Game Over Online ~ Need for Speed III

GameOver Game Reviews - Need for Speed III (c) Electronic Arts, Reviewed by - Pseudo Nim / Ned /

Game & Publisher Need for Speed III (c) Electronic Arts
System Requirements P-166, 32MB RAM, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 90%
Date Published Friday, September 11th, 1998 at 10:23 PM


Divider Left By: Pseudo Nim Divider Right

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.

Highs: pretty good graphics, fun gameplay, original police chase idea;

Lows: ludicrously bad collisions, absolutely fake sprites, AI is pretty bad at times, system requirements are much too high;

 

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Rating
87%
 

 

 
 

 

 

Divider Left By: Ned Divider Right

The Need For Speed series from Electronic Arts has become something of a gaming institution. Ever since the first Need for Speed, gamers have looked forward to the sequels for the best in racing action. NFS2 came out a few years later but it lacked the improvements everyone expected. Then NFS2 Special Edition came out and everyone's expectations were fulfilled. But now it's been a few years since we've had a totally new NFS - and it's finally here.

It's getting hard these days to impress people with the graphics in games. What NFS3 does is to try to make everything look as realistic as possible given today's limitations. The horizon and sky graphics are more detailed than past racing games and you never stop and think, "boy that sky looks kind of fake". Instead it's just there and you accept it as being a real sky. The road and terrain graphics are the same, NFS3 uses the clever X pattern of putting 2 sprites together to make a 3 dimensional tree, I can just barely tell it's like that but only if I stop driving and really look for it. An actual polygonal tree isn't possible with today's technology but they manage to do it effectively with sprites. Comparatively, Ultimate Race Pro and Moto Racer use the "wall of trees" trick which is basically a flat polygonal surface painted with a texture that has trees in it. It looks ok but it's pretty obvious that it's fake. The cars are fairly well detailed but pale in comparison to the preview car graphics. When you setup your car in the pre-race menu the model for the car looks fantastic. The in-game car is a toned down model, unfortunately, but it's nothing serious. I'd have liked the option of having those super detailed models since many of us have the hardware to pull it off. Even if it slows the game down too much, at least the option would be there for later, when even faster 3D boards and CPU's come out. Weather is really cool in NFS3. On most of the courses it equates to rain, lightning and thunder whereas on the snowy tracks it shows as a light snowfall. The rain actually beads up on the windshield and dissipates over time from the wind, just like the real thing. The lightning looks a bit "stick-like" but I still like it. Another huge bonus to NFS3 is a DASHBOARD. NFS2 had no bloody dashboard when driving from the In-car camera. Without a dash it feels like your just this floating camera. With the dash it's like being at the wheel of a car. I've got one major gripe with the graphics though, and it all involves the night driving. First of all, the dashboard is not illuminated. This is totally disorienting. If you don't think so, wait 'til it gets dark and go for a drive, turn off the instrumentation lights and see how much you like that. The headlights are also a problem, they don't project far enough even when using the high beams and the light they do cast is too harsh. In certain tunnels the reflections from the walls make it virtually impossible to tell where you are going. For me, these two problems make the night driving mode basically unplayable. What a shame. There are a few other cool touches as well, such as actual leaves being thrown up from car tires and colored lighting from the police cars' sirens. Overall NFS3 looks way better than any racing game available.

The sound section of my reviews is usually quite brief, most games have just the standard sound effects and music required to serve their purpose and that's it. Not so with NFS3. You get a full set of realistic sound effects for engine revs, crashes, bumps and just about anything you could think of for a racing game. Then you get music, several songs are available with techno, rock and pop designs. You even get menu music of several choices. Most games just let you sit in silence while choosing options but even here you get some beats to jam with. Last, but not least, you get full speech. In Hot Pursuit mode, all of the police radio chatter is heard and it really adds to the experience. Just the wail of sirens wouldn't be as exciting as hearing "permission to setup roadblock, permission granted" and just ahead, Boom! a police roadblock! But you knew it was coming so you have that extra little bit of time to swerve around it and escape the law.

The modes of play are fully fleshed out in NFS3 with the single play options of Single Race, Tournament, Hot Pursuit and Knock-Out. All of the modes are fun and you can do all of those for multiplay as well which supports IPX, TCP/IP (Internet or LAN), modem and serial. The control really blows me away in NFS3. In NFS2 there was a serious lack of control over the cars, even when driving manual transmissions. When a sharp turn came, no amount of braking and gearing down was enough to stop you from bashing into the wall, in NFS3 you can just let off the accelerator and tap the breaks, and you will usually be able to smoothly corner most turns. With a little tuning of the car you can even force your car to do slight fish-tailing in turns if you like that type of control. This improvement in the control lets you really "push the envelope" when racing a course instead of driving conservatively in fear that the next turn will wreck you. More speed = more fun. There are 8 tracks to choose from plus the extra Empire track which you earn by winning the knock-out. I like most of the tracks except for the Empire track which I found to be really fake looking and not fun at all to drive. The other tracks are all fun, except for the odd sections in some of them which really annoy me. One weird thing I noticed is that portions of certain tracks seem to reappear in other tracks. The start and end section of the Hometown track is used also in the Summit track except that it has snow on it. It's very obvious though since the section has 2 distinct covered bridges which you immediately recognize. The computer AI is fairly good overall except for the odd things they do. On some portions of a track they will wildly swerve from side to side as they drive which looks strange as well as making a pass nearly impossible. In turns the computer follows a racing line a bit too much even if it means smashing into you or other cars. If a computer car actually passed on the outside of a turn I'd be really surprised. One thing I really enjoyed was the fact that computer cars actually spun out when the weather was turned on, instead of driving perfectly as if there was no rain, they will actually screw up and start to hydroplane on the wet pavement. One thing I would have liked are straight tracks. All of the tracks in NFS3 are loops. This makes the Hot Pursuit mode kind of stupid since you tread over the same territory repeated times in a race which really makes no sense. NFS1 had both looping and linear tracks and I wish NFS3 had a few of those as well. At the end of it, NFS3 is really a blast to play which I can't, haven't and won't say for most racing games. It's in the rarified air with the likes of Moto Racer, Need for Speed 1 and Grand Turismo. I can hardly wait to see what Need for Speed 4 will be like.

Good stuff: awesome graphics, fantastic control, great sound, music and speech, tons of play modes, a blast to play;

Bad stuff: night driving is useless, reflection on the cars is fake looking, predictable AI.

 

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Rating
87%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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