the story that was told in Most Wanted. It was yet another ambitious attempt and tried to throw new features into a host that differed from its prequels. Removing drag racing, the game added “Canyon Duel,” a race in the form of cops and robbers style where the chasing driver has to be in close distance to the leader as much as he can to earn points.
Carbon has also implemented squad racing into the game, where you can hire your crew partners and improve their stats. For its time, your teammates’ AI was good, as you could team up with them and give them orders to help you win events.
However, Carbon had a serious lacking point which was the absence of the police intervention. As this characteristic feature of the series was not included, the fun that the game could offer was decreased.
9. Need for Speed II (1997)
Ah, the sequel to the original. In the fifty years span in which the popular culture grew like the magical beans, we had lots of sequels. Some of them were good, some of them were downright disastrous. I am glad to classify this sequel among “good sequels”
Need for Speed II deserves recognition for abandoning the first game’s rather unremarkable motif of highway cruising. Doing so in lieu of a selection of unique, the game offers epic courses, each overflowing with wild and exciting moments, just worthy of a racing game. Additionally, the wide range of cars that the sequel offered was also among the best ones the series offered.
While it included only nine vehicles, these were the most impressive supercars the late 1990s had to offer, prompting a generation of young enthusiasts to thirst after the McLaren F1 and Ferrari F50. Addition to those “beauties”, the game included rather odd ones like the Isdera Commendatore 112i and Ford GT90.
8. Need for Speed Undercover (2008)
Undercover was like a refreshing glass of lemonade on a hot sunny day after the massive failure of Prostreet. For this reason, unlike previous editions, the game took a significantly longer time to develop, as the series went straight back to its origin. I mean the very first game, the game where it all started eleven years ago. Undercover integrated almost every aspect of the original Need for Speed that you could think of. Undercover had the street racing, police chases, chances of being the cops, an open world and more vehicles, of course.
Once again, however, it was the narrative that let this title down, with fans and critics alike expressing their disappointment with the advertisement. The game also gave nothing to do in the open-world beside the plot that was not enough already.
7. Need for Speed (2015)
The reboot. To some, it might sound scary due to some horrendous examples we have been seeing in the last years. However, this one is not one of them. Back in 2015, Need for Speed took the opportunity of the new consoles to deliver impressive graphics, realistic driving and a host of new features. It was also heavily online-based, with players needing an Internet connection to play the game.
The online modes are not capitalizing on the opportunities available to them. Nonetheless, the campaign in-game does offer the opportunity to challenge famous drivers in real life, but this fun new feature has been taken away by frustrating AI. On the other hand, the game provided beautiful scenery thanks to the advanced technology.
6. Need for Speed Underground (2003)
The game that carried the franchise to the next level, Underground was the beginning of the extremely popular culture of tuners. The game was also the first in the series to offer a plot and garage mode. This allowed players to have the maximum customisation ability regarding performance and visual. Underground also included a new racing mode called “Drifting” where racers would earn points the longer they could maintain drifts against other racers around a track.
This title might be arguably EA’s best decision regarding the series. It is mainly due to the first reboot of the series and Underground would start a chain of games that would define the series. The main reason why the position of this sensational game is this low is ironically its successor.
5. Need for Speed Hot Pursuit (2010)
The closest Need For Speed has come far and away to recapture the magic of its golden era, the Criterion Games ‘ Hot Pursuit reboot doesn’t so much mimic the 1998 game of the same name. On the contrary, it rather sounds more like a redesign of the very first Need for Speed. EA’s visual wizards at DICE took charge of the environmental design of the game. This resulted in a beautiful experience that evokes the kind of epic road tests and trips you would expect to see watching car shows.
Sadly, uncooperative, vague physics minimizes the fun somewhat as does an overabundance of wide roads that don’t involve players or challenge them. All in all, it’s still a treat, although you may get the impression that if the game used its open world and improved its handling, it would be higher on this list.
4. Need for Speed Hot Pursuit 2 (2002)
Last game before the new era of tuning in the series It was awarded the “Console Racing Game of the Year” at the 2002 Interactive Achievement Awards, thanks to its take on the theme of “Cops vs. Crooks”. I think it is safe to say that the game achieved that pretty well. It introduced a series of new Cop units including a helicopter. Hot Pursuit 2 was also the first game under the EA Trax label to incorporate the rock music.
The only downside to Hot Pursuit 2 was that it offered peak performance only on a console, the PlayStation 2. The other versions of the console were below the Sony hardware version, leaving this great game down at number five.
3. Need for Speed Hot Pursuit (1998)
The First Hot Pursuit is the one that did it all right. From a technical point of view, it was a PlayStation showcase. Physics ranks among the most intuitive and satisfactory that the series ever offered. The tracks maintain the second games’ character but are more structured and refined. And then there are the exciting police chases, which captures the very spirit of the series.
The pacing and general design of the pursuit system of this game remain as one of the finest contributions of the series to the gaming world. It included many great features varying from the police behaviour to the ticketing system. Moreover, the game offered more realistic mechanics such as the implementation of roadblocks and spike strips.
2. Need for Speed Most Wanted (2005)
The game that missed the first place by a small margin. There is no question that this instant classic isn’t just a great racing game, it’s generally a great game. The first Most Wanted to bring back the incorporation of police operations and even to this day, it is the game where law enforcers are best used. The toughness was what made Most Wanted one of the bests among the others.
As the game progressed, the police chases became more insane, with a gradual increase in styles of cop cars that became tougher and quicker. When your bounty grew, new vehicles were added like a swooping helicopter, SUVs that tried to head-on collisions. And, of course, lastly the most definitive one, number of roadblocks that could stop the driver dead in his tracks.
Apart from that, there was an entertaining story as the player made their way up the “Blacklist”. All these were leading the player to challenge them all and eventually get into a massive police chase.
Most Wanted had a fantastic collection of cars, an immersive open-world and well-developed customization that made it one of the best games ever in the series.
1. Need for Speed Underground 2 (2004)
This is the only place in my list that I am one-hundred per cent sure. I discovered the series thanks to the Underground 2. From its comprehensive tutorial to its improvements to the original Underground, this game was in my opinion where EA got it all right. Even more than the first Hot Pursuit which is ranked fourth in my list.
Underground 2 offered a relatively big open-world which was filled with ever-changing races and also spontaneous ones too. To some, the drive to some places might be too boring or long, but that’s exactly the beauty of such a big map.
Also, I might sound like a hypocrite but the absence of the police intervention was compensated. The excuse was due to it being the first game to offer an open-world. Last but not least, it also provided developed customization options compared to the first one. It also offered a wide range of vehicles of which was accessible through the well-written storyline.