Need for Speed has been a staple in racing and driving games since the early 90s. While initially an arcade racer, it has evolved into an incredibly diverse series. From closed-circuit racing, simulations, online open-world, and police pursuits, the series has never been afraid to change.
Unfortunately, the latest Need for Speed game, which was originally slated for this year, has been delayed until 2022. You can thank EA for shifting Criterion over to support Battlefield 6 for that. So, while we wait for that next-gen racing goodness to arrive, why not check out some fan-favorite Need for Speed titles? Here are 15 of the best Need for Speed games ranked.
Best Need for Speed Games Ranked
Let’s see which Need for Speed games truly capture that special feeling of achieving ridiculous speed and which ones are simply a misfire. Here’s our list of top titles among all Need for Speed games ranked.
Need for Speed II
- Platform(s): PlayStation, PC
- Fastest Car: FZR 2000
- Release Date: March 31, 1997
While the original Need for Speed was an excellent introduction to a more realistic racing sim, Need for Speed 2 is where it hit its stride. Similar to how the sequel to Halo or Assassin’s Creed, it didn’t reinvent the formula but refined it. The difficulty decreased a bit to make the racing feel more approachable, the car roster expanded and the graphics were more refined. On top of that, it introduced a series staple, with Knockout, meaning for the first time you were racing and taking down opponents.
Need for Speed: ProStreet
- Platform(s): PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo DS, PSP and Mobile
- Fastest Car: Dodge Charger R/T
- Release Date: November 14, 2007
ProStreet was initially disliked upon release. It ditched the open street racing gameplay of its predecessors in favor of more realistic track-based racing. It also introduced realistic damage that directly affected your racing ability. This really served as a strange sidestep for the series that tried to return to the original’s directly realistic gameplay. Unfortunately, it lacked the polish of the games before it, making this abrupt transition much harder to swallow.
Need for Speed Heat
- Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One
- Fastest Car: Koenigsegg Egera ‘16
- Release Date: November 8, 2019
Helmed by new Need for Speed developer Ghost Games, Heat served as a semi-reboot/spiritual successor of sorts. It attempted to break away from the repetitive photo-realistic model that the series had been stuck in during the late 2010s. While still looking gorgeous, it tried to spice things up with a day and night cycle and more robust customization. Toeing the line between arcade racing and driving simulation, it hasn’t hit incredibly well with fans. But it may hint at the potential greatness to come in the next-gen title.
Need for Speed: The Run
- Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo 3DS, and Wii
- Fastest Car: Veyron SS
- Release Date: November 15, 2011
The Run serves as another interesting shift for the series, as it explored a heavier investment into the story. In this game, you weren’t simply racing, you were attempting to make a name for yourself while also dodging the mob and the cops. This unfortunately does take away some of the personalization that fans have loved from the other games. It truly is an enjoyable experience, but it’s far too short to make an impact.
Need for Speed: Shift
- Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PSP, and Mobile
- Fastest Car: Zonda R
- Release Date: September 15, 2009
Shift may be the closest thing to a pure racing sim that the Need for Speed franchise has ever attempted. Cars are virtual 1:1 representations of their real-world counterparts, provide robust customization and a virtual hud designed to make racing feel more legitimate. All of this centered around you working your way through the professional racing circuit, which (surprisingly and thankfully) allowed you to still use street racing tactics that fans had come to love from other games in the franchise.
Need for Speed: Carbon
- Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox, Xbox 360, GameCube, Wii, Nintendo DS, PSP, and Mobile
- Fastest Car: Porsche Carrera GT
- Release Date: October 30, 2006
Carbon was a split-generation title that truly tried to make the most of next-gen at the time. The issue is that meant it was trying to make things work for both the PS3 and the Wii, which led to some versions being lesser. Development aside, this did try a few interesting ideas with game modes like Canyon Duel and team racing. Unfortunately, it stripped away the police chase element and didn’t fully explore its new game modes due to being another short outing for the franchise.
Need for Speed: Undercover
- Platform(s): PC, Nintendo DS, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PSP, Wii, Xbox 360, and Mobile
- Fastest Car: Pangani Zonda F
- Release Date: November 18, 2008
Swinging wildly in the opposite direction of ProStreet, Undercover invested in what fans at the time wanted from the franchise. Street racing, inventive police chases, diverging storylines, and a diverse array of cars are just a few of the reasons why fans flocked back to the series. Sure, the open-world was a bit lacking and the storyline felt like a cheap knockoff of the original Fast and Furious. However, the gameplay was tight and the classic modes felt like a return to form.
