The Complete List of Need For Speed Games in Chronological & Release Order

The Complete List of Need For Speed Games in Chronological & Release Order

Since the release of Need for Speed in 1994, the series has become one of the most iconic racing game franchises ever. It introduced a more realistic racing simulation to gamers. Thanks to its availability on PC, PlayStation, and Sega Saturn, it quickly became a success, becoming a staple of the genre. After taking a few years of developing to release the initial successor, a new Need for Speed game has nearly been released annually.

During its nearly 30-year reign, the series has shifted into different genres. After initially focusing on realism and simulation-style gaming, Need for Speed has included various popular arcade-like titles and even MMO-style racing. The franchise goes back and forth with simulation and arcade titles, introducing iconic themes like police chases, underground racing, undercover operations, car customization, and more.

The Need for Speed (1994)

DOS version of The Need for Speed.

Electronic Arts released the first installment of the Need for Speed series in 1994, and it became known for its realistic simulation of car handling elements. Staff members from Road & Track collaborated in the game’s development, and seasoned drivers from the automotive magazine tuned the vehicle behavior, including realistic over and understeer. Bridging the gap between games and popular car journals, the game contains several magazine-style images of each car as well as vehicle data with spoken commentary and short video clips highlighting the vehicles set to music.

Need for Speed II (1997)

Racing computer opponents in Need for Speed II.

Released in 1997, Need for Speed II features some rare and exotic vehicles, including the Ford Indigo concept vehicle. The game introduces the Knockout racing mode, which eliminates the last racers to finish the lap. The game also featured a more open-ended track design, allowing players to drive off the asphalt and cut across fields to take advantage of shortcuts.

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Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit (1998)

Hot Pursuit mode in Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit.

Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit introduced the Hot Pursuit mode to the franchise, where players can either attempt to outrun the police or be the cop, arresting speeders. The game takes advantage of multimedia capabilities, featuring audio commentary, picture slideshows, and music videos. It is the first game in the series to allow the downloading of additional cars from the official website, leading to the creation of modding communities. The Hot Pursuit aspect became one of the most valued gameplay elements in the series, making this one of the favorites of many in the entire series.

Need for Speed: High Stakes (1999)

BMW in Need for Speed: High Stakes.

High Stakes featured more realistic elements than its predecessors, including a damage system where cars take damage, affecting their appearance and performance. The game introduces economy-based tournaments and awards players with a cash prize. Players can spend this cash prize on repairing, purchasing, or upgrading cars for upcoming races. The game also expands the Hot Pursuit mode, allowing players to control police pursuits trying to stop racers.

Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed (2000)

Racing in Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed.

Porsche Unleashed is unique in the series as it exclusively featured Porsches. Players and critics consider the vehicle handling in the PC version very realistic. Players have to win races to unlock cars in chronological order from 1950 to 2000. The game also features a Factory Driver mode, where the player have to test Porsches to progress.

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 (2002)

Police Car in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2.

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 draws influence from the gameplay and style of the first Hot Pursuit title, focusing on evading the police and racing on over-the-top tracks. Players can play as the police, but the pursuit mode is considered less realistic than previous versions of NFS. Hot Pursuit 2 is the first NFS game to use songs sung by licensed artists under the EA Trax label.

Need for Speed: Underground (2003)

Racing at night in Need for Speed: Underground.

Underground is a major shift in the series. Instead of semi-professional racing, players engage in street racing. It introduces two new play modes (Drag and Drift) and more tuning options. Underground is the first game in the series to feature a story, told using pre-rendered videos. It focused on tuner cars, offering a wide variety of customization options. Due to the thematic change, it is considered one of the more influential NFS titles.

Need for Speed: Underground 2 (2004)

Game mode view in Need for Speed: Underground 2.

Underground 2 continues the story mode from its predecessor and introduces new racing modes, more tuning options, and a new method of selecting races. The game introduces an open-world environment, which is a significant change for the series. The game also expands the customization features by including modifications that do not affect vehicle performance.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2005)

Live action cutscene in Need for Speed: Most Wanted.

