Review by Hi_Neighbor

"It's basically a manual for how to score..."

Review

What is there left to say about a driving series that can seemingly do no wrong? The fourth iteration of the Need for Speed series has arrived with all the power and grace of the over-endowed sex machines that it offers up for fantasy test drives. Need for Speed: High Stakes eschews any numerical placement in the series, but still offers more than just a slight upgrade from NFS3.

The big push here is the all-new High Stakes Career Mode, whereby you earn cash racing over a variety of tracks. Circuits are divided in to three categories – Tournament, Knockout and High Stakes. The object is to place high, win big, then use your earnings to upgrade and repair your car, or buy a better one (say, move up from a Porsche 911 to the McLaren F1 or Lamborghini Diablo – touch choice, huh?). While the first two categories are pretty familiar, the High Stakes mode has way more punch. In these one-on-one races, the runner-up loses his car.

Even if you keep the car, the detailed damage model means that you'll be shelling out wads of dough for repairs. Finally, this is a racer with hot licensed cars that can, in fact, be damaged. Bang up the front fender, and the headlights will be out of whack or broken, and come the next race, if you didn't repair them, they'll still be that way. Damage is divided into several categories (suspension, body, engine, steering) and when it costs to repair, and you're down to the cheapest car on the circuit, it changes your attitude behind the wheel.

On top of that, High Stakes has all the modes from NFS3, including an upgraded Hot Pursuit option, whereby the cop can actually define wingmen, switch between all the units on the map, and even give some basic commands to the rest of the squad. It's even more fun this time around chasing down BMWs, Lamborghinis, and Ferraris, while having a sense of control over the situation beyond Hot Pursuit's previous straight racing.

The 13 cars (plus six different pursuit cop cars) all handle differently (and I'd like to say “accurately,” although when do I get to drive a Ferrari in real life?), and can be raced on the 19 tracks that cover the familiar gamut of environments. The exceptionally detailed, eye candy-fied graphics we've come to expect from the series are here in abundance, and the whole presentation, combined with the exceptional control, made this one of the best racing games out there.

Importantly, EA added Internet play in the form of a still-beta EA Racing Online service, so you'll be able to race and even play High Stakes with strangers everywhere. The once evocative music of the series is getting a tad stale, though the sound effects are high quality. And, while the trees and other background objects are still 2D, the only real caveat is that the tracks are still, well, tracks. Perhaps in the next one, we'll actually have these gorgeous 3D landscapes open to exploration and freedom of movement, instead of just having to stick to the road.

Score Summary

Graphics
Chock full of eye candy, slick effects, detailed cars, and cool looking tracks.

Sound
The awesome roar of the engines is enough to shake the floor, and everything else is good, too.

Depth
Lots of cars, tracks, and play modes. Fun as sin (the unlawful carnal kind, not the code-bloated game kind).

Design
Top-notch arcade racing with a perfect feel. Addition of consequences to a racing game adds a great deal to the whole genre.

Rating

8 / 10

Pluses

-> Great graphics and sound.
-> Damn near perfect control and feel.
-> Plenty of cool tracks, hot cars and awesome game modes.

Minuses

-> The music is a little haggard.
-> You can't roam free!
-> I don't own any of these cars and therefore can't use them to score.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/01/08

Game Release: Need for Speed: High Stakes (US, 09/29/99)


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