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Need for Speed III is a very special game to me because not only is it first racing game I actually got into but it was the first game I ever modded. It introduced me to modding and showed me how mods can increase a game’s longevity. I spent so many hours with this game just trying out different vehicles I found online. Developed and published by EA, Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit was released for PlayStation in March, 1998 and PC in September of that same year. For this review, I played the PC version. I actually obtained the PC version a year or so after it released from Scholastic through my school. As of this review, you can find the PC version on abandonware sites and I would recommend you consult the game’s PCGamingWiki page if you want to run it on modern systems. I was able to get it running on Windows 10 using the Need for Speed III Modern Patch.
Before getting into the nitty gritty, I would like to cover all the options you’re given to customize your experience. When choosing your vehicle you can change the color, transmission, and, depending on the game mode, even tune it to modify its performance. You can not only select the track but determine if you want to race during the daytime or at night, enable or disable weather effects, traffic vehicles, and if you want to race on a mirrored version of the track. You can also choose what kind of opponents you want to race against, their difficulty, and set how many laps. Furthermore, you can customize the HUD and enable or disable certain information. Not only can you customize your experience in-game, but you can also mod the game and add new content and EA did release official add-on cars for free. Best of all, many of the fan-made cars can be installed as actual additions. They won’t replace any existing vehicles.
Need for Speed III comes with a decent selection of vehicles from manufacturers like Lamorghini, Mercedes, Jaguar, and Ferrari among some others. Each vehicle has different stats in acceleration, top speed, handling, and braking and they are split up into different classes. As mentioned before, you can tune your vehicle to make it perform however you want and the game comes with detailed information on each one. You can learn about a vehicle’s history and even view its actual interior. During races, you can switch between different camera angles including a behind-the-wheel perspective which can make the gameplay a bit more immersive.
This is not a simulation racing game. It’s an arcade-styled racing game. I did play this with an Xbox One controller and would recommend it. I used to play with a keyboard way back when but turning with the stick on the controller is so much smoother. It plays really well with the controller and in addition to configuring the controls, you can also adjust dead zones. You can accelerate and brake, turn your vehicle’s lights on and off, honk your horn and if you’re driving a police vehicle, you can turn on the siren when you’re ready to pursue a racer.
There are several game modes including multiplayer modes and if you’ve played the previous games, Tournament and Knockout will be familiar. You can also jump into the Single Race mode and configure the type of race you want to compete in. While police vehicles are not new to the series at this point, Need for Speed III is the first game to let you drive them and the Hot Pursuit mode is one of the game’s highlights. This mode lets you drive as a racer or a cop. As a racer, the objective is to win the race and avoid getting arrested which happens after being stopped three times. As a cop, the objective is to arrest each racer before they finish the race. To do that, you need to stop them. Playing through the Tournament, Knockout, and Hot Pursuit modes and meeting certain requirements will reward you with additional vehicles and a track.
The opponent AI can be challenging, especially when set to aggressive and the AI puts up a great fight on the expert difficulty in the Tournament and Knockout modes. But on the beginner difficulty, I found that if you have the track layout down and don’t make too many mistakes, you can get ahead and maintain the lead fairly easily. AI opponents will try to block you to prevent you from passing them. In the Hot Pursuit mode, the difficulty will depend on several factors. With the faster cop vehicles (which do need to be unlocked), I found it easier to catch up to racers and stop them no matter what racer vehicle class you select. Also, if you set the amount of laps to eight, you’ll have more than enough time to stop racers. Plus, you’re free to drive the opposite way and that’s an easy way to stop certain racers, especially because they never even try to swerve out of the way or try avoid you. They’ll just drive right into you if you’re in their way.
One of the differences between racing in the Hot Pursuit mode and any other mode is that in Hot Pursuit, as a racer, you’ll only race against one opponent. As a cop the goal is to arrest racers and you can lay down spike strips. AI cops can do the same but also call for roadblocks. You’ll often be pursued by more than one police vehicle, they usually first appear in front of you and try to get in your way. If they can keep up with you, they’ll slam into you and try to run you off the road to get you to stop. It is easy to outrun them with the fast vehicles, especially any of the class A vehicles, and the police scanner on your HUD will alert you when you’re approaching a cop.
There’s nine tracks in Need for Speed III and you can listen to detailed information about each one. All of them are fairly long. The Tournament mode forces you to race four laps around each track and it can take up to fifteen minutes to complete each race. There are shortcuts you can utilize and if traffic vehicles are enabled, they act as obstacles to be avoided. Most tracks are set in different locations but several are just variants of others. That said, I do wish there were more tracks. You’ll race through rural towns, in the desert, on a mountain pass, and around urban locations. My favorite track has always been Atlantica which appears to be a coastal city.
The Modern Patch allows you to run the game in higher resolutions including widescreen resolutions but the main menu is hardcoded at a 640×480 resolution. It also improves textures and vehicle models and adds some new options and bugfixes. For a 1998 game, Need for Speed III doesn’t look too bad and there’s a lot of neat details. When vehicles drive off-road they’ll kick dirt up and when driving on wet roads, they’ll kick up water. When vehicles crash or are launched into the air, they can emit smoke and fire but there is no damage in the game. The only visible damage represented is when vehicles drive over spike strips. Their tires disappear but if you’re a racer, your vehicle will respawn good as new. Most tracks have different police character models and the behind-the-wheel perspective shows off detailed vehicle interiors and you’ll even see the police radio on the dashboard if driving a police vehicle. Lights will illuminate dark areas and are actually helpful if you’re driving at night. My only issue with the visual presentation is that other vehicles on the road look as if they’re gliding instead of actually driving. It’s like they’re sliding around. The soundtrack consists of jamming rock tunes and some techno. During a Hot Pursuit race, you’ll be able to hear police chatter and you’ll hear typical bangs and clangs when vehicles crash or slam into something. On the technical side, I didn’t encounter any issues and the game ran smooth throughout my entire experience.
Before Need for Speed III, I couldn’t get into racing games. I’ve grown more fond of them over the years and I tend to gravitate towards racing games with gimmicks and in Need for Speed III, it’s the Hot Pursuit mode. The police chases are the most exciting part of the game. I thought that way back when and still do. As a kid, I remember thinking that if they make any other Need for Speed games with cops, I would have to check them out at some point and I still maintain that thought. So every time I hear about a new game, the first thing I look for is if it includes police. As for Need for Speed III, I still enjoy it but there’s no doubt that my love for this game is rooted in nostalgia because while it has aged fairly well, it does feel a bit tame compared to its many successors. The racing in this game is typical racing. It controls well, you’ll have to know when to brake, and it puts up a decent challenge. It’s the Hot Pursuit mode that makes this game stand out although I do think it’s too easy. If you pick a fast vehicle, it’s not that hard to evade police or arrest each racer. But in 1998, this was pretty awesome and the pursuit system was expanded upon in future games.
I would recommend Need for Speed III to anyone. You can acquire the PC version for free as of this review so there’s no reason not to check it out if you have any interest in it at all. It’s a solid racing game even today. It’s got racing, police chases, it’s moddable, and the modern patch allows you to run it easily on modern systems and it runs great in my experience. Definitely check out Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit.