Need for Speed II
a game by Electronic Arts
It Often Helps In A Review Of A Sim If you can lend the proceedings the benefit of your very own personal experience. Take Simon Bradley, for instance, PC flight sim bloke: he's a real-life helicopter pilot and, so he says, has also flown numerous military jets (even, ahem, ones which don't exist yet). But what I'm saying is this... in the case of Simon Bradley, exaggerations aside, if a helicopter sim comes in he can tell you - with a certain degree of accuracy - if it flies like the real McCoy.
So back to me, then, and I'm staring at the opening screen of Need For Speed 2, at the list of cars you can drive: the McLaren FI, Ferrari F50, Ford GT90, Jaguar XJ220, Lotus GTI, Lotus Esprit V8, Italdesign Cala and the Isdera 112i.
Hmmm. A question rears its ugly head, and I'm going to have to deal with it now...
Mow many have you driven?
How many of them have I actually driven? Erm, well, sidestepping that question for a moment, I often cycle down Park Lane on my bike, and there's a car showroom down the bottom end which has a McLaren FI in the window. I've stopped and looked at it in detail on a couple of occasions, so you could say I sort of know it inside out. And as for the Italdesign Cala and Isdera 112i, I think they're concept cars, aren't they? No? Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I'm sure they're not actually in production, meaning - if I'm right - that nobody has driven them. And as for the other five? Well, I've seen Jeremy Clarkson talking about them on Top Gear. I took it all in, even if he is a bit of a ponce. I know about their under and oversteer characteristics, the fact that the power comes in a tad late on this one. the back end's a bit twitchy on that one, and the other hasn't even got a bloody radio. You know? I can imagine, I can imagine...
Your credentials please...
You mean my credentials for reviewing a driving sim which contains eight of the most powerful road cars on the planet? Urn, well, I'm good at driving in the snow; I'm good at handbrake turns; I once had a highish speed head-on crash in which the other bloke broke both legs while I didn't hurt anything (even though I wasn't wearing a seatbelt).
Okay. I suppose I don't have any credentials when you get right down to it. In fact, having thought about speeds and things, I've got to admit that the fastest car I've ever driven (embarrassed glow) was a Renault Clio. No. hang on - I rented a Mitsubishi when I was on holiday in America once, and I got 1l5mph out of it, driving through Death Valley. Pathetic really, but it was good fun at the time. Still, I don't expect you've ever driven a 220mph road vehicle yourself, either. ("Yes I bloody well have" - a millionaire reader.)
In the first Need For Speed the programmers tied up with Road ft Track magazine, which is where they got all their 'equations' and suchlike. It was all meant to be very realistic, basically. However, this time they've tied up instead with all the real-life manufacturers of the cars involved - as is apparent from a page in the manual which is full of TM and Copyright symbols attached to the beginnings and ends of words like McLaren, Ferrari, Ford, Lotus and so on.
In other words, Need For Speed 2 is meant to be pretty much the be-all and end-all when it comes down to the physics of supercar handling and performance. Unfortunately, as I've explained. I'm not in the position to argue the case, even though I'd dearly love to, so now's probably a good time to change tack and move on to the game structure.
What's the recipe today, Jim?
Okay, so we've got our eight cars, right? And there are six rather large circuits. So how do they fit together? Well, there are three basic race modes and a few toggleable options to boot. First off there's the simple Single Race, which you can also read as 'Practice'. Select any car you like (you can choose its colour and whether it's auto or manual), any track (more of these later) and then select your opposition.
And here's where the options come in. Want a straight race between yourself and just one computer-controlled vehicle? You've got it: just decide which of the cars you want to go head-to-head against. How about you versus a whole bunch? Again, no problem™ you can have a mixture of manufacturers, or seven of the same type. Want to do a time trial? Against the clock? Just you on your own? To get the hang of things, and beat your own records? Go for it. Want it arcadey? Select this option and you'll find yourself racing at the thin end of the wedge, meaning you've got heaps of traction and won't bleed off too much speed when scraping along walls and so forth. Or go for Simulation, in which case the above doesn't apply. Finally, and this is the brilliant thing about Need For Speed 2, you can select 'traffic', which gives you, well, traffic: things to overtake, and oncoming things to crash into while doing so. Cool. (Er, just like the first game.)
