The Best Need For Speed Games

Need for Speed has evolved like no other game, chopping and changing styles to suit current and popular trends. From extremely illegal street racing to legitimate track driving, Need for Speed has had a rich history spanning decades. The action-packed street racer made its debut in 1994 and elevated the racing genre with thrilling gameplay and a slew of rewarding features.

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In collaboration with different developers, the Need for Speed series has rolled out over two dozen mainline games, making it among the biggest series in gaming. Some of these titles roar across the finish line, while others tend to burn out — and it’s been long debated as to which among the huge, diverse lineup reign supreme. Let’s go full-throttle as we rank every Need for Speed game from best to worst.

Updated December 25, 2023 by Stephen LaGioia: There are few racing series as longrunning or iconic as Need for Speed. Classics like Gran Turismo and Forza come to mind — but it’s hard to find a series that’s as varied or innovative as this racer. From thrilling street racing to arcade-style action and open-world exploration, there’s little turf that’s remained uncovered by Need for Speed. Given Need for Speed’s continued momentum — and the launch of the return-to-form sequel Unbound — we thought we’d fine-tune and add to this list.

Where Metacritic scores are unavailable, we have used GameFaqs scores.

28 Need For Speed: ProStreet

Need for Speed ProStreet gameplay head on black car brushing with opponent

  • Year of Release: 2007
  • Metascore: 72

Stagging across the finish line in last place is Need for Speed: ProStreet. After a long period of time, ProStreet takes you back to the track, ditching the illegal street-racing format that had previously been a huge success for EA. ProStreet also brought in realistic damage to cars, which affected the way you raced, while also allowing them to drive around real-life circuits.

However, following the success of the open-world format, ProStreet, also without any inclusion of police intervention, lacked the fun factor its predecessors brought. Along with this, the game failed to upgrade the realism of the driving and had lower quality of production compared to other titles in the series.

27 Need For Speed: No Limits

Need for Speed No Limits mobile game drifting through street at night

  • Year Of Release: 2015
  • Metascore: 67

It’s hard to expect much for a free-to-play title confined to mobile devices, and for most, this effort by Firemonkeys Studios is rather shallow and rough around the edges. Short races and fairly limited, straightforward gameplay tend to bog it down, as does the emphasis on microtransactions.

Still, No Limits is at least sufficient regarding its sleek visuals and solid, subtle use of gyro controls. The game plays smoothly enough — just don’t expect an epic, highly-polished experience.

26 Need For Speed V-Rally

Need for Speed V-Rally gameplay blue car

  • Year Of Release: 1997
  • GameFaqs Rating: 3.2

Marking one of a handful of spinoff titles, Infogrames’ V-Rally is largely a Need for Speed effort in name only. In fact, this tag was pretty much slapped onto the NA rendition to cater more to the American market. Still, for those who appreciate a fairly deep rally experience, this PlayStation title at least partly delivers.

The blocky visuals haven’t aged too well, and there’s a decent learning curve thanks to some tricky checkpoints and twitchy controls. Still, overall solid mechanics, diverse locales, and a slew of racing challenges give it some staying power.

25 Need For Speed Payback

Need For Speed Payback cinematic rounding the corner near fire

  • Year Of Release: 2017
  • Metascore: 61

Need for Speed Paypack is a mixed bag with its lackluster narrative, average visuals, and liberal use of microtransactions. Still, there’s plenty to enjoy about this entry from Ghost Games, including the variety of street, drag, and off-road racing — and a dynamic day-night cycle to boot.

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The game also emphasizes the satisfying acts of running cars off the road, taking on the feel of both Forza Horizon as well as Burnout 3. But aside from some fun drifting mechanics and cop chase scenes, Payback doesn’t particularly stand out in any area.

24 Need For Speed: World

Need for Speed World gameplay driving at night through intersection

  • Year Of Release: 2010
  • Metascore: 62

Need for Speed: World is a PC exclusive, taking the style of Most Wanted and Carbon and implementing MMO elements. As the title suggests, World has a large map that you can access through an open-world format, as highways are interconnected between Palmont and Rockport from Carbon and Most Wanted.

It also offers over 100 licensed cars, a game mode called Treasure Hunt, and introduced a new system of customization, which is based on skill points obtained through racing. However, World no longer runs, with EA shutting down services for the game saying “that the game no longer lives up to the high standard set by the Need for Speed franchise.” So, if you did a bunch of work in this game, it’s gone and that’s hugely disappointing.

23 Need For Speed: High Stakes

Need for Speed High Stakes gameplay driving into opponent on rugged terrain

  • Year Of Release: 1999
  • GameFaqs Score: 3.9

Building on Hot Pursuit, this direct successor introduced racing for pink slips, as well as offering a tournament mode and bringing back the pursuit style racing in Getaway and Time Trap mode.

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After four years, the 25th addition to the roster features a whole host of unique gameplay aspects meant to draw new players in.

