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A.P.I Review: Need For Speed 4:
High Stakes
Developer: Electronic Arts OPTIONS: S.SHOT
No.1   No.2   No.3
Distributor: Electronic Arts 1-2 Player
Game Type: Racing Memory Card
Review Date: April 1999 Dual Shock/Analog Compatible

Setting the Scene

Gran Turismo set raised the bar and set the new mark for all others to reach as far as driving games go. Never one to shirk a challenge, Electronic Arts storms back with another sequel to their high speed driving franchise Need For Speed. The forth game in this illustrious series is titled Need For Speed: High Stakes and it not only sets the standard for NFS games it also gives Gran Turismo a decent run it's money.

The game is titled High Stakes for a very good reason…there is a mode in the game where you can actually race opponents for the pink slip or in this case, the memory card stored car. Lose the race and your car is automatically transferred to the victors memory card…yikes!

Of course what Need For Speed title without all of those wonderfully exotic car licenses like Lamborghini, Ferrari, McLaren (yes!) and Austin Martin. There are also some red hot cars from BMW, Jaguar and of course the Chevy Corvette. All in all, a nice little stable of extremely capable cars that will keep you racing around the tracks for weeks or months to come.

So buckle you ass in, grab an analog controller for heaven sake and get ready to feel the need…the Need For Speed!

Sound & Vision

One of the things that I have always enjoyed about Electronic Arts is the fact that mostly all of the their titles come with Dolby Surround sound support. This is a great option to have, especially in driving games because you can actually hear cars coming up from behind you through the rear speakers and then whizzing past and traveling to the front speakers.

The sound effects totally kick some ass here. Engine rumbles have been sampled from the actual cars and they sound tremendous. The 'vette and Firebird's for instance have that trademark deep throaty roar of their V-8 power plants.

There are also a ton of ambient noises taking place in the background throughout the races, like birds and crickets chirping, dirt crunching under the tires, water rushing by from a brook, and the click-clack of a train. There is definitely no shortage of sound effects in this game.

Oh yeah, the car crashes, crumples, skids, collisions, scrapes, and flips all sound right on the money and gives you the feeling of how much it must hurt to damage such fine automobiles.

Hell, even the menus are alive with wonderful little sounds that occur as you press a button for your selections.

Music is of the hard rock variety and fits in quite well with this type of game.

On the visual end, NFS: HS is very similar to NFS 3 with slightly sharper graphics and a few more special effects thrown in for good measure.

The car models are easily the best in the series with highly detailed vehicles right down to a person sitting in the driver's seat! The excellent transparencies enable see through windshields and the use of light-sourcing gives the cars a feeling of depth as they travel from shaded to sunny areas on the track. Spectacular lighting is used sparingly though and as such the cars tend to look a bit flat as compared to Gran Turismo and the replays while very good, still don't touch the master.

The special effects are really nice, with vehicle damage that includes dented fenders, scratches, spider-webbed windshields and sparks that fly up from under the car when excessive damage has been taken. The lighting effects are also awesome with lens flaring during the day and incredible ambient lighting when driving during the night.

The opening CG intro isn't the best quality that I have ever seen, but it does the job in getting the old adrenaline pumping as the cars a screaming all over the place.

On the down side, the frame rate is quite erratic, taking some heavy hits when there is a lot of action going on at once. This can unfortunately disorient you and cause you to over compensate, thus swerving your car all over the road needlessly. I also never really got the sense of speed like I did in NFS 3, not to even mention GT or Namco's racers (oops, I mentioned 'em). Even flying along at 180 mph, I found it hard to distinguish from going 90 mph. In most driving games something like this would be the kiss of death, but surprisingly I still enjoyed playing High Stakes…it just had that little something special, but shame on EA for releasing the game before getting a constant frame rate out of it.


I love racing games…damn I just cannot get enough of them. I will even go as far as buying another console if it has a racing game on it that I enjoy so picking up the latest in the Need For Speed series for better or worse, has always been one of my favorite yearly rituals

The latest NFS takes a lot of what made Hot Pursuit such a great game and added on that. The wonderful cars are back and now with enough perseverance you can even get to drive a McLaren, the world's fastest streetcar. The cops are back too and they are more tenacious than even. It seems that EA listened to a lot of people's suggestions too, as now you can even drive a police car and try your hand at pulling over speeders!

