Need for Speed has developed like no other game, slicing and converting patterns to fit present day and famous developments. From extraordinarily illegal avenue racing to legitimate track-using, Need for Speed has had quite the history spreading over 20 years. The motion-packed avenue racer made its debut back in 1994 and single handily took the racing genre to a higher stage with a plethora of exciting features.
In collaboration with numerous developers, the Need for Speed franchise has rolled out 20 official foremost series video games, making it considered one of the biggest series in history. Some of those games have been hot, even as some smelt like burning rubber, and it has been a long term debate as to which of these important titles ranks quality amongst the rest.
This listing will move complete-throttle and take at the challenge of ranking each Need for Speed recreation from excellent to worst.
Updated May 2, 2021 by Stephen LaGioia: There are few racing franchises as longrunning or iconic as Need for Speed. Classics like Gran Turismo and Forza come to mind — but it’s hard to find a series that’s as varied or innovative as this racer. From thrilling street racing to arcade-style action and open-world exploration, there’s little turf that’s remained uncovered by Need for Speed. Given Need for Speed’s continued momentum — and the release of the adrenaline-fueled Payback and Heat since this writing — it seemed fitting to revisit this list. What better way to get the hype machine revved up as fans await the (now-delayed) new NFS?
27 Need for Speed: ProStreet (2007)
Gaining the title of the worst game in the series is Need for Speed: ProStreet. After a long period of time, ProStreet took players back to the track, ditching the illegal street-racing format that had previously been a huge success for EA. ProStreet also brought in realistic damage to cars, which affected the way players raced, while also allowing them to drive around real-life circuits.
However, following the success of the open-world format, ProStreet, also without any inclusion of police intervention, lacked the fun factor its predecessors brought. Along with this, the game failed to upgrade the realism of the driving and had lower quality of production compared to other titles in the series.
26 Need For Speed: No Limits (2015)
It’s hard to expect much for a free-to-play title confined to mobile devices, and for most — this effort by Firemonkeys Studios is rather shallow and rough around the edges. Short races and fairly limited, straightforward gameplay tend to bog it down, as does the emphasis of microtransactions.
Still, No Limits is at least sufficient regarding its sleek visuals and solid, subtle use of gyro controls. The game plays smoothly enough — just don’t expect an epic, highly-polished experience.
25 Need For Speed V-Rally (1997)
Marking one of a handful of spinoff titles, Infogrames’ V-Rally is essentially a “Need for Speed” effort in name only. In fact, this tag was pretty much slapped onto the NA rendition to cater more to the American market. Still, for those who appreciate a fairly deep rally experience, this PlayStation title at least partly delivers.
The blocky visuals haven’t aged too well, and there’s a decent learning curve thanks to some tricky checkpoints and twitchy controls. Still, overall solid mechanics, diverse locales, and a slew of racing challenges give it some staying power.
24 Need For Speed Payback (2017)
This one can be described as a “mixed bag,” with its lackluster narrative, average visuals, and liberal use of microtransactions.
Still, there’s plenty to enjoy about this entry from Ghost Games, including the variety of street, drag, and off-road racing — and a dynamic day-night cycle to boot. The game also emphasizes the satisfying acts of running cars off the road, taking on the feel of both Forza Horizon as well as Burnout 3. But aside from some fun drifting mechanics and cop chase scenes, Payback doesn’t particularly stand out in any area.
23 Need for Speed 3: Hot Pursuit (1998)
In the first installment of the Hot Pursuit franchise, this racing romp allowed players to be both the felon and the police.
With each new game in the series brings a new feature and the original Hot Pursuit brought in split-screen, as well as improving on the graphics greatly, which were impressive even for its time. Unfortunately for Hot Pursuit, its graphics aren’t enough to make up for some generic gameplay and it lacks the open-world style that fans of the game enjoy so much.
22 Need for Speed: High Stakes (1999)
Building on Hot Pursuit, this direct successor introduced racing for pink slips, as well as offering a tournament mode and bringing back the pursuit style racing in Getaway and Time Trap mode.
And for PlayStation owners — High Stakes mode allowed two players to pit their cars against each other by inserting two memory cards. The loser would have his car deleted immediately after the race, which we’re sure broke up a few friendships along the way. A cool feature, but not enough for the game to be seen as a high point in the series.
21 Need for Speed: World (2010)
Need for Speed: World, was a PC exclusive, taking the style of Most Wanted and Carbon and implementing MMO elements. As the title suggests, World had a large map which players could access through an open world format, as highways interconnected between Palmont and Rockport from Carbon and Most Wanted.
It also offered over 100 licensed cars, a game mode called treasure hunt and introduced a new system of customization, which was based on skill points obtained through racing. The reason it’s so low down our list is because World no longer runs, with EA shutting down services for the game saying “that the game no longer lives up to the high standard set by the Need for Speed franchise.” So, if you did a bunch of work in this game, it’s vanished and that’s hugely disappointing.
20 Need for Speed: Nitro (2009)
Published only on Nintendo hardware, Need for Speed: Nitro attempted to make the game purely fun, ditching realism to create a sense of excitement. However, that’s as much as it did, with limited tracks and cars to chose from compared to other titles in the series.
Despite its early excitement factor, Nitro’s quirky zest deteriorates into a tedious strain. Along with this, Nitro didn’t offer any new features of racing and it’s only new attribute was ‘Own It’, an aesthetic placed upon driver’s screens to indicate who was in the lead. It also had a shallow campaign, which is what has this title very low down on the list.
19 Need For Speed: V-Rally 2 (1999)
More a Test Drive recreation than Need for Speed, this PlayStation and Dreamcast sequel to V-Rally maintains its predecessor’s method of fairly popular rally racing. However, it manages to shine up certain areas, ensuing in an basic smoother and more attractive enjoy than the ‘ninety seven romp.
Additional automobiles and tracks and a selection of gameplay modes round out this more strong racer. More dynamic gameplay and environments — which include special weather conditions — supply a greater feel of immersion this time around, too. Four-player aid is protected, and there is even a track editor for players who want to flex their creative muscle.
18 Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed (2000)
Back in the year 2000, the EA went slightly off track with its next version of the franchise, introducing Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed. Focusing on a unique market, the game targeted Porsche enthusiasts, as it was the only kind of car available in the game, but had a range of cars from the 1950s all the way to 2000.
The game offered incredible detail on each of the cars included, allowing fans of not just the game, but of the German-made sports car, insight into the vehicle they were driving. The game even offered a feature where players could assume the role of a Porsche test driver, completing various tasks in order to sign with the Porsche Company.
However, the choice to stick to just one make of car is the reason Porsche Unleashed is ranked so low. Picking a single make of car was not a new thing either, as competitor Gran Turismo had already put this style into practice while offering a lot more in there games, whereas in Porsche Unleashed, that was all there was to do.
17 Need for Speed: Shift (2009)
Offering an open world MMO (World) and arcade-style road racer (Nitro), the series’ second reboot also included a third game, the touring car simulator Need for Speed: Shift. Shift aimed itself at real hard-core driving fans, turning its attention to the touring circuit, which presented gamers with 60 plus supercars, which were all customizable on both a cosmetic and performance level.
What was cool about Shift was, although they had moved away from the street racer format, the player could still use some of the tactics he would employ on the street, such as taking out opponents mid-race, while still allowing players to play more professionally.
Unfortunately for Shift and the Need for Speed franchise, it was going up against two long time touring car simulators in Forza Motosport and Gran Turismo, which were superior games making look Shift look underwhelming.
16 Need for Speed: The Run (2011)
Many bear in mind this one to be some thing of a dark horse of the franchise. What turned into cool about The Run turned into how exceptional it turned into from the relaxation of the collection. A combination of Shift and Hot Pursuit, The Run follows a completely inflexible storyline.
Taking at the role of Jackson “Jack” Rourke, players are tasked with competing in a cross-u . S . A . Avenue race from San Francisco to New York, at the same time as looking to avoid both the mob and the police. There are numerous styled races to compete in as gamers sprint past picturesque settings.
Need for Speed: The Run ditches the racing for “admire” topic of racing to your existence. However, the sport lacks replayability and is unluckily a short sport. Considering players power throughout a country, one would have was hoping there was more on provide.
15 Motor City Online (2001)
While this now-defunct game may seem crude to modern eyes, EA Seattle’s Motor City Online was ahead of its time, given the MMO structure of Motor City Online.
The title was originally conceived as a Need for Speed game before largely becoming its own entity, though some of the series hallmarks at least subtly remain. The online emphasis, diverse gameplay, and arcade-style action provide some overlap to more modern entries to be sure. In fact, many consider this relic to be a sort of spiritual predecessor to the online-focused NFS World.
14 The Need for Speed (1994)
This classic arcade game is where the inspiration for all of its successors stems from and every new game that is introduced has elements of this first installment.
Every game has parts from this classic, like the timeless circuit racing and point-to-point tracks, as well as the definitive police pursuits. The Need for Speed was arguably the racing game of its time and the only reason it features so low on this list is because its successors managed to go beyond the lofty standards set back in 1994.
And good news 3DO owners, the game is also on that system, so those few who happen to have it can get the game on that system too!
13 Need For Speed Heat (2019)
While recent entries were certainly flashy and polished, the series began to feel a touch stale for a growing number of fans. Enter this fresh take on the franchise by Ghost Games; the whopping twenty-fourth iteration of this iconic series. This flashy racer is partly a return to Need for Speed’s roots, while putting a few of its own fun spins on the formula.
Heat draws from elements that worked from prior titles, such as those thrilling cop chases and open-world exploration. At the same time, it offers a few interesting new concepts — namely the contrasting scenes of day and nighttime racing.
Overall Heat, provides ample appeal, with its fusion of arcade-style chaos and more nuanced sim racing and customization. It’s far from the best Need for Speed game, and its reception has been mixed at best. Still, there are certainly flashes of greatness in this 2019 racer.
12 Need for Speed 2 (1997)
The first game to reach, and surpass, the original’s ‘lofty standards’ is the direct sequel; Need for Speed 2. Released on fewer systems than its predecessor, only appearing on the original PlayStation and PC, the second title of the franchise took everything its predecessor had and made it even better and more exotic.
Need for Speed 2 was also the first game to introduce the ‘Knockout’ race mode, where the last racer is knocked out after each lap until there is one driver left. Perhaps Need for Speed 2’s downfall was its decrease in difficulty, taking away from the realism of the first entry had introduced. However, even with that minor hitch, the game was a huge success and built on the first game.
11 Need for Speed: Carbon (2006)
Carbon was the first game to make the step up to PlayStation 3 and Wii back in 2006 drawing from the story of Most Wanted.
Carbon was a brave attempt and threw in a host of new features that differed from its prequels. Removing drag racing, Carbon added “Canyon Duel,” a cat and mouse style race where the chasing driver needs to stay as close as he can to the leader to acquire points.
Carbon also introduced team racing into the franchise, where players could recruit teammates for their crew and raise their stats. The teammate AI was decent for its time, as players could team up with them and give them orders to help win events. However, Carbon had a couple of downfalls, the first being the lack of police intervention, its inclusion being more of an aesthetic than anything else, and secondly, once again, the game was just simply too short.
10 Need for Speed (2015)
This flashy reboot from 2015 used the opportunity provided by the new consoles to offer stunning visuals, realistic driving, and a host of new content. It was also heavily based online, with players having to have an Internet connection to play the game.
However, the story is under development and the online modes fail to capitalize on the opportunities at its disposal. However, the in-game campaign does offer the opportunity to race real-life famous drivers, but disappointing AI took away from this fun new feature.
9 Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2012)
After a seven-year wait, Need for Speed fans finally got their second Most Wanted and they got the game they asked for. Almost a carbon copy of the original, EA brought back all the similar style races, a rendition of the original ‘Blacklist’, as well as police integration.
The game followed a similar format to Burnout Paradise, with a big open world and a socially competitive online, with a host of new cars. However, it was the story that was its biggest letdown. Unlike the unraveling mystery of the original, the newer generation title was cliché and corny, which took away from most of the great new features the game had.
8 Need for Speed: Undercover (2008)
Undercover came at a time when Need for Speed needed it most, after the poor release of its prequel, Need for Speed: ProStreet. Because of this, the game took a significantly longer time to develop unlike previous editions, as the franchise went straight back to its “roots.”
Now when we say roots, we really mean roots as Undercover incorporated nearly every element of Need for Speed one could think of; street racing, police chases, opportunities to be the police, a storyline, an open world and, of course, MORE CARS! However, once again, it was the story that let this title down, with fans and critics alike voicing their distaste for the campaign.