Beyond this is the Tournament Mode which takes place over all six tracks with a Formula One-style points system: win the season and gain access to the 'secret car'. Then, finally, there's Knockout Mode, in which - again over all six tracks - the car which finishes last place in each successive race gets 'dropped'. Win the final head-to-head, should you fare that well, and the bonus track is made available. (And let's hope it's a good one, 'cos in the first game the bonus track was shite.)
Talking of shite tracks...
Oh dear. Time for the shit to hit the fan. The main selling point of Need For Speed 2 - ignoring for the moment the fact that all the cars travel at nine squillion mph and have accurately modelled interiors - is that the tracks, this time around, allow (and I quote) "for complete freedom". There are short-cuts, essentially, and you can travel off-road, to encounter differing terrain and the like. Oh, and let's not forget the 'interactive scenery', like cones, boxes, and on and on, which move if hit. Oh, and there's the extensive replay facility, split-screen mode (which is nice) and more multiplayer options than you could shake an Austin Allegro at.
However, there are also a few 'buts' knocking around. And they're bloody big 'buts', too.
The first 'but' is mainly down to bad timing: Need For Speed 2 has missed the boat - big-time. You sec there's another driving game (reviewed on page 84) which actually manages to deliver the promises Need For Speed 2 can only lay hollow claims to. Here's a snippet of conversation between me and Charlie Brooker (who was watching as I played Need For Speed 2 for the purposes of this review).
"You don't seem too impressed," he said. "I'm not," I replied. "The goalposts have been moved... Cormageddon has made them wider!"
"You mean narrower," he corrected. "Er, yes," I said. (I always was crap with metaphors.)
But anyway, he was in complete agreement So was everyone else in the room, to be honest. Yes. Need For Speed 2 may be more open than the original, but considering that two or so years have passed between the games, you'd expect it to be. Nevertheless, let's move to gripe number two...
Still on the tracks, but a different moan. The Need For Speed 2 designers have gone for what you could call 'fantasy tracks'. The strength of the first game, though, was that you had all these 'real' cars, and you raced along 'real' roads. Fine. Great. And oncoming traffic, as well. It worked a treat, so why didn't they continue the trend? Give me a McLaren F1. for example, and I want to take it on an autobahn, or through Arizona... not on some whacky Himalayan course which includes a rope bridge and 200 snowy hairpins.
You know what I mean? The mixture of so-called realism (the cars) and half-baked trippiness (the tracks) simply doesn't work: if the point of the exercise is to travel at 400,000mph, who's got time to notice, or care about, a giant windmill? What the designers should have done (for example) was to make Need For Speed 2 a race from the east to the west coast of America, with refuelling stops or something whenever new scenery had to be loaded in. And cop cars and road blocks. That sort of gig.
Gripe three and beyond
Back to the car handling, which of course I'm not qualified to talk about, having only owned and driven Datsuns and what have you. But listen to this: choose any car in Cormageddon (and the original Need For Speed come to that) and perform a 'donut' and you get/got precisely that: roughly circular tyre tracks, but with ovoid tendencies. You wibble about. In Need For Speed 2, however, your car tyres do in fact draw a perfect circle, which overwrites itself again and again and again. Bad physics? What else can it be? The crashes look and feel wrong as well, which may lead some people to say 'that's not the point of the game'. And maybe it isn't, but all I can counter with is this: what exactly is the point of Need For Speed2? It's neither one thing nor the other. If you want to go really, really fast then the tracks are sort of wrong. If. on the other hand, you want to piss about and have some fun, then the cars are wrong. And fancy a replay? Got a spare couple of years for it to load? No.
To my mind it's a case of taking an original game (Need For Speed, obviously, which was brilliant in its day) and aiming the sequel in precisely the wrong direction. Oh, and did I mention that there's a hundred squilliobytes of advertorial FMV for all the cars in the showcase? Well, there is, and if drooling over that sort of stuff lights your candle then add ten to the final score... oh and get a life.
2018-12-05 Need for Speed II game added.