Need for Speed debuted in 1994 as an Electronic Arts franchise. Since its release, though, several developers, such as Burnout series’ creators (Criterion) have taken over.
Its core gameplay is consistent, though. It’s a street, illegal racing playtime, where you compete across a series of races for trophies and glory.
The developers update the formula every two years or so for a total of 22 NFS games, plus a remaster. There’re dozens of spin-offs we’re not considering, though.
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The Need for Speed – 1994
The original title debuted in 1994 for 3DO. Then, it debuted for DOS PCs, PlayStation, and Saturn.
Need for Speed tried to be a driving sim. They had help from the enthusiast magazine Road & Track for that end. As a result, they created realistic gameplay mechanics, sound effects, and tracks.
Need for Speed II – 1997
NFS II debuted in 1997 for PlayStation and Windows. It added rare and exotic vehicles, plus tracks across Asia, Australia, North America, and Europe.
Additionally, it added the Knockout game mode. It’s a special race mode that eliminates the last of each round until only a single competitor remains. Lastly, it added an arcade mode, which is how the game ditched its original realism.
Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit – 1998
The third entry debuted in 1998 for PlayStation and Windows. It improved the franchise by adding police pursuits in the Hot Pursuit mode.
Players have to win a race while escaping from the police. Alternatively, they can play as the police and hunt down the drivers going above speed limits.
Need for Speed: High Stakes – 1999
High Stakes debuted in 1999 for PlayStation and Windows. It added new game modes but used most of the tracks from Hot Pursuit. It also added a car damage system – vehicles suffer damage in crashes, which makes them lose speed and maneuverability.
Likewise, it offers the Getaway game mode, where players escape the police within time limits. There’s also the classic career mode, where players can buy and sell vehicles and vehicle upgrades during the journey.
Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed – 2000
Porsche Unleashed debuted in 2000 for PlayStation and Windows. Later on, it debuted for Game Boy Advance as well. Notably, it was the first game of the series without a split-screen co-op.
The newer entry improves graphics, performance, and overall mechanics. Also, as the name suggests, the title only has Porsche vehicles, but it’s a wide catalog. Players can unlock Porsches in chronological order (1950 – 2000) by winning races.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 – 2002
Hot Pursuit 2 is the EA Black Box debut title. It premiered in 2002 for Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Windows. As a sequel to NFS III, it brings a similar style, game modes, and police pursuits. The title has 64 missions, various game modes, and a classic career mode.
Also, the developers improved the police AI to improve the persecution challenge. For example, the police only needed to bump your car a couple of times to catch you. Lastly, the game had a damage mechanic, but the damage was just aesthetic, with zero effect elsewhere.
Need for Speed: Underground – 2003
Underground debuted in 2003 for PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, Windows, and Game Boy Advance. The title presented a major overhaul, and its elements have been present in subsequent titles ever since.
First off, the semi-professional races became street racing or arcade racing. Also, circuits became part of a single map. Lastly, the game added Drag and Drift game modes. However, there’s no police persecution in the game.
Need for Speed: Underground 2 – 2004
Underground 2 debuted in 2004 for Windows, PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Game Boy Advance. A year later, it debuted for the Nintendo DS as well. The entry continues Underground and has similar mechanics, game modes, and gameplay. Yet, it swaps the Knockout game mode for the Underground Racing League and Street X modes.
Also, the new version allows players to roam a city freely. On the map, players would find paint jobs, vehicle workshops, vehicle components, and similar. Likewise, you’d find circuits within the city, where other drivers gather for illegal races. There’s also the ability to challenge other car drivers around the city.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted – 2005
Most Wanted debuted in 2005 for Xbox, Xbox 360, GameCube, PlayStation 2, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, and Windows. There’s also a PSP version.
Most Wanted continues the open-world design but makes each car have advantages and disadvantages on different terrains. On top of that, the game adds eight game modes compared to previous entries, police prosecutions as a core mechanic, and a story-driven campaign.
Need for Speed: Carbon – 2006
Carbon premiered in 2006 for Mac OS X, Windows, Game Boy Advance, PS3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo GameCube.
It continues Most Wanted’s story but places less emphasis on police persecution. Moreover, it brings back street racing at night. Similarly, it introduced the ability to form teams with other drivers or players to win races.
Need for Speed: ProStreet – 2007
ProStreet debuted in 2007 for PS3, PS2, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, Windows, and Xbox 360. The game greatly improved the AI. Opponents were more realistic, so the game became more challenging and immersive. Similarly, the nitro boost was not rechargeable anymore.
ProStreet includes realistic damage and circuit races. In return, it didn’t have an open world, so playtime was about drag races, drift races, challenges, and similar. However, it included a feature to tweak and tune vehicles for different performance benefits.
Need for Speed Undercover – 2008
Undercover debuted in 2008 for Windows, Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, PSP, and Nintendo Wii. Its campaign is about infiltrating underground racing in a cinematic single-player mode.
