18 years ago, the first ever version of Need for Speed was launched. Since then the series has gone on to become the most successful driving games ever and one of the most successful franchises of all time.
But what made the title so popular and what has kept it on top of the pile since?
The first release in the Need for Speed series was simply titled Need for Speed. Launched in 1994, this game was developed by EA Canada and was made available for the PC, Playstation and Sega Saturn.
This initial release saw a serious attempt at realism, with EA Canada teaming up with motoring magazine Road & Track to ensure optimum levels of detail and accuracy.
However, subsequent releases in the Need for Speed Franchise ditched realism in favour of a more arcade-like feel and look.
The realism didn’t stay away for long though and by 2000, with Need for Speed Porsche Unleashed, a game that featured only Porsches, the gameplay once again resembled that of the real cars represented in the game.
This shift between realistic and arcade gameplay has gone on to be a regular feature of the Need Speed franchise.
The presence of in game damage is another aspect that has been constantly changing, with some version featuring visible damage to cars and others not. This displays an ability to adapt and take advantage of gaming trends that has been at the heart of the series’ success.
One thing that has allowed the franchise to change so quickly is the regular changing of developers, which helps to keep the series fresh.
There have been a total of nine different developers, including Black Box Games, Criterion Games and Slightly Mad Studios, with the franchise often employing a dual studio strategy to maintain high levels of creativity.
It is perhaps this that has helped Need for Speed to introduce several new concepts to the racing genre. One such feature is the police chase mode, where the player can choose to be either the felon, or the cops.
Another original feature saw not just the ability to change the mechanical specification of a car, but points, prizes and accolades being won for aesthetic modifications to a car.
In 2003, however, there arose an opportunity for the franchise to develop a niche for itself within the racing genre. The release of Need for Speed Underground saw a change from exotic race settings to urban landscapes, taking advantage of the growing interest in the underground racing scene.
For a time, the franchise became synonymous with street racing and even introduced the concepts of both drift and drag racing.
Yet just as Need for Speed was making a name for itself as a street racing game, the series changed up again, with the appropriately titled Shift.
However, the alterations proved less popular this time and a move away from the street scene coincided with a sharp decline in sales and critical reception, particularly with Need for Speed: The Run, the second Need for Speed release of 2011, along with Unleashed.
The franchise remains a heavyweight in the racing genre though and fans hope that the title can one day regain its former glory. This hope has been given some real substance with an upcoming film release hinting that the series will look to return to its bread and butter in the future.
This is a guest post by Patricia Thompson of Green Man Gaming.