Need for Speed (2015)
- Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One
- Fastest Car: Dodge SRT Viper
- Release Date: November 3, 2015
Oh, the period where every game, even if it didn’t need to, had to be always online. That initial criticism weighed heavily on the series reboot, which thankfully had far more to offer. Thanks to the Frostbite engine, this game is a feast for the eyes. Every car, environment, and effect feel visceral and showcase that EA polish from the Battlefield titles (janky giraffe man aside). While the campaign is unfortunately very short, the actual multiplayer elements are well designed and built for repeat play sessions. Sure, it wasn’t a knockout, but it represented a necessary step for the franchise.
Need for Speed: Underground
- Platform(s): PC, Xbox, PlayStation 2, and GameCube
- Fastest Car: Nissan Skyline
- Release Date: November 17, 2003
Underground served as the kickoff point for the series elevation. While it may no longer be the best title, its influence has remained ever since its initial debut. It introduced story elements for the first time, garage mode for customization, and really leaned hard into drifting. For a reboot to hit this hard and be this influential is rare, and Underground is still worth going back to.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2
- Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube
- Fastest Car: McLaren F1
- Release Date: October 2, 2002
Next on our Need for Speed game list is Hot Pursuit 2. Before the slew of reboots, Hot Pursuit 2 perfected the cops vs. crooks elements of the original games. With a slew of new cop vehicles, including a helicopter, rocking new tracks, and just generally more fine-tuned gameplay it truly served as a capstone for the series. It truly made the most out of the open-world environment, allowing you to drive virtually anywhere to track down or escape your foes. Unfortunately, it was notoriously buggy on everything except PS2, which marred a near-perfect racing game.
Need for Speed: Shift 2 — Unleashed
- Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360
- Fastest Car: Audi RS4
- Release Date: March 29, 2011
Shift 2, like many direct title Need for Speed sequels perfectly refined what had come before. It further honed in on realistic gameplay, providing a first-person interior view as well as a helmet cam perspective. Everything from the movement to the racing physics was dialed in and could be mistaken for actual racing thanks to the decent graphics. And of course, there’s the career mode. Taking you on a tour of top-level tracks against real-world professional racers, it was truly one of the best simulation attempts in the series.
Need for Speed Rivals
- Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One
- Fastest Car: Koenigsegg Agera One:1
- Release Date: November 15, 2013
Somewhat of a spiritual successor to Hot Pursuit, Rivals went for the all-or-nothing approach. It blends the arcade-style racing that Ghost Games has become known for with the adventurous nature and realistic physics of previous titles. Visually and thematically, it’s one of the best titles in the series and provides some incredibly fun cinematic moments. At the same time, it’s also somewhat of a buggy mess throughout, which dampens the overall experience.
Need for Speed: Underground 2
- Platform(s): PC, GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox, PSP, and Nintendo DS
- Fastest Car: Nissan Skyline
- Release Date: November 9, 2004
Underground 2 introduced the first open-world environment to the franchise. That in itself was a big enough step forward, but the game didn’t stop there. It capped that innovation off with a lengthy and in-depth story, a robust advancement in the garage customization, and plenty of additional side missions to find. Unfortunately, it does lack the police intervention system, which is strange for a game so focused on street racing and criminal endeavors. Other than that, it represents a shining point for the series that, for many, is the best game in the series.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit
- Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch
- Fastest Car: Koenigsegg Agera
- Release Date: November 16, 2010
A full recreation of the original in the spirit of Resident Evil 2 and the upcoming Dead Space, this took a fan favorite and just made it more impressive. This game being as good as it is probably has a lot to do with it being made by Criterion, the folks behind Burnout Paradise. The graphical overhaul a new career mode split between racing and the police and focus on intense cinematic set pieces truly make it a delight to play.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted
- Platform(s): PC, GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PSP
- Fastest Car: Porsche Carrera GT
- Release Date: November 15, 2005
Most Wanted didn’t pull any punches. It didn’t just bring police pursuits back to the franchise, it made them have meaning. The further you progressed, the longer you eluded capture, the more insane the number and type of police chasing you became. Sure, the story isn’t exactly invigorating, but it pushed you to be the best and made the road to get to the top a challenge worth taking. Plus, once you hit the top of the Blacklist, you had one final intense car chase to bring it all home.
Become a High Grounder
We hope you enjoyed our list of the best Need for Speed games ranked and found a title to hold you over until the next-gen Need for Speed releases in 2022. If you liked this roundup, be sure to share this article on your favorite social platforms. And for news, reviews, and more lists like this one, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.