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NFS High Stakes (PC) Hands-on Preview

NOTE: this preview is based on an alpha copy we received that is estimated 65% complete.

EA's Need for Speed series is one of their most successful franchise in the world. They continue their success with the latest title, Need for Speed High Stakes. (NFS High Stakes) The Playstation version has been out for over a month and almost all reviews have been positive. The PC version is set to be released in June of this year, which is only a few weeks from now. EA sent us an alpha copy of NFS High Stakes PC which is only 65% complete. Despite its not being close to a finished product, the game is very playable at this state, which encourages us to look forward to the finished product.

One of the new features of NFS High Stakes is the addition of a career mode. The new mode no doubt extends the replay value tremendously. The career mode allows users to compete in an ongoing series of 30 tournaments, which includes Knockout and High Stakes races. Players can win cash prizes and even new cars. The "High Stakes" feature pits a user against a computer, with the winner taking the other's car! The catch is that players need to have at least two cars, in case they lose.

The "Hot Pursuit" feature in the game is still being worked on but from what I've seen, it is close to being done. The CPU police drivers sets up roadblocks, and agressively try to block you in with two or three of their cars. One time I took a turn too wide and slammed into a wall on the right. The CPU police were right on me and boxed me in. I'm proud to say, though, that there are times when the CPU police can't even come close to my car. That is when I'm driving the McLaren F1 GTR or the Mercedes CLK GTR.

The car physics in the game are close to reality. There is a noticable difference in the speed you are traveling. Players will easily distinguish between a car going 80 MPH and a car going 150 MPH, unlike the released version of NASCAR Revolution. NFS High Stakes should appeal to both sim and arcade fans. Players can turn damage off, to visual only, to physics only or all on. The only drawback is in the career mode, users can't turn damage off. The feature has to be left on. Of course if that feature was available, it would have taken some of the replay value of NFS High Stakes away. It is not too difficulty to control your car, yet it also takes skill to maneuver your car. The engine does not punish novice racing fans like in Grand Prix Legends. Each of the cars are created from exact manufacturer specifications and will be supported by a comprehensive reference section. The physics and performance are still being tuned.

The game will allow players to upgrade and repair their supercars. Crashing into a divider or a tree will actually hurt the car; not that I do that a lot.:) So, not only do users need to worry about winning a race, they need to make sure their car doesn't take too much damage because it will affect their overall performance. After the race is over, players can repair their car, which will cost them, or just leave it alone. Not fixing a problem can affect the acceleration, top speed, steering and/or braking ablitity of a car. The upgrade feature in the alpha version is not fully functional but it is self-explantory. Players can improve the performance of their car by shelling out some dough.

I won't go much into graphics since the NFS car models are still being tweaked and the overall graphics are still pre-alpha. If you take a look at some of our screen shots on the right, you will notice the eye candy graphics. A new addition to the franchise is the 3D cockpit environment. Since most of the graphics are in pre-alpha stages, that means the graphics can only get better.

The game will also include an Internet play mode. EA said they intend to ship the game with an Internet beta. The beta will be accessible by clicking on the "EA Racing Online" button in the game. At the current state, we could not test this feature.

Although I know the performance speed of NFS High Stakes is still being worked on, the game, at least the alpha version, requires only a medium level system to enjoy the game as it is intended to run. I tested the alpha version on a 266 along with a 12MB Voodoo 2 card and at times, the framerates were fine for the most part. The exception came during two player split screen action or when the weather was turned on. Again, let me emphasize that this is only the alpha version and games usually change for the better before they reach a gold status.

From the looks of things, the alpha version of NFS High Stakes PC is something to get excited about. NFS High Stakes will turn a non-racing fan into an addict of PC racing...well, at least NFS High Stakes. Look for our review in a few weeks once we get a reviewable copy.

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