Cross play launches on Need for Speed Heat, making it the first EA game to offer the feature. Players will now be able to race together across PC, PlayStation, and Xbox. As revealed on the EA blog, it’s the game’s final update, and Criterion is already developing another addition to the franchise, presumably for next-gen consoles.
There are now twenty-four games in the series. Need for Speed Heat has been considered as a return to form, and with cross-play enabled, gamers are set to have a more unified experience. Need for Speed remains the most prolific racing game franchise of all time, and it has a long history of excellence.
The series debuted with Road and Track Presents Need for Speed in 1994. Initially released on the 3DO console, it quickly gained traction across multiple ports, including PlayStation and Windows. The game was noted for its realism, as it featured fully 3D realised environments and cars, which offered a much more immersive experience. Of course, it was a far cry away from the realistic, virtual reality games of today, but Need for Speed was born out of a desire to bring players closer to the driver’s seat of a high-end sports car.
Before the era of Need for Speed, Sega’s arcade racers had a dominating presence in the gaming world, while more realistic takes on race car driving were found exclusively on PC. Therefore the arrival of Need for Speed across consoles was a welcoming change from the norm. It also marked a giant leap in visuals and design, especially when compared to Gran Track 10, released in 1974. In this game, a single player drives along a track, shown through a simple bird’s eye view of the circuit. It was one of the earliest racing titles, serving as a “race against the clock” game, where players are given a time limit to complete the course.
However, Need for Speed raised the bar. It offered realistic simulation of car handling, marking the shift towards tighter gameplay and multiplayer dynamics. The original game kickstarted a franchise phenomenon and there has been a wide range of car games ever since, playable on different mediums. Take Octane Overdrive by way of example. It’s an online racing-themed slot that’s all about super-fast cars and urban races. Meanwhile, the Need for Speed games have gone through many changes over the years, initially focusing on track racing until Need for Speed Underground changed the formula, opting for street racing in 2004. Its sequel went a step further, setting the game in an open world.
We’re currently in a golden age of open-world games, and they’ve become more and more prevalent in the racing genre. However, Need for Speed Underground 2 wasn’t the first racing game to use an open world. It’s widely recognised that Midnight Club, (developed by Grand Theft Auto publisher Rockstar Games), pioneered the modern open-world racer formula, along with its follow-ups, all of which mixed realistic graphics with arcade-style gameplay. Arguably, Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition was the defining game in the franchise, as it brought in license cars and parts, and players could race through open-world recreations of Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Tokyo.
Need for Speed has always faced tough competition from other games in the racing genre. The Burnout games, for example, were hugely popular. Unlike Need for Speed, this series focused on reckless racing and allowed players to perform the takedown move. These games were the pinnacle of crazy driving, with Burnout Paradise moving the action of the series in a new direction, in which players could compete in several different types of races the in the fictionalised ‘Paradise City’. Yet, throughout the years of racing games, Need for Speed is still the most recognised of all driving franchises, having stayed at the top of the pack by reinventing itself over time, changing styles to suit current and popular trends.
While Need for Speed isn’t as popular as it was over a decade ago, the core appeal of the franchise hasn’t waned. It’s endured phenomenal success and still manages to retain a loyal fan base. Need for Speed Heat commemorated the franchise’s 25th birthday and more games will follow, offering a world of fun, thrills and powerful cars pushed to their limits.