Feature Article
Need For Speed High Stakes

August 1, 1999
By Scott Lewis

Last month’s article on DSS for the car could have been covered in my Car Corner column. So it is with this article. Need for Speed High Stakes is a car racing game, but since this web site has its origins in gaming, I will devote my feature article to this computer game. So finally, for all you gamers... a game review.

NFS HS is the latest in the NFS series. I own NFS 1 & II. NFS HS (also know as NFS 4, but that doesn’t count the two Special Edition out, making it really the 6th title) is the best version to date.

The biggest addition is career play. This is going to be the source of much replay value in this game. In fact, I would bet that most people will play the career mode exclusively in single player mode.

In career play, you start out with $25,000. You must buy a car, the lowest priced one costing $20K. Then you race in tours. Each tour is made up of circuits. A circuit will consist of a series of races you must complete. Your position in the end of the circuit determines the prize money. You need to complete all the circuits in a tour at 3rd place or better to make the next tour available.

You use your prize money to repair and upgrade your car. Yes, repair. Your car takes damage, so you must repair it to remain competitive. Damage is cumulative, so you will have to make repairs sooner or later. You must repair your car before you are allowed to purchase upgrades.

This economic system is done very well. It is simple enough to understand immediately, and upgrades are set at three levels. Nothing too confusing. The ultimate race is for pink slips. As the title states, "High Stakes" races are a one-on-one race were the winner keeps both cars.

But how is game play? Great. This game has gorgeous graphics. I have crashed a few times while admiring them. Very smooth graphics with very few anomalies. Most of the time I get an excellent frame rate, but one of the anomalies is the action comes to almost a dead stop from time to time. It is not consistent, and I can’t seem to figure out why. When it happens I am usually alone so I don’t think it has anything to due with the number of objects on screen. My hard drive light never blinks and I have 128 MB of memory, so I doubt it is my computer. It is infrequent enough that it doesn’t bother me.

The only other anomaly is some of the images in the rear view mirror come into view blocky. I don’t know another way to describe it. It just isn’t always a smooth appearance. I noticed this same effect in Wipeout, but it was much more severe, and happened with all the scenery as it came into view. Looking forward the scenery comes into very almost perfect.

The cars handle very well. It is a great compromise between true physics and arcade. Make no mistake about it, this is an arcade style game. You can shave seconds off your lap times be cutting apexes and following a great line. But if you crash, you will almost always have time to catch up to the computer AI cars. The arcade thing kicks in again when you are in the lead. It seams, no matter how fast you go the computer-controlled cars are right behind you waiting for you to make a mistake.

I was impressed with the AI of the cars when it comes to aggressiveness. They will run you off the road. And they have the nerve to beep their horn at you while they do it. But the AI could be better. The cars tend to move from side to side on the track for no apparent reason other than to piss you off when trying to pass. But this is a minor point. You need to make a game hard enough that it takes some patients and practice to beat the computer, without making it impossible.

The computer does this reasonably well. Once you learn a track well, you feel you can beat the computer anytime. Then it surprises you by beating you in a high stakes match and you lose your car. (This happened to me at a very bad time... I got cocky and lost a $160,000 car with over $100,000 in upgrades.)

Once you get good, career play becomes a battle over how fast can you accumulate money to buy faster cars. Cars you will need as more circuits and tours are made available. You can try to go straight to the high stakes rounds to win the computer’s cars, but don’t be surprised if you lose your own. Also, if you keep winning cars from the computer you have to think about how much it really costs you. You will need to spend cash for repairs to your car, and if you want to sell the cars for cash you only get half their purchase price. Money spent on repairs and upgrades are basically lost for the sole purpose to help you run a better race.

I would love to tell you about the multi-player capabilities. Unfortunately, I don’t have any friends that have the game yet, and Electronic Art’s Internet racing service, about to go into beta, was not up and running at the time of this review.

This game includes Hot Pursuit mode from NFS III. You race against a single opponent, while the cops are trying to catch both of you. You must complete the course first and do so without getting more than 2 speeding tickets. The third sends you to jail. You can also play as the cops. This adds fun in that you get to run cars off the road, call for roadblocks, and throw down spike strips to stop the "bad guys."

My guess is most people will tire of Hot Pursuit after a short time. Career play will be used a lot. However, online I expect Hot Pursuit to be just as much fun as High Stakes and regular racing. This game has the potential to be a great online game. Let’s hope Electronic Arts does it right. And hurry up, I am only days (I hope) away from getting my cable modem.

All in all, this is currently my favorite game. I plan on playing it a lot. At least until Microsoft gets Age of Empires II out.

Buy It. And look for The Flash on EA Racing. BTW... you can sign up for an EA Racing ID ( now, even though it is not up and running yet. So get your ID and e-mail it to me. We can look for each other when it goes live.