And for PlayStation owners, High Stakes mode allowed two players to pit their cars against each other by inserting two memory cards. The loser would have his car deleted immediately after the race, which we’re sure broke up a few friendships along the way. A cool feature, but not enough for the game to be seen as a high point in the series.

22 Need For Speed: Nitro

Need for Speed Nitro gameplay truck sharp turn on road

  • Year Of Release: 2009
  • Metascore: 69

Published only on Nintendo hardware, Need for Speed: Nitro attempted to make the game purely fun, ditching realism to create a sense of excitement. However, that’s as much as it did, with limited tracks and cars to choose from compared to other titles in the series.

Despite its early excitement factor, Nitro’s quirky zest deteriorates into a tedious strain. Along with this, Nitro didn’t offer any new features of racing and its only new attribute was ‘Own It’, an aesthetic placed upon driver’s screens to indicate who was in the lead. It also had a shallow campaign that lets it down.

21 Need For Speed 3: Hot Pursuit

Need for Speed Hot Pursuit 2010 gameplay cop car approaching tunnel

  • Year Of Release: 1998
  • GameFaqs Score: 3.8

The first installment of the Hot Pursuit series, this racing romp allows you to be both the felon and the police. With each new game in the series brings a new feature and the original Hot Pursuit brought in split-screen, as well as improving on the graphics greatly, which were impressive even for its time.

Unfortunately for Hot Pursuit, its graphics aren’t enough to make up for some generic gameplay, and it lacks the open-world style that fans of the game enjoy so much.

20 V-Rally 2: Need For Speed

Need For Speed V-Rally gameplay 2 sharp turn on rugged terrain

  • Year Of Release: 1999
  • GameFaqs Score: 3.8

More a Test Drive game than Need for Speed, this PlayStation and Dreamcast sequel to V-Rally continues its predecessor’s formula of fairly standard rally racing. However, it manages to polish up certain areas, resulting in an overall smoother and more appealing experience than the ’97 romp.

Additional cars and tracks and a variety of gameplay modes round out this more robust racer. More dynamic gameplay and environments — including different weather conditions — grant a greater sense of immersion this time around, too. Four-player support is included, and there’s even a track editor if you like to flex your creative muscle.

19 Need For Speed: The Run

Need for Speed The Run gameplay driving across straightaway

  • Year Of Release: 2011
  • Metascore: 68

Many consider Need for Speed: The Run to be something of a dark horse of the series. A mixture of Shift and Hot Pursuit, The Run follows a very rigid storyline. Taking on the role of Jackson “Jack” Rourke, you’re tasked with competing in a cross-country street race from San Francisco to New York, while trying to avoid both the mob and the police. There are numerous styled races to compete in as you dash past picturesque settings.

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The game ditches the racing for ‘respect’ theme of racing for your life. However, the game lacks replayability and is sadly a short game. Considering you zip across a country, one would have hoped there was more on offer.

18 Need For Speed: Porsche Unleashed

Need for Speed Porsche Unleashed gameplay racecar turning through town square

  • Year Of Release: 2000
  • Metascore: 78

Back in the year 2000, the EA went slightly off track with its next version of the series, introducing Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed. Focusing on a unique market, the game targeted Porsche enthusiasts, as it was the only kind of car available in the game, but had a range of cars from the 1950s all the way to 2000.

The game offers incredible detail on each of the cars included, allowing fans of not just the game, but of the German-made sports car, insight into the vehicle they were driving. It even has a feature where you can assume the role of a Porsche test driver, completing various tasks in order to sign with the Porsche Company.

However, the choice to stick to just one make of car is the reason Porsche Unleashed falters. Picking a single make of car was not a new thing either, as competitor Gran Turismo had already put this style into practice while offering a lot more in their games, whereas, with Porsche Unleashed, that was allthere was to do.

17 Need For Speed: Shift

Need for Speed Shift gameplay driving on straightaway

  • Year Of Release: 2009
  • Metascore: 83

In the midst of bringing an open-world MMO (World) and arcade-style road racer (Nitro), the series’ second reboot also included a third game, the touring car simulator Need for Speed: Shift. Shift aimed itself at real hard-core driving fans, turning its attention to the touring circuit, which presented more than 60 supercars, all customizable on both a cosmetic and performance level.

What was cool about Shift was — while the game strays from the street racer format — you could still use some of the tactics employed on the street, such as taking out opponents mid-race, while still allowing you to play more professionally. Unfortunately for Shift and the Need for Speed series, it was going up against two long-time touring car simulators in Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo, which were superior games, making Shift look underwhelming.

16 Motor City Online

Motor City Online gameplay first person perspective racetrack

  • Year Of Release: 2001
  • Metascore: 73

While this now-defunct game may seem crude to modern eyes, EA Seattle’s Motor City Online was ahead of its time, given the MMO structure of Motor City Online.

The title was originally conceived as a Need for Speed game before largely becoming its own entity, though some of the series hallmarks at least subtly remain. The online emphasis, diverse gameplay, and arcade-style action provide some overlap to more modern entries to be sure. In fact, many consider this relic to be a sort of spiritual predecessor to the online-focused NFS World.

