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I don’t play racing games often but when I do my time with them doesn’t usually last long. Need for Speed III is an exception. This game is very special to me and for one big reason – mods. Need for Speed III, specifically the PC version, is the first game I ever modded. It showed me what mods were, how to get mods, the fundamentals of modding, and it also showed me the potential mods have for a game’s longevity. Back in the day I thought it was the coolest thing to download cars and add them to my game. That’s when I realized the possibilities of modding. The Need for Speed series may not have a huge extensive modding community like Doom, Grand Theft Auto, or even The Elder Scrolls games, but it has a dedicated community that has made some impressive stuff over the years. It’s because of my experience with Need for Speed III that I always search for mods whenever I play a PC game, just to see what’s out there and what the game’s modding community may be like. Developed and published by Electronic Arts, Need For Speed III: Hot Pursuit was released for the original PlayStation in April, 1998 and for PC in October of that same year. I never played the first two Need for Speed games but this entry included car tuning, two-player split-screen, improved AI, and, of course, exciting police chases. In addition to the standard racing modes, you can drive as a police officer and arrest speeding racers or play as a racer and try to evade the cops.
I actually obtained the PC version of Need for Speed III for free maybe a year or so after it’s release thanks to Scholastic. I think that’s what the company was called. I’m quite certain I got it for free, but who knows? Maybe my parents paid for it but either way, I was child with no money, so I did technically get it for free. I was around eight or nine and when I was in school they would hand out these Scholastic flyers that offered books and even games. Normally I didn’t see anything I wanted and at eight or nine years old, I sure as hell didn’t want any books but one day I saw Need for Speed III in there and I knew it wasn’t some random dollar bin video game. I had heard of the “Need for Speed” name and after seeing the box art of a cool sports car being chased by a police car, I was immediately interested. Need for Speed III is one of those games that is really nostalgic for me just because of my history with it. Basically, I was able to obtain it because I was in the right place at the right time. I ended up really enjoying it and it introduced me to the modding world.
Thanks to the excellent modding community, fans are still keeping this game alive. To get this running on Windows 10 I used the Modern Patch v1.6.1 along with a second installation using the NextGen Patch v1.2.1. Both allow for widescreen support while supporting multiple aspect ratios, new graphic settings, and at first glance, they are very similar and there’s a good chance you won’t notice any difference between the two. There are some small differences and these patches are definitely the best way to play this game on modern systems. For the NextGen patch, I needed to use a x64 bit installer to install the game before installing the patch. The Modern Patch only requires you to copy two folders from the game’s disk. Back when the game was in it’s prime, EA released downloadable cars which are actually still available for download however the executables for each car don’t seem to work on modern operating systems. No worries, though, because I was able to download the official EA cars from a modding site. The NextGen patch also adds the traffic vehicles to the roster of drivable cars, although it definitely feels like a novelty since they drive like shit. I will also briefly cover the AI Cop Patch, a mod that alters the police AI and adds some new vehicles.
Need for Speed III contains four modes to play through, three different classes of vehicles and nine tracks. Some vehicles and tracks do need to be unlocked. Single Race is the basic racing mode where you can choose your vehicle, track, how many laps, and opponents or opponent class. In Hot Pursuit mode you either choose a racing or pursuit vehicle and your objective is different depending on which you choose. If you play as a racer, you’ll race against one opponent while attempting to evade police. As a racer, you can only receive a specific amount of tickets before being arrested and the amount of tickets depends on how many laps. If you choose a police vehicle you need to arrest all racers before they finish the race. In Hot Pursuit mode, you have the same options available as in Single Race – you can choose the track, opponents, and how many laps. In Tournament you can either choose the Beginner Tournament or the Expert Tournament. Beginner and Expert determine the tracks you race on and the goal is to win races or earn the highest number of points to win the Tournament and each race is four laps. In Knockout, you race opponents through a series of tracks, each with two laps, and the vehicle caught in last will be eliminated from the next race. Needless to say, the big highlight of this game is the Hot Pursuit mode. You can unlock more vehicles by winning the Tournaments or you can just use cheats and have a great time in the Hot Pursuit mode.