The game features a lot of depth as there are quite a few different types of races that you can participate in and even more that open up as you win other. The basic one player games consist of being able to test drive a car, run a solo race to get used to a track or select a duel with oncoming traffic, enter a tournament, or participate in a Special Event.

In the solo or duel mode, you can also elect to drive a cop car. The purpose here is to pull over as many speeders as possible in the allotted time frame. You can also radio ahead to have roadblocks or nail bars placed in the road to try and thwart a would be Mario Andretti.

The Tournament mode is where it's at though, as you begin your quest for glory with just enough money to buy a select few cars with the purpose to win and save money to buy newer more exotic cars that are required to participate in the specific tournaments. All of this culminates in the final race against the McLaren and ultra high end BMW.

Of course getting there is half the fun, as you learn the "feel" of each new car and also have the option of purchasing up to three upgrades for each vehicle. Upgrades consist of lowering the body to reduce drag, tweaking the engine for better top end speed, improving the brakes and reducing weight to give you better acceleration and handling. I was impressed with the physics model used in the game engine as it reacted very nicely (and differently) to each upgrade and also to the changes in the weather and track conditions.

Tournament mode is also the way to unlock extra tracks and to open up Special Events races. Special Events consist of Knockout races, special Porsche and 'Vette races and ultimately a nice marathon race. You can also get secret cars unlocked while in this mode too.

The tracks are all designed to offer a combination of nice sites and sounds and also at least one hazardous turn or curve per course. I thought the layouts where thoughtful and each track varied quite a bit from each other. There are a lot of nice hills and a few shortcuts that can lop a couple seconds off your time.

The game also features excellent use of the Dual Shock controller. Simply driving over a cobblestone road will elicit a nice steady vibration, which stops as soon as you hit the smoother pavement. Every little scrap, crunch and collision is also registered in varying degrees depending on how hard the impact is. It added a great deal of involvement to the overall experience of the game.

Oh, and how could I forget…all of the damage you cause to your car needs to repaired before the next race. Depending on how careless you are, the repair bills could eat into a good chunk of your winnings and cost into the tens of thousands with the more exotic cars.

On the minus side, in addition to the flaws I pointed out in the Sound & Vision section, is the fact that you can't configure the Dual Shock to use the right thumb controller for an analog gas/brake stick…what's up with that?? For gas and braking you are forced to use the digital buttons (X and square) or pick up a NeGcon controller or steering wheel.

Two-player games are intense because in addition to a wonderful split screen duel you can take one of your highly coveted cars and race it against a friend for the pink slip. Yep, you and friend simply insert your memory cards with your favorite cars on them and the game asks if you really want to participate in the race. Saying yes will allow the game to erase the cars from the cards and store them in memory and then copying the losers car to the winners card after the race is completed, so pulling out the card right after you lose a race won't do you any good! Once you agree to this race you are committed…talk about tension!

It's also a blast driving after a friend in a cop car and trying to pull them over while they are trying to evade you in the allotted time frame. Things can get pretty nasty in a hurry in this mode!

Overall, I was not disappointed in High Stakes except for the erratic frame rate in the single player mode. The game delivers on every other level though and the end result is a wonderful driving game that will keep you coming back for more. Does it manage to topple Gran Turismo off its comfy little perch though? Well, the short answer is nope, but then again I didn't really get the impression that it tried to either. The game is very different from GT and is much more a realistic "feeling" arcade racer than a ultra realistic driving sim.

GRAPHICS: 17/20 The forth in the NFS series (we won't count that NFS Rally game) may possibly be the best as it takes the prior three and improves or adds to them in almost every possible way.

The game is action packed and has a ton of options and driving modes for your enjoyment.

The graphics are absolutely stunning, but lose a few points for a quirky frame rate and lack of spectacular lighting, but damn they sure are perdy!

The sound effects are the best in the series and the music is nice driving rock that fits in perfectly with the game.

Basically, unless you are a corpse it will definitely get your blood pumping and your motor running.

Chalk up another one for the NFS series. If you like driving games, you owe it to yourself to at least check this one out!
SOUND: 9/10
VALUE: 18/20


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