Get ready to put the pedal to the metal as we check out the best Need for Speed games of the year!
The Need for Speed series has been a staple of the driving game world for years now. Generations of gamers have been enjoying these games since 1994, learning how to drift around corners and discovering just how important picking that right decal actually is.
Thanks to shows like Pimp My Ride, everyone wanted a pice of the customisation action. They also wanted to be in a movie-style car chase with the cops, but frankly none of us wanted to risk going to prison.
Enter Need For Speed, the games where anything is possible and also highly probable. I’ve listed the 10 best titles in this fast and furious series (see what I did there) for you to check out. It’s time to get nostalgic.
Strap yourself in; it’s going to be a bumpy ride!
Table of Contents
Need For Speed: Shift kicks off this list of the best Need For Speed games. It feels more like an arcade racer than any of the other games in the series and takes place on racing tracks instead of through the streets like some of the earlier NFS games.
While I love the feel of the cars and the tracks on offer, it’s a little tame compared to the grimy vibes of the Underground series and a little safe in comparison.
That being said, earning points for bashing into other drivers does make this game feel more like a bona fide NFS title.
What, you didn’t think it would be totally playing by the rules, did you?
Naturally, players can soup up cars like every other NFS game, earning points and badges as they progress through the races.
And in terms of graphics, just look how smooth that asphalt looks. It’s a dream come true!
It pays to have an old-boy in the list, right? Need For Speed II might look very simple in comparison to some of the new kids on the block, but it’s still an absolute blinder of a racer, make no mistake!
There are only 8 cars on offer in NFS II and six tracks to race on. Hey, sometimes choice can be a bad thing; at least getting play started isn’t going to take long!
Ok, I lied. There are 7 tracks, but one only becomes available when you finish the game. I wasn’t going to tell you, but I’m feeling kind.
Don’t worry; players still have the option of tinkering with their cars. Mess around with break bias, downforce, and more, as well as other customisation options that make those replay viewbacks even tastier.
And guess what – there are no cops in this game! Finally, driving fast without any sirens. It’s a miracle!
Need For Speed: Pro Street brought a cool new feature to the series; the Event Map.
If you’ve played Juiced, which I imagine all of you will have if you’re here reading this article, then the game has a very similar structure.
Now, I’m a big fan of the free-roam stylings of Carbon and Underground 2, which is why Pro Street is sitting in 8th position in this best Need for Speed games list.
Still, there’s nothing bad about becoming ‘the King of the Streets’…
… Seb Santabarbara, Street King – it has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?
Work your way through a career mode, building your reputation from a nobody to a badass racer. Then, when you feel ready, head out in free-play mode and race around in unlocked cars like an absolute pro…
… albeit an illegal pro…
I’m still surprised whenever I see the Xbox 360 graphics too; this console still cuts the mustard today, a great game and a console that seriously gets overlooked today.
In fact, I’m gonna’ get mine rigged up right now!
The 7th spot in our best Need for Speed games list goes to Need for Speed: Most Wanted.
Every racer ends up being the Most Wanted in these games, so the title is a bit of a given, if we’re being honest!
I know a lot of people might be shocked that this game hasn’t featured lower down this list, but hear me out.
I love most wanted, but as it’s a bit of an amalgamation title that brings the Hot Pursuit and Underground vibes together, I wanted to celebrate both of those separate series in their own right further up.
Don’t get me wrong though; racing all the way to the top of the illegal blacklist racers underground scene is incredible no matter what game it’s in.
Most of the main features from Underground 2 make a strong appearance too, though now with even more destructive features and missions.
I’d never be classed as achieving notoriety, so having the chance to be a badass in this game never feels to put a smile on my face. I can gamble, destroy public property, and own cars I would never dare park in the supermarket, all from the comfort of my sofa,
With sleek FMV cutscenes to help keep the narrative flowing, this is a game that grips you and doesn’t let go.
Not bad right, and we’re only on Number 7!
Need For Speed: Heat looks as though it’s dropped straight from an 80’s music video, and we’re not complaining one bit.
This open world racer sees players cruising down the sunset strips of Palm City. Stick on your shades for sunny day races or kick back and speed through the darkness by switching to night mode.
Day and night mode has more relevance than you might think too. In the day time, all the races are above board. Legal, by the book, and all in the name of good old-fashioned fun.