When it comes to the tracks, I think some of them are too long for their own good. In Single Race and in Hot Pursuit you can decide how many laps – two, four, and eight – and some tracks can take you up to twenty minutes to finish when choosing only four laps. It’s not that the tracks are bad or anything but if you’re like me and need excitement and diversity in your racing games, just racing around the same track for twenty minutes or longer gets boring. Each track varies in theme, most of them have shortcuts, and my favorite track has always been Atlantica just because of its tropical setting. Beginner tracks are normally simple, don’t have a lot of obstacles and don’t have a lot of twists and sharp turns like the Expert tracks. In Single Race and Hot Pursuit, when choosing your track, you can toggle on and off weather, if you want to race through a backwards and/or mirrored version of the track, if you want to race at night, and can even turn on traffic. Turning on traffic adds standard vehicles to the tracks, just driving around, and avoiding them can be a pain in the ass. It seems that they always end up in front of you or they change lanes to be directly in your way. It’s possible I just suck but I found traffic to be very annoying. Last but no least, you can see how many miles the tracks are and even listen to a detailed explanation of the tracks themselves.
When choosing your opponents in Single Race or Hot Pursuit, you can only choose one vehicle that will make up all racing opponents or the class of vehicles, where the game chooses random vehicles from that class. There’s three classes that vehicles are associated with – A, B, and C and class A is the supercar class. It sucks that you can’t choose multiple opponents and there really is no difficulties other than setting the opponents driving skill to Normal or Aggressive. When opponents are set to Normal I found it very easy to speed passed them but when they’re set to Aggressive, I found it very hard to even make it to third place when driving anything other than a supercar. Needless to say, there’s no real balance in difficulty, and when driving any of the supercars, the races seem significantly easier, especially after tuning your vehicle.
Apparently Need for Speed III was the first game in the series to introduce car tuning. Unfortunately, you cannot tune your car in the Tournament and Knockout modes but in Single Race and Hot Pursuit you can. You can tune your vehicle’s engine, brake balance, steering speed, gear ratios, suspension, aerodynamics, and even the tires. Hovering your mouse over the sliders will bring up an explanation of how the vehicle’s performance will be affected. You will see a change in performance when tuning your car and tuning it for the track and weather conditions can make navigating the tracks easy or a challenge. If tuned appropriately you may be able to slide around every turn without a problem and blast passed your opponents. If you don’t tune your vehicle or tune it in a way that doesn’t work for the specific track, you may finding yourself crashing into walls a lot or not being able to catch up to other opponents. Needless to say, choosing a class C vehicle and racing against class A opponents will be hard either way, so it’s all about customizing everything to balance out the difficulty appropriately. Tuning your vehicle is kind of a big deal here whether it’s a racing or pursuit vehicle, and ideally you would want to tune each vehicle for the current track when in Single Race or Hot Pursuit modes. Other than changing the color you cannot change any physical appearance options but you can view a Showcase for many of the vehicles minus the pursuit ones. The Showcases are actually well detailed giving you information and history about each vehicle as well as being able to view the interiors. The Showcase information is voiced by the same guy who gives you the track information. I don’t know who this guy is but he would make an excellent salesman. He makes every vehicle sound like sex on wheels.
I want to be clear. In real life I am not a car guy. I don’t particularly enjoy driving and only do it because I need to get places. I find vehicles to just be money pits. You need to pay for insurance, gas, and maintenance and they depreciate big time once driven off the lot. Despite my ignorance when it comes to vehicles, I enjoy them a lot more in video games because they don’t cost me money, I don’t have to be vigilante when driving, and I can have fun driving in a world that isn’t real. With all of that said, I know very little about vehicles and what makes what work, what I should tune and what I shouldn’t, and I don’t stick with or follow any particular brand or Manufacturer. I can appreciate a good looking vehicle, and Need for Speed III has quite a few. There’s two Lamborghini’s, some Ferrari’s, Jaguars, an Aston Martin, Mercedes, and even a Corvette, among others. There’s only three pursuit cars – the Corvette, Lamborghini, and El Nino – and I really wish there were more. Two out of the three pursuit vehicles are supercars that make chasing down racers significantly easier. I’m assuming the pack I downloaded from a modding site includes all of the official EA add-on cars. There’s a Spectre R42, Lister Storm, a new Ferrari, a Jaguar, and I recently discovered that some of vehicles included in this were exclusive to the Australian PC version of the game. It was a bit of a challenge to obtain the add-on cars but I eventually found a pack with them all. I originally downloaded a fan-made expansion pack which supposedly includes the official add-on cars but sadly, it only contained a link to the EA ftp site containing the executables to install the vehicles, which didn’t work.