This title by EA Black Box launched as one of the first games for the Xbox 360. Like its predecessor, it features freedom of movement in the world. However, customization options are not as prominent. The gameplay involves police chases and a story mode with live-action elements. The game follows a crew of drivers, known as the Blacklist. The players must defeat Blacklist drivers one by one to progress. A special Black Edition was released, adding extra races, challenges, and bonus cars. The PSP version of the game was titled Need for Speed: Most Wanted 5-1-0.

Need for Speed: Carbon (2006)

Eclipse in Need for Speed: Carbon.

Need for Speed: Carbon is the first NFS title for the PlayStation 3 and the Wii. Carbon picks up the story from Most Wanted but shifts the emphasis away from the police, reintroducing nighttime-only racing and allowing players to form a crew to assist in races. It introduces the Autosculpt feature, enabling players to custom-fabricate their own auto parts.

Need for Speed: ProStreet (2007)

Drag Race in Need for Speed: ProStreet.

Need for Speed: ProStreet is known for its realistic damage rendering while returning to realistic racing, modeling, and burnouts. Unlike its predecessors, ProStreet races occur on closed tracks during organized race days, including drag races, speed challenges, grip races, and drift races. This installment departed from the free-roaming gameplay found in most recent NFS titles and took a more old-school approach to Need for Speed.

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Need for Speed: Undercover (2008)

BMW M6 in Need for Speed: Undercover.

As the last NFS title for the PlayStation 2, Need for Speed: Undercover focused on tuning and police chases in the fictional city of Tri-City Bay. Players assumes the role of an undercover cop tasked with stopping street racers. It includes live-action cutscenes and a damage system that allows parts to break off after a crash.

Need for Speed: Shift (2009)

A professional track car in Need for Speed: Shift.

Slightly Mad Studios’ Need for Speed: Shift features over 60 cars and 19 tracks, blending licensed tracks with fictional ones. It has a focus on the driving experience and simulation rather than chases or a storyline. The game introduces an adaptive difficulty and a cockpit view. 

Need for Speed: Nitro (2009)

Wii gameplay on Need for Speed: Nitro.

As a complete 360, Need for Speed: Nitro targets a casual audience with its arcade-style gameplay. It is also the first NFS game made exclusively for Nintendo Wii and DS. The game was also available as a social multiplayer game on Facebook. Need for Speed: Nitro-X is a newer installment for DSi/XL and 3DS. It features updated content including 18 licensed vehicles, new police units, and 16 updated tracks.

Need for Speed: World (2010)

Online multiplayer race in Need for Speed: World.

Need for Speed: World is a free-to-play MMO racing game that drew on the gameplay style of Most Wanted and Carbon. It combines illegal street racing, tuning, and police chases with classic MMO elements. The game features almost exact replicas of the cities of Rockport and Palmont as part of its map design. 

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010)

Maserati at night in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.

Developed by Criterion Games, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit won numerous awards, and is considered one of the better NFS titles. Unlike its predecessors, it focuses on racing and police chases without car customization. The game has over 60 cars, mostly available to both racers and cops. It is set in the fictional rural area of Seacrest County, which players can explore freely. Hot Pursuit introduces Autolog, which tracked player progression, recommended events, and featured a new social feature called speedwalls. On speedwalls, players could post comments and photos, similar to Facebook. Another major change was the addition of weapons and tools, which allowed the players to damage opposing vehicles in various ways.

Shift 2: Unleashed (2011)

Team Rosberg car in Need for Speed: Shift 2 Unleashed.

Shift 2: Unleashed incorporates the Autolog feature from Hot Pursuit and adds night racing, an in-helmet camera, and an expanded career mode. The game features more than 140 vehicles and 40 real-world locations including famous racing tracks from around the world like Bathurst, Spa-Francorchamps, and Suzuka. A Limited Edition was also released, adding three new cars and 37 additional career race events.