7 Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 (2002)
This entry stands out as the last game of the series’ first era, before EA moved to the tuner culture. It was awarded “Console Racing Game of the Year” at the Interactive Achievement Awards back in 2002, as it took the ‘Cops vs. Crooks’ style and made it even better.
It added a barrage of new Cop units, including a swooping helicopter! Hot Pursuit 2 was also the first game to feature rock music under the EA Trax label. The only downfall to Hot Pursuit 2 was that it was only perfect on one console, the PS2. The other console versions were inferior to the Sony hardware version, leaving this great game down at number six!
6 Need for Speed: Shift 2 – Unleashed (2011)
Shift 2 didn’t definitely provide any new functions to speak of, however it’s one of the few video games inside the series that subtle itself, displaying that it didn’t need to be larger than its prequel, simply better.
Maintaining its person, Shift 2 focused on making the using experience greater real, bringing in an in-car digital camera view, in addition to a helmet cam view. The helmet cam become an terrific brought function and was a popular addition to the sport, as the head of the driving force would circulate according to the physics of the auto, which covered tunnel imaginative and prescient as the velocity of the car accelerated.
Shift 2 changed into a outstanding name within the series and became in the end a competitor to its a good deal more well-known and illustrious fighters inside the subject of felony racing.
5 Need For Speed: Rivals (2013)
Taking something of a “jack of all trades” approach, this effort by Ghost Games proves widely appealing with its diverse gameplay elements. The game fuses arcade-style chaos of cop pursuits and weaponry with the grander scale found in the Most Wanted games.
Rivals is renowned by fans and critics alike for improving certain elements of Hot Pursuit, while amping up the action and thrills. Thematically, the game takes a more scenic, nature-focused approach a la Forza Horizon. While not the deepest entry, there’s much to appreciate about this more varied effort.
4 Need for Speed: Underground (2003)
The game that took the franchise to the next level, Underground was the start of the extremely popular tuner culture. Even if its high placement on the list may raise a few eyebrows, it’s tough to deny its influence.
The game was also the first in the franchise to offer a storyline and a garage mode, allowing players full customization on both a performance and visual scale. Underground also included a new racing mode called ‘Drifitng’, where racers would acquire points the longer they could sustain drifts around a circuit against other racers. As the first reboot of the series, EA hit the nail on the head and Underground would start a chain of games that defined the series.
3 Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010)
Taking on the form of the previous editions, Hot Pursuit added on a playable career mode for both the police and racer.
The biggest addition to this installment in the franchise was signing of new developers Criterion, who were the creators behind Burnout Paradise and the new look Need for Speed showed a significant improvement because of it. The game was praised for its immense entertainment and countless epic moments, making it one of the best-reviewed Need for Speed games of all time, as the new Hot Pursuit was a great success in the franchise history.
2 Need for Speed: Underground 2 (2004)
Underground 2 took a huge step forward for the franchise by offering players the first open-world map to play on, where racers had to drive to events to activate them.
Underground 2 offered endless content for players to get lost in with plenty of customization, a lengthy storyline, interesting side missions and an improvement on graphics. Underground 2 also offered the chance for players to drive around in SUVs, a feature that has not been available since. Yet, the reason it finishes a close second is due to no police intervention in an incredibly criminal setting, as well as an excessive amount of driving to access certain races.
1 Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2005)
There isn’t any doubt this immediately conventional isn’t always just a great racing game, it’s a first rate recreation in standard. The original Most Wanted introduced returned the inclusion of police interests and it is the game in which the law enforcers are fine used, even to this present day. What makes Most Wanted the best amongst the rest was its durability.
As the game stepped forward, the police chases became extra ridiculous, with a gradual increase in cop vehicle types that were given more difficult and quicker because the bounty expanded, like a swooping helicopter, SUVs that attempted head-on collisions and a ramification of roadblocks that would prevent the motive force useless in his tracks.
Along with that was an unique story, because the player made their manner up the ‘Blacklist’, sooner or later toppling them all and cultivating in one of the finest police chases in gaming records. Most Wanted had a super series of automobiles, an interactive open global and properly-developed customization that made it the quality Need for Speed recreation of all time.