Publisher: Electronic Arts
The Need for Speed series has been a successful venture for EA in the past, giving normal Joes an opportunity to put some of the most exotic cars in the world through their paces. The Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit (NFS3) is the latest entry in this well-regarded line of racing games.
All I can say in the graphics department is....Wow! NFS3 is one terrific looking item, from the environments and lighting effects to the reflections in the paint on the cars. Supporting resolutions from 320x240 through 1024x768, and providing several detail levels and other options, NFS3 should run well on any modern gaming system. I never had a problem with the frame rate, running most details at medium with a far viewing distance.
Lighting effects are among the best I've seen, providing interesting reflections and shimmering effects on the car surfaces. Buildings and terrain are very well done, too, and the cars are pretty nice as well. The only oddity I saw was that the cars appear to be slightly out of proportion--a little shorter and wider than in reality.
Several camera angles are available, and the views are mappable to a button or hotkey. Some are less than useful while driving, but look nice in the replays. The only other graphics problem I noted was that during replays, the cars sometimes seem to float above the road rather than on it. All thing considered, I don't find that a fatal flaw.
Typically EA, the interface is slick and attractive. Entirely mouse-driven, with cascading menus, everything is simple to find. NFS3 offers a myriad of options, from controller and graphics settings to custon colors on the cars, and thanks to the easy navigation it all is very accessible. Main menu choices include single player, two player, and network, and the game type and options are accessed from within each menu. Controls are easy to remap, and force feedback is supported.
Fans of the series will know what to expect from NFS3, and I'll venture that they won't be disappointed. All the flat out speed limit breaking fun is here, and is wrapped in a prettier and more efficient package. Available race options include single race, tournament (compete in a series of races for points), knockout (8 cars, 7 races. Last place car is dropped from the next race) and for you budding State Troopers (or future habitual offenders) the Hot Pursuit game. The latter allows you to either try to evade arrest, making the Ten Most Wanted list and earning a bonus car, or try to meet your quota of ticketed speeders, thus enabling the Diablo Pursuit car. It's tremendous fun racing around with the siren wailing and lights flashing, especially when it's a friend you're chasing. As the trooper, you can also lay down a spike strip to slow any speeders. All game modes are well done and very enjoyable, control is good, and it's a real pleasure to look at. Complaints? Yes, I have a few, but they are not directed specifically at this title, but at arcade racers in general. I have never liked the idea of having bonus tracks and cars--some gamers don't have the time to spend winning everything in sight in order to get to them, and they should be allowed to enjoy the full product as well as those who do. Of course, I'm sure there are cheats to allow this, but why not make them available from the start? The other gripe I have is the total lack of a damage model, as in most other games of the type. It would certainly provide some incentive to stay on the track, and provide a more realistic driving experience. Still, the gameplay in NFS3 is rewarding and fun for any driving fan.
Nice touches abound in the audio department, starting with the options available. Mono, stereo, and Dolby Surround are supported, and menu and in-game music can be selected to suit individual tastes. All the tracks sound great and are very suited to the fast moving action. As I usually find in PC games, the car sounds are a bit weak, but still acceptable, with different exhaust notes and horn sounds for each car. But in the little touches, NFS3 excels--from the environmental sounds, to the way the police siren echoes in tunnels, the audio does a great job of adding to the believability of the game. I rate the sound in NFS3 among the best around.
Any arcade racer should be configurable for a variety of skill levels, and NFS3 does a good job of providing a challenge for most anyone. Aside from the skill level settings, there are many driver aids to help the beginner--braking and traction help, a navigator, and more. Even with the aids on, it's a stiff challenge to outrun the computer cars, and at the highest level, with no assistance, it's quite difficult to beat them all consistently. The available options allow for tougher competition as the player's skill increases, and should keep the game interesting until the next release in the series.
To be honest, I was prepared to dislike NFS3, as I have many arcade-type racing games in the past. It is, then, a tribute to this title that I wound up liking it a lot. I'd love to see a little more realism, and the end of the bonus system, but I've had a lot of fun with this one. Top-notch graphics, inspired sound, and the intangibles associated with driving these exotic sports cars add up to one heck of a game. Throw in the added bonus of the Hot Pursuit mode, and the coming availability of new cars via the internet, and Electronic Arts has produced a new standard for arcade racing games.