At first glance, Need for Speed may seem like your typical arcade racer, but the moment you mash down on the accelerator you'll notice something different: these cars drive like the real thing. Not only are the basic attributes (top speed, acceleration, etc.) modeled realistically, but EA has actually managed to reproduce each car's personality. For example, the Porsche 911 is tail happy, the Viper is grossly over-powered, and the NSX is almost boring in its predictability. To complete the fantasy, Electronic Arts has even reproduced each car's dashboard and engine noise.
While the physics may be worthy of serious simulation, the emphasis in Need for Speed is on pure arcade-style fun. EA has wisely kept the interface and gameplay as simple as possible, allowing gamers to simply hit start and drive from the moment they open the box. Be warned, though: the computer opponents are quite capable, and it takes plenty of practice to win on a regular basis. Even so, if the computerized opponents don't give you enough of a challenge, you can always race a friend via modem.
The racing itself comes in two distinct forms: the traditional, closed circuit speedway, and a no-holds-barred illegal road race! While the five speedway tracks are fairly run-of-the-mill (with the notable exception of the Lost Vegas track), the three rally courses are exceptional. Featuring plenty of oncoming traffic and air time, these rally tracks tend to produce crashes that will make you cringe. If you aren't careful, you may even find yourself getting arrested!
My only major gripe in Need for Speed is with its graphics engine, and then only in VGA mode. While the SVGA visuals are stunning, they become blocky and cluttered in anything less than 640x480 so cluttered, in fact, that distant cars and other obstacles get lost in the background, making it hard to avoid them. A P90 or faster is recommended to run this game in 640x480, so 486 owners may want to think twice about this one.
With its marvelous attention to detail, exotic course design, and straightforward gameplay, this game is a true winner. Simply put, The Need for Speed is the next best thing to owning a $200,000 sports car!