Need for speed... those words that come into mind every time we see an exotic car on the street, and dream about how we could realize that 'need' had we had a V12, 370 cu.in., 627hp-engine-powered monster that believes it to be its right to vandalize the state-maintained highways by ripping them apart with its 17in tires at speeds of excess of 210mph. (For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, it's the McLaren F1, the $1mil+ street-legal sports car manufactured by McLaren, the well-known F1 team). However, not many of us have that $1mil to spend, so we turn to PC racing games instead: and that is where the likes of Need For Speed III: Hot Pursuit come in.
Electronic Arts has (blessed?) us with three Need for Speeds to date (but then again, you probably know that lest you've been living in a trailer park in a broken-down VW bus with a fluffy teddy bear on the back seat). The first one, which I to date maintain was the most original and well-executed one, came out way back in '95. Then there was a Need for Speed SE [Special Edition], followed by Need for Speed 2 with different cars and different tracks. I should pause there for a moment and mention that, at least in my view, NFS2 was the most horrendous Need for Speed ever done - the car control was ridiculous, it felt like you were driving a 2D prop car against a rolling drum on which the road was painted. But it was a blast in multiplayer, so I suppose that slightly, remotely compensates. Then, (surprise, surprise) there was a NFS2 SE which, as revolutionary measure, added 3Dfx graphics and the Ferrari 550 Maranello. And now we have a Need for Speed III on our hands [want to bet there will be a NFS3: SE?].
The first thing I must say about it is it's worlds beyond NFS2 in terms of car control. The car feels so much better than before... but still nowhere near the original NFS. But we're getting there. The idea behind NFS3 is very cool, too - you can play the usual modes, be that single race, tournament, knockout - but you can also play Hot Pursuit, in which you can play using one of the three police
cars and actually chase [enemy? Action game terminology is getting to me] drivers. I suppose I got a slight bit ahead of myself here, but the rabbit's out of the bag - there are cops in NFS3 again, which is a very welcome addition. Most of us chicken out to drive 160 in a 30 zone, but, well, payback time - the road's all yours in NFS3. Well, except for the occasional Sunday driver... which deserves a special mention.
In the previous Need for Speeds, Sunday drivers tended to be slow-moving objects that you just swooshed by, sometimes swiping them with an inadvertent cutoff in the semi [NFS2] or just plain ramming into them and moving on. In NFS3 they're ravaging, rampaging beasts that make it the point of their entire existence to stop you from moving any further and, most usually, have you get caught by the ever-vigilant police. Okay, maybe things aren't that bad, but this is the problem: not only, on two-lane roads, do they usually tend to get into the oncoming lane [i.e. the one you're driving in], but when you subsequently make your way in the middle of their radiator, you can't just brake and hope Newton's First Law of Motion, paired up with inertia and negative acceleration laws. I'll explain in simple words: when you hit the oncoming car, braking and hoping you can turn right or left to pass it won't work - it's completely, totally glued to your hood. The only thing you can do is stop, flick the gearbox into reverse, drive back, flick it into 1st, and only then pass the #$@%. That applies to cops that set up roadblocks on narrow roads: in theory, and in any other self-respecting driving game, if you hit someone in the side of the car towards the trunk, it will spin in the opposite direction to the one you're driving in - thereby not only giving you an advantage, but letting you drive on, too. Well... in NFS3, you sort of stop. Yeah, really, you just kind of stop and, if you try wiggling the car and getting out of that situation, well, fat chance - I suppose the cop inside knows where you're driving before you do, and switches gears accordingly. Result? Caught, ticket. That's, probably, the most annoying thing there is about NFS3.
On the gameplay side, it's a definite blast. But then again, nothing less is to be expected from a Need for Speed - it's fast-paced driving that stresses your control skills to the max. The environments didn't pass by with the same smoothness and sheer speed as they did in Motorhead [which is a truly great example of how an amazing arcade racer should be done - cheers to Digital Illusions for making such a good one], but, on the other hand, they were more complex, so I suppose computer speed plays a decent role here. Also, I still find hitting grassy borders of the road should NOT make metal-screeching sounds and generate sparks, but heck, I suppose that's style. Neat effects were sand clouds on a few spots on one of the desert tracks and a plane flying overhead on one of the tracks, which, actually, got sort of annoying after it flew in the same trajectory over the four laps [and made me think of Moto Racer]. Ramming cars off the road works somewhat well, though, inexplicably, it works much better with police cars rather than normal ones. When you try to ram something with a normal car, in my experience, anyway, I got screwed over more often than the other guy.