The game improved driving mechanics and brought back the damage system. However, it doesn’t get anything significant in terms of game modes.
Need for Speed Shift – 2009
Shift debuted in 2009 for Windows, Xbox 360, PS3, and PSP. It also reached mobile devices like the iPod Touch, the iPhone, and Android devices.
This is a simple entry in the franchise. The single novelty is tweaking driving mechanics, adaptive difficulties, and a new first-person perspective within the car’s cabin. Otherwise, it’s about racing on increasingly challenging tracks to unlock better cars.
Need for Speed: World – 2010
NFS: World was a freemium MMO for Windows PCs. The game is already extinct, though, as EA closed the servers in 2015.
Either way, the title offered street racing, car tuning, and police persecution. It had replicas of real-life cities and a plethora of micro-transactions.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit – 2010
Hot Pursuit debuted in 2010 for PS3, Xbox 360, Windows, and Nintendo Wii. There were also versions for iPhone and Android. Currently, you may find Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered, an enhanced 2020 version of Windows, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
The game adds a weapon system for novelties that allows players to immobilize the police and other drivers. Moreover, it has an in-game social network and an 8-player multiplayer feature.
Shift 2: Unlimited – 2011
Shift 2 debuted in 2011 for Windows, Xbox 360, PS3, and iOS. It’s Shift’s sequel, but it adds Hot Pursuit’s online and social features. Additionally, it goes back to the series’ roots of being a realistic driving sim.
The gameplay has vehicles you can unlock, vehicle tuning, and over 40 maps across the world. Then, the game also adds a racing helmet for an immersive first-person perspective. Likewise, it adds real-world drivers, tournaments, tracks, and cars.
Need for Speed: The Run – 2011
The Run premiered in 2011 for Windows, PS3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, and Nintendo 3DS. Notably, it’s the first NFS game that allows players to get out of the car and explore the city on foot.
Also, it features a story-driven campaign about rising as a street racer. As before, the entry has real-world cars players can tune, update, and upgrade. There’s also a new XP system that’s about unlocking events and cars.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted – 2012
Most Wanted debuted in 2012 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, and Nintendo Wii. Despite its name, it has nothing to do with 2005’s Most Wanted.
The newer game happens in Fairhaven City 18. It’s an open-world setting where you’ll find street races, cops, and places to upgrade your car.
Need for Speed: Rivals – 2013
Rivals debuted in 2013 for Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, and Windows. The entry is very similar to Hot Pursuit. However, it adds the AllDrive system, a new AI that handles vehicle performance.
Otherwise, it offers similar game modes as Most Wanted and Hot Pursuit. In most cases, players use either a street racer or a police officer. Each one has gadgets like EMPs, spikes, and roadblocks.
Need for Speed – 2015
Need for Speed is a saga’s reboot. It debuted in 2015 for PS4 and Xbox One. A year later, it debuted for Windows as well.
The game adds elements from Underground, Underground 2, Most Wanted, Undercover, and similar. In essence, you play on Ventura Bay, an urban open world with a storyline to explore. As you play the campaign, you’ll cultivate your reputation and upgrade your car.
Need for Speed Payback – 2017
Payback debuted in 2017 for Windows, Xbox One, and PS4. The setting is Fortune Valley’s underworld. There, you play a campaign that revolves around revenge against The House Cartel. As such, the title has a strong focus on the campaign.
Gameplay-wise, you can craft and unlock unique rides with deep customization options. Then, you use these vehicles to face off against both cartel drivers and cops. You can also drive against rivals, go off-road, explore mountains, and roam freely in deserts.
Need for Speed Heat – 2019
The latest entry in the saga debuted for Windows, PS4, and Xbox One in 2019. Heat continues with the core experience of the series. It offers semi-professional and urban races while the city police chase you.
As such, the campaign is about forcing your way into the elite of the underground world. You earn in-game currency to upgrade and update your car or buy a new one as you win races.
Every Main Need for Speed Game in Chronological Order
- The Need for Speed – 1994
- Need for Speed II – 1997
- Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit – 1998
- Need for Speed: High Stakes – 1999
- Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed – 2000
- Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 – 2002
- Need for Speed: Underground – 2003
- Need for Speed: Underground 2 – 2004
- Need for Speed: Most Wanted – 2005
- Need for Speed: Carbon – 2006
- Need for Speed: ProStreet – 2007
- Need for Speed Undercover – 2008
- Need for Speed Shift – 2009
- Need for Speed: World – 2010
- Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit – 2010
- Shift 2: Unlimited – 2011
- Need for Speed: The Run – 2011
- Need for Speed: Most Wanted – 2012
- Need for Speed: Rivals – 2013
- Need for Speed – 2015
- Need for Speed Payback – 2017
- Need for Speed Heat – 2019
- Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered – 2020