Need for Speed on the 3DO is to car games, as 3DO is to games consoles. It's like going to visit a friends family, everyone in the family is different, but they have the same eyes, the same hair, the same way of speaking. From granny to baby their is something common to them all. Likewise, playing 3DO Need for Speed, you realise that despite being considered second-fiddle to the likes of Ridge Racer and Daytona at the time, NFS contained the dominant gene still seen today in car games.
Project Gotham Racing, Grid, Gran Turismo, the list is endless all contain within them, the basic genetic codes laid down by Need for Speed on the 3DO. Of cause no-one remembers the Need for Speed as iconic, those accolades are reserved for Namco's and Segas efforts despite their influence on the genre being fairly minimal.
Before we start, don't confuse Need for Speed on the 3DO with it's shoddy PC, Saturn and PlayStation ports. They were inferior. The 3DO Multiplayer may have been bettered by it's polygon crunching nemesis' but it's use of memory and flexibility meant that from time-to-time Trips multimedia console could show them a clean set of heels. Just like in this instance.
So what was so special about NFS 3DO? Need for Speed, in it's first outing, managed to get the recipe exactly right when combining arcade action and the holy grail of gaming in the past fifteen years: realism.
A Porsche 911 will not, from a standing start, accelerate up a hill as quickly as it would down a hill. It's basic physics. Need for Speed 3DO knew this. Cars are heavy, and will not power-slide round corners as easily as some car games would have you believe. Need for Speed 3DO knew this. A Lamborghini Diablo will out accelerate a Mazda RX7 from a standing start. Need for Speed knew this. And significantly, 3DO NFS managed to make all this physics and modelling stuff fun.
More over, NFS knew that each car has a different engine, a different photo-realistic dashboard, a different horn. This was something of novelty in 1994.
The handling in NFS is, in so far as I am concerned, as close to real world car handling as any game has ever achieved. PGR feels good to play, don't get me wrong, as does GT and Grid, but they don't feel real. The hint of arcade in these games is too heavy. You don't, unlike the NFS 3DO, feel the weight of the car in the pad, you don't feel the 19" wheels turning into the corners, you don't feel the bulk of the vehicle as you wrestle with the steering. You don't feel the steering trying to snap back to centre, In NFS 3DO, all this is done extremely well.
Likewise 3DO NFS is still the only game I play where I can honestly say the in-car view is the most comfortable view to play the game in. It's also the only car game I've played which has a compelling reason to use the manual gear settings: i.e. the car performs better and you get access to extra tracks. Hiding in automatic is for old ladies and Taxi drivers as far as NFS is concerned.
At the time, 1994, NFS was accused of being boring when compared with it's arcade counterparts. And to be fair, it's not as instantly thrilling as Ridge or Daytona but that's not to say that Need for speed doesn't have it's moments.
Say for example: when a cop is chasing you, and you clip an oncoming car during your escape, only to discover you are going up hill and the automatic gearbox won't kick-down to a lower gear, and the damn car won't pick-up speed -- all this will make you hold your breath. It does. I promise.
Being tailgated by a horn beeping mad Toyota Supra while in your Honda NSX with a distant beep-beep-beep of a cop car on your scanner you just passed does pretty much the same.
Swinging the heavy Lamborghini through the twists and turns of the country run and watching your opponent power off into the distance does have a spurring effect. trust me, close only counts in horse-shoes and hand grenades - you will want to win.
On the arcade side of things you have mutlei-angle replays, a 70Mph head-on crash doesn't mean instant death, you can't over-rev an engine to death, there is no damage to the cars, although smoke will pour from the engine if you do manage to put the car on it's roof -- something Polyphony's efforts never managed! -- and the coppers only care if you're speeding; ramming them or other road users below 55Mph doesn't bother them at all.
So okay, NFS isn't an arcade game, but it's not exactly dull either.
Another key area is the graphics. NFS isn't as glitzy or as showy as say Sega Rally or Ridge Racer but watching the road snake off into the distance, or witnessing your car power underneath bridges or breezing past the balloons on the coast is delivered with a certain beauty.
There are three courses, broken down into three sections. The courses contain plenty of variety. From chicanes, S-bends, long straights, with narrow and wide types of roads. On coming traffic mixes things up, blind bends, steep hills and sweeping motorways make the experience more entertaining as a journey than many games even today. From cities, to woods, to mountains and coastline NFS has plenty to look at.
Add to that cops. In Surround-sound the cops follow you and their presence is betrayed by your cop-detector beeping away on the dash. The cops aren't psychotic, they won't ram you off the road, that's not to say it's not a none-contact sport, but most of the time being arrested is the result of your own poor driving as opposed to the aggressive polices AI routines.
There are eight cars for you to race in.
Porsche 911 (993)
Which is a nice selection of cars, no one car has the upper hand and you find a challenging and varied race in each.
One area, which is pretty contentious these days, is FMV. Sure, the car introductions, especially for the Porsche and the Lamborghini have a replay value like no other piece of video game full-motion-video in history but it's the X-Man where I'm going to draw a line in the sand. A chap called 'Brennan Baird'.
He was cut from other versions and was the target of much bile when the game was initially released, no doubt resulting in his absence from the later ports, but in fairness, I believe he is by far the best actor in any FMV sequence, in any 3DO game, ever. Certainly the most natural. That makes him better than Tia Carrera, better than Dennis Hopper, Grace Jones and Stephanie Seymour and better than Mark Hamill. He was supposed to be an antognistic opponent, that challenges you enough to want to race, but not so irritating that you would refuse his beer in the local bar. With that in mind, Brennan quite frankly delivers an oscar winning performance. Watching him now, 15 years later, he is not bad, he's actually good. The lines he's given aren't great, but he performs them well.
Electronic Arts Need for Speed started life as the 3DO raison d'etre. Arguably the best reason to own a 3DO. It's still a show-piece for the 3DO, it's still a great game, it's still an exhilarating ride and you can see 3DO NFS DNA in every car game since. Remember, Daytona USA and Ridge Racer changed the car game genre very little, and NFS is truly father to them all.
Lucky for you it isn't even slightly rare. - play it today (Just not on Freedo as the replays don't work!)