February 6, 2002
Overall Score:  *91*ESRB Rating: Everyone (E) Need For Speed: High Stakes (PSX)
by Electronic Arts  Reviewed by: Bill Johnson

ScreenshotRacing enthusiasts, take note. The Need For Speed series is back, with improved gameplay and graphics that are sure to keep you glued behind the wheel with Electronic Arts’ latest version: High Stakes. You can choose between test drives, tournaments, special events, the hot pursuit mode or the risky high stakes mode.

This game brings improved realism to video game racing with some of the most sought after high-performance sports cars ever built. You compete to win money that is used to upgrade your car, and later purchase more expensive and better performing machines. You should be careful, though, because crashing your car will now have serious consequences with your bank account, especially when you are driving an exotic supercar such as the Mclaren F1, the Lamborghini Diablo SV, or one of 17 other hot cars you can collect and customize. Electronic Arts has added “Tru-Hazard”™ real-life incidents and real car damage to make your experience as true-to-life as possible.

You begin the game with 20,000 “Need for Speed dollars,” which is just enough to purchase a BMW Z3 Roadster or a Mercedes Benz SLK 230 to compete in a tournament against similar cars. You cannot start out in any of the other races right away, since the other cars are more expensive and out of reach. You are limited to one tournament to race in, or you can play the Hot Pursuit mode or the test drive mode until you win enough races and earn enough money to buy the better cars and race in the other races.

ScreenshotYou will want to spend some of your money to upgrade your car and make it fast enough to compete against the others, which will greatly improve how it performs, especially when you progress to the supercar level. The stock versions of these cars are really no match for the others on the track. There are three car upgrade options that will get your car running at its peak performance. Upgrade level 1 lowers your car’s suspension and upgrades your tires for improved road grip and handling. Level 2 tunes the engine for improved acceleration and top speed. It also upgrades your car’s brakes to reduce stopping distance. Level 3 improves aerodynamics to provide better handling and reduces weight for quicker acceleration. Each of these upgrades will have a different price, depending on the car you are attempting to upgrade.

In the Hot Pursuit mode, you have the choice of playing either the police or the law-breaking racer who is trying to outrun them. This is a fun part of the game and quite different from most racing games. As you run from the police, you can hear their radio transmissions as they send out reinforcements to get you. You can try to get away, but they will call in others that have as much or more horsepower than you do. I found it very challenging and difficult to get away from them. When they give chase you can pull over immediately, and they will issue a warning. If they take you by force, you are busted. Getting caught causes you to lose valuable time. If they catch you too many times, you will be placed under arrest and the game will be over. If you decide to play as the police, you can call in for backup, set up roadblocks, and even use spike strips to stop those pesky speed demons. One thing that I found wrong with the Hot Pursuit mode is the computer-controlled police giving chase and arresting you when you are driving within the speed limit, or even when you are sitting still. Other than that, it is a lot of fun to play.

There are numerous tracks to race on in the tournament mode, but you must place in the top three to unlock newer ones. If you compete in a race without damaging your car, you will be awarded a safe driving record bonus. If you damage your car, you will get stuck with the repair bill at the end of the race. You will find that this is especially more important as you drive the more expensive cars that cost a lot of money to fix. The “real car damage” is fairly realistic, and can make your car lose some power and handling performance if it is damaged. If you take a really bad spill that sends your car spinning through the air, you’ll often find that your car’s frame will get damaged enough to cause sparks to fly when you round a corner, as parts of the body that get mangled will scrape the pavement.

One thing I found that was not realistic was the fact that you could totally thrash a car in a manner that would undoubtedly total it and make it undrivable in real life, but the BMW Z3 Roadster which I put through a punishment test kept on driving with only minor performance losses and dents. The repair bill was quite a bit higher than if I had just scraped a few cars on the course, but was much less than if I had actually crashed it as I did. While this game is much more realistic than others, it still is not totally realistic. I am sure that a race car driver would not try this in real life anyway, but I just wanted to try to see what would happen if you put one of the cars through a torture test such as this. This should not prevent you from buying this game, because it in no way detracts from the quality of the rest of it. There were only a few minor things that I did not like about this game, which I will discuss later.

As far as the actual racing goes, this game has excellent car handling feel and realism that is further enhanced with the PlayStation’s vibration function, simulating the feel of driving and crashing. It will vibrate as you take sharp corners, the wheels lose traction, and when your car runs into another car or hits an obstacle. I feel that the cars react very realistically when you take a sharp corner and the car starts to skid. You can turn the car harder which will increase the skidding, or even put on the emergency brake which will cause the car to spin out.

ScreenshotThis game has a lot of tracks to race on. They are quite varied, detailed and interesting. Each one has its own characteristics and theme. Some wind through the countryside, and others will weave through towns and urban areas. With a wide variety of tracks, you will surely find this game challenging and interesting for quite a long time.

In the High Stakes mode, two people who have customized their own supercars can compete head to head, with the winner taking the other player’s car as their prize. The loser’s car goes onto the winner’s memory card. One way around this would be to have an extra memory card to copy your cars on. If you were to lose one in the high stakes mode, you would still have it “cloned” on your other memory card. I guess that would be cheating, and would take away from the excitement of actually putting your car on the line.

There are many options to further challenge your racing ability. You can add traffic, weather and night driving to add a bit of realism and difficulty. You’ll need to have a memory card in order to save your progress, cars purchased, and money earned. The game only requires one block of memory.

There are only two things that I did not really like about the game, but neither one should prevent you from buying it. The game has random music tracks playing in the background of the races, and a few of the tracks are downright annoying and corny. Some of them are all right, but I was by no means impressed. The nice thing about the music is that you have the option of changing the song being played at any time, and can even turn the music off when you want. I would suggest putting on your own favorite music if you like to listen to tunes while you race. The other thing that I didn’t like was the fact that any time you go into a tight turn or come close to another car or object, the car’s horn will automatically sound. Again, this is not a big deal and I actually got used to it, but I still wish it wasn’t there.

The graphics on this game were some of the best I’ve seen on the Sony PlayStation for a racing game. The cars, racetracks and scenery are very good. You’ll see all sorts of background details, and even get a few visits by some passing trains and hot air balloons. I’ve only gotten through about six of the racetracks in the few weeks I’ve had this game, so I’m sure that there are plenty of other cool things to see. There are some minor limitations at times when your car is cruising at top speed with blocky road graphics, but this is very minor and probably not noticeable to most people. They really did a great job here.

Bottom Line:
I would have to say that if you enjoy racing games that you will not be disappointed with this one. It is very well done. The overall graphics, gameplay and realism are as good as any racing game I have seen for the Sony PlayStation, and it’s a lot of fun too. Electronic Arts has also done a great job of adding plenty of different racetracks and options to keep the game fresh for quite a long time.

Review posted 3 May 1999

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