Need For Speed: High Stakes is the only game from the Need For Speed series that I have played, so I cannot compare this particular game to the others in the series. What I can say is that NFS: High Stakes is a great little game even now, four years later. The graphics look a little clunky compared to today’s technology, yet there is still enough detail to the cars and race track surroundings to keep me happy. Despite the fact that I obviously am not very good at keeping my car on the track, I think the controls are pretty good. The only annoying thing is that pushing the joystick up honks the horn, and I end up hitting the up arrow to some degree every time I move from left to right and vice versa. One feature I really like is the ability to look behind the car during the race, although this usually sends me right into a wall or tree; any time I actually manage to pass another car, I almost have to look back and watch it eat my dust.
The game is truly blessed with many camera angles. After each race, the game automatically shows you an instant replay of the entire race (unless you choose to skip it), shifting between ten different cameras. This means I can watch and see just how horrendous all of my crashes were.
In many ways, the best part of the game is not the actual racing. The first thing you have to do is choose a car, and there are at least nineteen cool little speed demons at your beck and call (and even more later on if and when you have enough cash to move up in the world). If you can’t decide which car you want, you can take a trip to the car showroom and hear all sorts of details about the specifications and features of each model available. Serious players can build, update, and customize any car to make it his/her pride and joy, yet really serious players have the high stakes option of putting their money where their mouths are (i.e., racing for pink slips) – you lose the race, you lose your car.
The tracks are really quite diverse and require different driving styles; when you have to deal with a number of hairpin turns, you’d better be a better driver than I am.
Different environments help make each race unique, as you might have to battle bad weather, additional passenger traffic, and the darkness of night. Of course, you don’t have to just go out there and race cold turkey; you can take all the time you want running test laps and getting a feel for each track. You also have the option of racing in single events or competing in tournaments.
My favorite aspect of this game, though, is the Hot Pursuit option. Here, you can choose either to run from the law or climb inside a police car (which can vary depending on the country in which you are driving) and play Smokey to some other guy’s Bandit.
You even get to bang against and all but wreck fleeing speeders in your quest to enforce the law. Whichever side of the law you choose to play, you are privy to all sorts of great police radio chatter. Speeders will have to evade not one cop alone but a whole group of them, and these cops coordinate their pursuit tactics. Roadblocks, spike strips, and a bevy of cruisers trying to block you in can all make for quite an exciting challenge.
Need For Speed: High Stakes is getting a little long in the tooth now, as is the original Playstation console, but the game is still a lot of fun to play when you just want to goof around for a little while. Serious gamers will unlock cars and tracks that more casual players may never see for themselves, but any novice can pop in the CD and entertain himself/herself with a world of fun features.