Need For Speed II is the first realistic street racing game on the PlayStation since the original Need For Speed. Unlike Test Drive: Off-Road and Tokyo Highway Battle (which were exaggerated), or NASCAR and Mario Andretti (which were true to life, yet never left the track), Need For Speed II focuses on realistic racing in populated settings and the chaos that ensues.
While it's trite to say, "If you've ever wanted to get behind the wheel of a (insert expensive car name here), then you'll be itching to play Need For Speed II," it's also true. The game does feature eight supercars: the Ferrari F50, Lotus GT1, Jaguar XJ220, Ford GT90, Lotus Esprit V8, McLarren F1, Italdesign Cala, and the Isdera Commendatore 112I. But while each resembles its real-life counterpart in appearance, the simplified play control doesn't come close to capturing the feel of driving the actual car. The tracks do provide a thrill however, and if you've ever wanted to barrel downhill through a small Greek village, your fantasies will be fulfilled. With five other tracks to race through (Canada, Norway, Australia, Northern Europe, and Nepal), the variety of exotic locales will keep you entertained long after you're sick of the supercars (no matter which of the fifteen available colors you paint them).
Like most driving games before it, Need For Speed II sticks to the basics: You select a manual or automatic transmission; your goal is to cross the finish line in the shortest amount of time possible; and there are buttons to accelerate and brake. The game also features power slides, burnouts, a rear view, replays, a two-player split-screen mode (accomplished with minimal slowdown), tournament mode, four varied camera angles, and the ability to drive in reverse - but most of these were available in the original Need For Speed or have been touched upon in other next generation driving games. A unique feature of note, but hardly a selling point, is the extensive information on the cars featured in the game. It's neat to look at but doesn't add much. There is also an undisclosed number of hidden cars and tracks, that is if you beat the game under a certain amount of time.
Once you're behind the wheel, Need For Speed II kicks into gear. The control, while loose at first, is quite accurate - expect to crash often, though, until you master it. Each level is challenging, taking an hour or so to familiarize yourself with and hours to master. But once you memorize the tight turns, there isn't much surprise left, aside from the hidden shortcuts in most levels. The most frustrating feature is the game's myriad crashes - pileups occur whenever you hit a car and you'll flip numerous times when you get too close to a wall at high speeds (no physical damage shows up on your car, but it takes you out of the race momentarily). Some courses will also try your patience; prepare to use your brakes often.
Need For Speed II looks really good. The 3-D texture-mapped graphics are on par with most N64 titles, although there is a significant amount of pop-up and the occasional backdrop looks flat or jagged. What is most impressive is that Electronic Arts has created a game on a 32-bit platform that, at least graphically, rivals the N64's Cruis'n USA. The sound is also quite good, featuring an electronic Euro-style soundtrack and realistic sound effects. In terms of presentation, the game scores big points.
Overall, Need For Speed II is the PlayStation's slickest racer yet, with its mix of realistic locales, superior graphics, and fast cars. It's more realistic than Ridge Racer and more of an arcade game than NASCAR Racing, and the combination should score with die-hard and casual genre fans alike. Simply put: Short of a Cannonball Run-esque plot, Need For Speed II has it all (although let's face it, who wouldn't like to see Dom DeLuise and Burt Reynolds in a driving game?).