The graphics are very nicely done. The track detail, surroundings, everything's pretty nice... except for the actual car models, Sunday driver models, and a few clipping problems. For one, wheels don't seem to turn on some cars, which could be just a slight visual glitch; also, although headlights and taillights are probably the nicest I've seen so far in a game, when not turned on, they just don't look like they can possibly be transparent. And clipping problems occur a LOT - especially when playing the Hot Pursuit mode. When you stop the car in unusual circumstances, such as flipping it over or running it off the road into the ditch, very weird things start happening. And the car chrome... let's just say the environment maps used to generate the 'chrome' effect don't always seem to match the environment you're IN, such as pine silhouettes on the desert tracks, which looks fairly strange. Also, what happened to a dashboard? For those of you who see it, don't rejoice - everyone should infinitely bash EA for including it only for... 12MB Voodoo2 cards, and AGP accelerators. Points off for that, that's so bad words cannot describe it. They should've just made the minimal requirements be a P2-400 with an SLI Voodoo2, and have it display a message that'd tell you to get lost if you had anything less. Tsk, tsk, tsk.
On the subject of the AI, since I thought of it, when the oncoming police cars turn around to chase you... they do very weird things. In the demo, they'd run off the road, hit into the mountain, then get back on the road and drive. In this, it's not much different - they take all means necessary to turn around, even if it involves unorthodox methods that wouldn't really work in real life, to put it mildly. And since I'm whining about the AI, I still have to see an intelligently placed roadblock or, for that matter, a spike route - roadblocks are plain useless in the game and spike routes will get people who are drooling at the scenery and aren't paying attention to the road, which is what I did at the beginning. Catching drivers in Hot Pursuit mode on spike routes is not totally trivial either, however, the annoying thing is that 'Central' doesn't give a flying #$% about the fact that you're pursuing someone going 115 in a 30 zone - you get absolutely no support from your fellow police officers - you're completely on your own.
The car choice is very varied. You get three groups of cars, named, very originally, Class C, Class B, and Class A. Class C is the 'slow' group, with the likes of the Mercedes Benz SL600 or the Aston Martin DB7 and its sibling, the Jaguar XK8. Class B has, among others, the Lamborghini Countach and Callaway Corvette C5. The Class A is the 'elite' class, with the Ferrari 550 Maranello, and the insanely ugly but fast Diablo SV, with an insanely ugly 'SV' painted on the side of it in exactly the reverse color of whatever you pick. Yes, you can change car colors. But you'll be hard-pressed to find one that cancels out the ugly 'SV' on the Diablo - it's about always the exact opposite in the color spectrum. There's also a few bonus cars, of which I picked up one... and this might be a spoiler, but boy oh boy does it suck - it drives like a loaded 18-wheeler down a 50° slope - that is, in a straight line it can do incredible speeds, but even with the most tweaks it can't really turn. Well, it can, but you sort of lose any advantage you may have gained in the straight line blitz. And also, why does it have to be that when the car starts to flip over, there's not a single Force of Nature that can push it back to its wheels, almost? Even in some insane situations, where nothing in normal life would flip, the car still does, with the flames, fumes, and sparks. Effects showoff? I don't know, but I hate it.
And one last complaint... what's up with roads? Why do they all have people driving in the wrong lanes, no proper traffic separation, totally screwed up oncoming traffic? Normally, a yellow divider line means a two-way street, and a white means one-way, but, um, let's just say it doesn't work here, up to the point where a highway separates into a normal road on the left and a tunnel on the right, and you STILL get oncoming traffic in the tunnel. Very, very, very screwed up - note to EA, budget cuts in the texturing department?
In any case, though, despite all the whining and the whimpering that you may, or may not, have noticed above, NFS3 is a great game. It's still not as good as the original NFS, but it's so much better than NFS2 that it almost makes up for the difference. It's incredibly fun to play, the multiplayer modes are a blast with high-speed chases, police chatter and a great music soundtrack. This is definitely one of the better titles of '98. If you're willing to forgo the sometimes-annoying glitches, which, I'm sure, can be eventually patched, definitely pick this one up.
People who downloaded Need for Speed 3: Hot Pursuit have also downloaded:
Need For Speed 2 Special Edition, Need for Speed: High Stakes, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2, Need for Speed 5: Porsche Unleashed, Need for Speed Underground 2, Need for Speed: Underground, Need for Speed, The, Need for Speed: Most Wanted
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