Need for Speed is one of the most famous and revered arcade racing franchises on the PC. Indeed, when it first appeared several years ago, the PC really couldn't compete with the racing games that were appearing on the consoles or arcades. The PC simply didn't have the horsepower to compete with those other systems. But what a difference a few years make. Need for Speed III was an excellent racing title that was as good as many of the better console racers, and its visual quality blew away comparable racing games on the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. Now comes Need for Speed: High Stakes, a pseudo-expansion to last year's Need for Speed III.
Need for Speed: High Stakes contains the gameplay found in Need for Speed III, but it also adds some fixes to nagging problems that many players mentioned. The main complaint with Need for Speed III was the lack of damage to the cars. In the past, it was difficult to get the creators of all the featured supercars to agree to let their precious creations suffer damage on the race track. But for whatever reason, manufacturers like Daimler Benz and McLaren have agreed to let their cars suffer damage in Need for Speed: High Stakes. That means the end-over-end tumbles and high-speed crashes will now mean something. You can't just blindly crash your way through a course anymore. Now, if you bang into a wall or another car, there are consequences.
We raced a few laps in a McLaren (which is a tough car to handle due to its speed) and banged into numerous buildings, trees, and passing vehicles. But after each crash, our car would show some residual damage: a crunched bumper, broken windshield, warped hood. Eventually, the damage was so severe, our wheels started wobbling. We couldn't maintain high speeds, and the car no longer drove straight ahead. Damage isn't just an all-or-nothing affair either. Your car is made up of four systems, including suspension and body, which can be damaged to different degrees. Flipping end over end could harm all systems, while scraping the side of a wall might only damage the body. As each system gets progressively worse, your car's performance in that area will suffer as well.
In the middle of the race, there is little you can do about this, but after each race, you'll be able to repair damage to your car. In single-player races, the progressive damage is only available in career racing, one of the new modes of play.
In the single-player career mode, you start out with a set amount of cash. You must use this cash to buy your first car. Then you enter a series of races. After each race, you win a certain amount of cash depending on where you finished. You'll want to earn at least enough money to repair the damage suffered by your car, but your real goal is to place first and earn enough cash to buy better cars. Some of the key races in career mode will be head-to-head races with a single AI competitor. In these races, you aren't racing for money, but for the cars themselves. If you lose, you have to give up your car, but if you win, you gain the car of your rival. It's this "high stakes" racing game that gives Need for Speed: High Stakes its name.
There will also be a more robust hot-pursuit mode, which will have more game types and make more cars available for racing. Multiplayer is also being improved by adding the damage model to multiplayer races. You'll also be able to toggle oncoming traffic on or off.
Among the other changes is enhanced graphics. The cars are now rendered with even more polygons, creating more-realistic and gorgeous-looking cars. We didn't really notice any improvement in the tracks themselves, but the enhanced car visuals were noticeable.
There will also be lit cockpits at night, something that was missing from Need for Speed III. Additionally, the cockpits of each car will be rendered in 3D now, giving a more realistic look and feel to the races. There will of course be new tracks and new cars as well. The total number of tracks will be 19, while the total car count will be 18, with more available for download when the game ships. Among the many cars in the game will be the BMW Z3, Chevrolet Camaro, BMW M5, Porsche 911 Turbo, Mercedes SLK, Mercedes CLK, Pontiac Firebird T/A, Jaguar XKR, and more.
Look for Need for Speed: High Stakes to arrive sometime in midsummer.