Night time, however, is when stuff really starts to get interesting. We’re talking illegal street races that the police try to shut down. Rack up points during pursuits and do everything to get back to your safehouse!
There are tonnes of little quirky features to consider while playing too, such as smashing neon flamingos. It’s kind of like a gnarlier version of the stuff Tony Hawk and the gang got up to in back in the early Pro Skater days… but just with the world’s most expensive sports cars.
Drift, jump, boss time trails – Heat has it all, including some stellar music to get you in the driving mood!
Need For Speed: Rivals takes the 5th spot in this list of the best Need for Speed games ever to grace your living room.
The 20th game in the series (yes, the 20th!) is an entirely open world driving bonanza. Players can take the role of both illegal racer and cop in different scenarios, including an undercover cop mode which is stealthalicious!
The graphics have come a long way since the first Hot Pursuit game, but the feel is very similar. With two story progressions to work through, there’s also plenty of value for money and a high replayability factor
Level up your character by finishing missions. Plus, there are nifty gadgets now like EMPs and upgraded roadblocks that are useful for catching the bad guys…
… though I suppose that definition changes depending on who you are playing as!
Need for Speed: Underground took the series to a whole different place, opting for a more stealthy, mysterious, and criminal feel.
For the first time It was less about the flash cars and more about the grimy underground world of ruling the streets.
Maybe I should have been a Mafia mobster instead?
Let’s talk about those car decals too. Modifying your cars was far more important than the racing; everyone knows that!
Plus with actual aftermarket parts that real garages use to modify cars, it feels like the real (illegal) deal.
I’m a sucker for a good soundtrack in a game, and nothing says Need for Speed like Rob Zombie growling out of your TV soundbar.
Take your chances through the epic Olympic City, racing around dark and dangerous streets while keeping a low profile…
… as if! With those decals, everyone’s going to see you coming a mile off!
Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit takes the third spot in this list of the best Need for Speed games!
The police just wont leave you alone will they; what is their deal! Why can’t someone drive around the streets at breakneck speeds without being cautioned, huh?
Having said that, playing as a police officer trying to stop speeding drivers does have a sort of satisfying thrill to it. Firing up those sirens and then smashing into the worlds most expensive cars is the greatest feeling ever. The more arrests you get, the better your score!
Pick from a whole host of amazing makes and models from Ford through to Opel, as well as NFS special custom cars that players unlock as they move through the game.
Let’s talk about the levels too, giving you different views from tropical islands to the snowy mountains of Alaska. Race down coastal roads and try to keep your eyes on the road; the graphics look amazing even for 2002.
Need For Speed: Underground 2 takes the silver medal, and if I’m being perfectly honest, this was a very close call between this and the title in first place!
This is without a doubt one of the best PS2 racing games of all time. I raced against my dad so many times, spending ages modifying our cars and waiting while he chose the perfect decal (for so many hours).
Underground 2 smashed sales back in the day. We had it on both the GameCube and the PS2 (don’t ask me why), and certainly got our moneys worth.
Underground 2 takes the street racing theme from Underground and makes it feel even more illegal, if that’s even possible.
Beat rivals in drag races, make it to locations to get papped by photographers and appear on racing magazines, and be the coolest criminal in town.
I guess crime does pay in video games…
Need For Speed: Carbon is the best Need for Speed game of all time!
For me, this was the pinnacle of the series. It was a close call between Carbon and Underground 2 as I’ve said before, but Carbon has some of my favourite features in the whole series and it just feels incredibly polished.
The story mode gives players complete freedom to move around the city at their leisure. Plus, the Carbon Canyon will forever be one of my favourite locations in a racing game.
Nothing says cool like competing for the control of a city in a race.
Of course, all of the same police chase antics and car modification that feature in the other games are prevalent in Carbon. Still, forming your own crew, racing with up to seven other mates, and squaring up against gangs in the career mode… it’s all perfection.
So what if it’s more of the same? Carbon does it perfectly and does it effortlessly.
Whether playing solo or multiplayer, this is a fine example of a driving game and one of the best ps3 racing games to boot!
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Seb Santabarbara has bought every Nintendo console that has ever been released in his 33 years on Planet Earth. His favourite game franchise is Zelda, and he’s patiently waiting for Banjo-Kazooie to come back to the fold. When he’s not playing games, he’s travelling the world in his self-converted camper van.