Need for Speed: The Run (2011)

The game introduces economy-based tournaments and awards players with a cash prize. Players can spend this cash prize on repairing, purchasing, or upgrading cars for upcoming races. The Run introduces quick-time events, allowing players to exit their cars and travel on foot for the first time in NFS history. The game features the Autolog feature, a wide variety of real-world vehicles with visual upgrades, and an XP system. Like its predecessor, it was also released as a Limited Edition with exclusive content.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2012)

Wanted Poster and a supercar in Need for Speed: Most Wanted.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a newer take on the Most Wanted sub-series with open-world racing. In it most of the cars are available from the start. The game features a Blacklist of 10 racers, no story or visual customization, and includes the new Autolog 2.0. Players can earn performance upgrades and complete milestones through various activities, such as completing races. A Wii U version was released the next year with the title Need for Speed: Most Wanted U.

Need for Speed Rivals (2013)

Need for Speed: Rivals was released in 2013. The game is built on DICE’s Frostbite 3 Engine. It takes the basic concept from Hot Pursuit with some new features, including the AllDrive system and various pursuit techs. Rivals allows players to take on the role of both cops and racers. It also features a range of weapons exclusive to each side, inspired by the 2010 Hot Pursuit.

Need for Speed Rivals: Complete Edition (2014)

This is a full game compilation pack for the Need for Speed Rivals, which includes all DLC content and pre-order bonuses, included previously in the Fully Loaded Garage DLC pack. 

Need for Speed: No Limits (2015)

A Lamborghini in Need for Speed: No Limits.

Firemonkeys Studios developed and Electronic Arts published Need for Speed: No Limits, a mobile installment in the NFS series for iOS and Android. This game is the franchise’s first original title made exclusively for mobile devices. This means that offers a unique experience compared to previous mobile games, which were adaptations of existing NFS titles.

Need for Speed (2015)

A Mustang in the 2015 Need for Speed.

This full reboot of the franchise, released in 2015, came more than twenty years after the initial game. It is available for the two major console platforms, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, with a subsequent PC release. The game takes place in Ventura Bay and features five different gameplay styles. It also allows players to progress through five overlapping storylines. Players can customize their cars using a redesigned Wrap Editor and newly revamped body car modifications.

Need for Speed Payback (2017)

Like its predecessor, Need for Speed Payback came out for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. However, it features an offline single-player mode. The game focuses on action-focused driving with three playable characters, each having unique skills, working together to perform action movie-like sequences. Payback also features a 24-hour day-night cycle. Due to its entirely different gameplay, and pay-to-win scheme, it’s not considered one of the better NFS titles to date. 

Need for Speed Heat (2019)

Neon racing in NFS: Heat.

Need for Speed Heat is another NFS title released for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Set in Palm City, the game allows players to switch between day and night periods, offering different races and payouts for each. Need for Speed Heat introduces the titular Heat system where players earn points during police pursuits, with higher amounts at night. This is the last title released by Ghost Games, after which Criterion took over the franchise.

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered (2020)

Police car chase in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit Remastered.

A remastered version of the Need for Speed Hot Pursuit (2010) was released ten years after the original title. In addition to the features and content from the original, the game includes cross-platform multiplayer gameplay and support for 4K graphics.

Need for Speed Unbound (2022)

Car represented by the new visual style of Need for Speed: Unbound.

Need for Speed Unbound is developed by Criterion with assistance from Codemasters. The game adopts a cel-shaded art style for characters and vehicle effects while maintaining the photo-realistic look of cars from previous games. The game is set in the fictional city of Lakeshore City, which is inspired by Chicago. The game’s storyline features American rapper ASAP Rocky. Need for Speed Unbound was the first game in the series to be released on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S.

Chronological Order

Many of the games in the series do not include any type of timeline, except for the introduction of cars that are featured in the series. Thus there’s no real way to play the games in any other chronological order than the release order, which also largely determines the cars that are included. However, the franchise does include a few series within itself that have plots or themes that continue from one title to another, including the Most Wanted, Hot Pursuit, and Underground series.

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