15 The Need For Speed (1994)

The Need for Speed 1994 gameplay driving through desert

  • Year Of Release: 1994
  • GameFaqs Score: 4.1

This classic arcade game is where the inspiration for all of its successors stems from and every new game that is introduced has elements of this first installment. Every game has parts from this classic, like the timeless circuit racing and point-to-point tracks, as well as the definitive police pursuits.

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The Need for Speed is arguably the racing game of its time, but its successors have managed to go beyond the lofty standards set back in 1994. And good news 3DO owners, the game is also on that system, so those few who happen to have it can get the game on that system too!

14 Need For Speed: Undercover

Need for Speed Undercover gameplay front view cinematic with cop car in pursuit

  • Year Of Release: 2008
  • Metascore: 64

Undercover came at a time when Need for Speed needed it most, after the poor launch of its prequel, Need for Speed: ProStreet. Because of this, the game took a significantly longer time to develop unlike previous editions, as the franchise went straight back to its ‘roots.’

Now when we say roots, we really mean roots, as Undercover incorporated nearly every element of Need for Speed one could think of; street racing, police chases, opportunities to be the police, a storyline, an open world, and, of course, more cars! However, once again, it was the story that let this title down, with fans and critics alike voicing their distaste for the campaign.

13 Need For Speed (2015)

Need for Speed 2015 gameplay driving in the rain at night

  • Year Of Release: 2015
  • Metascore: 66

This flashy reboot from 2015 utilized more modern consoles to offer stunning, immersive visuals, realistic driving, and a host of new content. It was also heavily online-based, with an internet connection needed to play the game.

However, the online modes fail to capitalize on the opportunities at its disposal. With that said, the in-game campaign does offer the opportunity to race real-life famous drivers, but disappointing AI took away from this fun new feature.

12 Need For Speed Heat

2019 Need for Speed Heat front view

  • Year Of Release: 2019
  • Metascore: 72

While recent entries were flashy and polished, the series began to feel a touch stale for a growing number of fans. Enter this fresh take on the series by Ghost Games; the whopping 24th rendition of this iconic series. This racer is partly a return to Need for Speed’s roots while putting a few of its own fun spins on the formula.

Heat draws from elements that worked from prior titles, like the thrilling cop chases and open-world exploration. At the same time, it offers a few interesting new concepts — namely the contrasting scenes of day and nighttime racing. Overall Heat, provides ample appeal, with its fusion of arcade-style chaos and more nuanced sim racing and customization. It’s far from the best Need for Speed game, and its reception has been mixed at best. Still, there are certainly flashes of greatness in this 2019 racer.

11 Need For Speed 2

Need for Speed 2 gameplay starting race on beach track

  • Year Of Release: 1997
  • GameFaqs Score: 3.7

The first game to reach, and surpass, the original’s ‘lofty standards’ is the direct sequel; Need for Speed 2. Available on fewer systems than its predecessor, only appearing on the original PlayStation and PC, the second title took everything its predecessor had and made it even better.

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Need for Speed 2 is also the first game to introduce the ‘Knockout’ race mode, where the last racer is knocked out after each lap until there is one driver left. Perhaps Need for Speed 2’s downfall was its decrease in difficulty, taking away from the realism of the first entry introduced. However, even with that minor hitch, the game was a huge success and built on the first game.

10 Need For Speed: Carbon

Need For Speed Carbon gameplay

  • Year Of Release: 2006
  • Metascore: 77

Carbon was the first game to make the step-up to PlayStation 3 and Wii back in 2006, drawing from the story of Most Wanted. It was a brave attempt and threw in a host of new features that differed from its prequels. Removing drag racing, Carbon added Canyon Duel, a cat-and-mouse style race where the chasing driver needs to stay as close as he can to the leader to acquire points.

Carbon also introduced team racing into the series, where you could recruit teammates for your crew and raise their stats. The teammate AI was decent for its time, as you could team up with them and give them orders to help win events. However, Carbon had a couple of downfalls, the first being the lack of police intervention, its inclusion being more of an aesthetic than anything else, and secondly, once again, the game was just simply too short.

9 Need For Speed Unbound

Need For Speed Unbound - AI dialogue with terrible timing

  • Year Of Release: 2022
  • Metascore: 77

Unbound really embraces the Fast and The Furious – style street racing vibe the series was inspired by, giving a distinct sense of character that’s brought to life by Chicago-esque Lakeshore City. The game finds a solid middle ground between arcade-style racing and quasi-sim mechanics; stressing depth and detail through the distinct cars featured.

The fan-favorite ‘heat’ notoriety system makes a return here, bringing the wild, thrilling vibe of Heat and Hot Pursuit. Another standout inclusion is the impressive slew of cosmetic customizations, by way of unique body kits and other flair. There’s much to appreciate about this title — aside from occasional spotty performance and a weak narrative.

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