The Need for Speed 2: Special Edition
Need for Speed II SE is the latest release in an excellent car racing series from Electronic Arts. Its predecessors are Need for Speed, Need for Speed SE and Need For Speed II. All have been closer to arcade action games rather than realistic driving simulations, and as such the emphasis has been on fun rather than careful vehicle configuration, pit stops, and tune-ups or repairs.
This current version incorporates several major new features. First, it supports 3D graphics acceleration using the popular 3Dfx chipset. Second, it adds four new cars to the original eight, and one new track to the original six (not counting. of course, hidden secret cars or tracks); each car has a different set of performance characteristics, and each track is designed to provide a different kind of challenge. Third, you may play the tracks in mirrored or reverse modes. Finally, this special edition release adds a new race style to simulation mode, in which cars behave realistically, and arcade mode, in which cars have better-than-normal handling: there is now a new "souped-up" wild mode in which your car has much more gravity to hug corners and knock cars out of the way.
Other important options continue to be racing in single race, tournament, or knockout mode; and racing in one player mode or multiplayer modes using a split screen for two people on one computer, two players connected by modem or serial cable, or up to eight players via a network connection (this last option is the best). In these multi-player modes, a catch-up option is available that can lead to close finishes among players of vastly differing abilities. With computer opponents, you can choose their number and skill level, and in any case you can determine whether slow-moving traffic is present when you race. For your own car, you may choose whether to have automatic or manual transmission, what color your car will be, the amount of front and rear spoiler downforce, the front/rear brake bias, and the gear ratios (these last three settings are available only in simulation mode).
The gameplay here continues to be among the most exciting and fast-paced of any computer racing game. The artificial intelligence of computer opponents is superb, as they are always trying to cut you off or sneak around you in interesting places. Full support is available for joysticks (including the force-feedback variety), game pads, and steering wheels and/or pedals; while you can control the responsiveness in each case, it is generally just right at the default level. The interface and menus are very well designed (unlike in some other racing games where one seems to face an endless stream of poorly-organized loosely-connected menus) and are very attractive to look at. You can control volume and sound quality and graphics detail, and you can load and save tournaments and replays. To add to the depth of the game, you can get tons of information (including a video and slide show) on each of the cars included.
The 3Dfx graphics in this game are super, rivaling the very best in any racing game. The tracks and the cars are beautiful and detailed, and the physics of the action is realistically portrayed (I love watching a car spin out or flip over, for example). Moving objects in the background such as planes and windmills add to the fun. Seeing rain and mud splatter the windshield while racing is another really nice visual feature. However, one inexplicable limitation is that if you use 3Dfx support you cannot view the race using the Heads-Up Display via the In-Car Cam; given that the manual claims that this is the most realistic view, this omission seems inexcusable. Moreover, there is still some room for improvement in the graphics, as for example in the replays the wheels on the cars do not turn and when viewed at some angles the cars look distorted.
Both the music and sound effects are excellent in this game. The tunes are clear, adrenaline-pumping and varied, and the sound effects are very realistic. Unlike some racing games, vocal effects are neither overbearing nor obnoxious.
The documentation in this game is of very high quality. A comprehensive 30-page manual with black-and-white photographs nicely explains the game menus, options, and intricacies of game play, and a separate reference manual details how to install the game and how to deal with technical problems. Both are better written and organized than most game documentation.
Required: 90 Mhz Pentium CPU, 16 MB RAM, 10 MB hard disk space (plus space for saved games), 4X CD-ROM drive, a 1 MB PCI video card capable of displaying 65,535 colors, a sound card, a keyboard, a mouse, and Windows 95. A 3Dfx graphics accelerator card is highly recommended for this special edition of this game.
I am the first to admit that I have a strange taste in racing games, as up until testing the Need for Speed series my favorites in this category have been Ubi Soft's POD (due to its incredibly gorgeous surrealistic tracks) and -- to a lesser extent -- Interplay's Whiplash 3D (due to the creatively swirling track design). Having thoroughly tested _ for Speed II SE_, I can say confidently that it is right up there with the very best not just in terms of graphics and sound but, most importantly, in terms of pure enjoyment (I only wish that Electronic Arts would follow Ubi Soft's great policy on releasing many extra cars and tracks on its website to provide continuously changing variants to the races). I give this polished game my unqualified recommendation for purchase.