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Review by: Bob Mandel
Published: October 16, 1998
Long-running series of computer games can go one of two ways. One direction, by far the most common, is to begin to lose the freshness and originality of the first release over time, resulting in an almost mechanical pumping out of new installments that eventually appeal to a narrower and narrower base of loyal diehards. The other direction, praiseworthy but quite rare in the gaming world, is for the designers to pressure themselves with each successive release to incorporate yet more innovative breakthroughs, so as to cement the series’ position on the top of the heap. It is indeed rare for a multiyear game series to be able to actually retain its initial position of dominance, and most commonly more aggressive competitors knock the initial “king of the hill” off of its lofty perch.
In the specific case of the Electronic Arts’ Need for Speed series, we have an unusually vivid example of the second, more admirable pattern at work. Ever since the first in the series in 1995, this product line has broken new ground in graphics, gameplay, and even sound. While occasionally this Electronic Arts series has been accused (even by me) of milking too many installments over a short period of time (for example, releasing Need for Speed II and Need for Speed II SE in such close proximity to each other), none of the games in the series has ever been deemed a dud by any informed reviewer.
As I have mentioned in several of my recent reviews, the PC racing game market, particularly in terms of arcade racing, has really been heating up. The advancements have been so fast and furious that, to be perfectly honest, Need for Speed II SE (the previous installment) had begun to look a little dated and even stodgy. But when I previewed Need for Speed III at the beginning of August, a highly unusual result emerged: even at that early date, it was clear to me that this title’s graphics and gameplay had leapfrogged over its competition. The pre-release version left such an impression on me that in several reviews since then I used it as a standard of comparison for excellence, a tendency I usually reserve for released games.
On the surface, Need for Speed III is quite similar to its predecessor, Need for Speed II SE, in its overall scope. The current release has 13 licensed cars and 9 tracks (one is a bonus track), compared to 12 licensed cars and the same number of tracks in the earlier version. A key difference here is that in Need for Speed III you can download extra cars from the website, extending the gameplay, although I have to admit it seems next to impossible for most people to download the car currently available (the Spectre R42) because the ftp site has been generally unresponsive (presumably due to huge consumer demand). Another difference is that Need for Speed III no longer has you choose among arcade, simulation, and wild modes of play, a decision that makes sense to me given that this clearly is not a racing simulation in any sense of the word.
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