Need for Speed III is subtitled “Hot Pursuit” for a reason. Exhilarating police chases is probably the best thing about this entry and is the only reason I played it so much as a kid. When driving a racing vehicle, the cops will try and stop you by ramming into you, setting up roadblocks, and laying down spike strips. The police will communicate over the radio to dispatch so you can always hear what’s going on. What sucks is that the AI cops use unique pursuit vehicles that you don’t have access to. Sometimes the AI cops drive pursuit Corvettes but never any supercars like the Diablo and El Nino. If you decide to race using a supercar you can easily evade police, making the police chases feel stale. There’s no way to increase the police AI aggressiveness and their behavior is always predictable. Because of the radio communication you can have a good idea of where roadblocks and spike strips will be, removing any form of tension during races. When driving a pursuit vehicle you turn on your sirens to target a speeding racer and must proceed to stop the vehicle to arrest the driver. You can ram them, try and block their path, and even lay down spike strips. Sadly, you cannot call for road blocks or be aided by the AI in any way. Not at that it matters because if driving the pursuit supercars, chasing down racers is extremely easy and you can probably arrest all racers before they finish the first lap. All you need to do is get them to stop or crash and you will automatically arrest them.
I discovered the AI Cop Patch from a YouTube video and after reading that it adds supercars for the police AI, I was thrilled. I would finally be able to get into police chase that lasted longer than a few seconds. The AI Cop Patch also adds new vehicles for the player but that’s not really why I wanted to try it. After finally downloading and installing the patch, I found it to be a little disappointing. The AI cops still drive the unique police vehicles, the pursuit Corvette, and now they’ll sometimes drive a new type of Lamborghini, which resembles the Diablo SV, but includes a new paint job. This new pursuit vehicle does add some challenge if you’re a racer but I think if the creator increased the speed and even more so, the aggressiveness of every police AI vehicle, it would have been a much better mod. I don’t know if that’s possible but I found that most of the mods for Need for Speed III are new cars and tracks, which is expected for a racing game, but I think some AI tweaks or mods would definitely be welcome. Even when playing as a cop, it’s way too easy to arrest racers, so adjustments to the AI racers could definitely be a benefit. I also noticed that this patch would crash the game whenever I would enter the HUD options menu. However, that could just be because of a conflict with the Modern and NextGen patches but I can’t confirm.
I do have a few issues with the game and most of them are just due to it’s age. Traffic vehicles are noticeably less detailed than the drivable ones, none of the vehicles will ever get damaged, performance wise or visibly, and all of the AI vehicles appear to glide along roads and around turns rather than look like they’re actually turning. When vehicles crash or flip over they’re considered wrecked, sometimes they’ll even emit smoke and catch fire but it’s all cosmetic since vehicles don’t actually take damage. You can always reset your vehicle to spawn it back on the road if you crash or get stuck. There’s a cool behind the wheel camera perspective but if driving in rain or snow, there’s no windshield wipers which is kind of a bummer. When playing in Single Race, the opponent options are very limited. You can only choose a single car for every opponent or a class of cars which will be a variety of vehicles from that class. You can only choose a full grid of opponents, one, or none at all. When racing in Hot Pursuit mode, you can only race against one other opponent for some reason. These types of limits of gameplay options just seem odd to me, but like I said earlier, it may be due to the game’s age or even technical limitations.
Despite some of the gameplay limitations there quite a bit of other options and features that I was really surprised to see. Besides changing the controls, you can adjust video and audio options, what you want displayed in the HUD, which cameras you want to use during gameplay, driving assist options, view track records, you can even view and save replays of your races, save your ghosts, and can even compare vehicles and see their stats side by side. Tuning is a big element here and knowing the stats of each vehicle can be helpful. Being able race on tracks backwards or mirrored, at night, and during weather like rain and snow is all very cool as are the showcases and the game actually was visually stunning when it released. The reflections on cars still look good, even today, and there’s a great amount of detail in the tracks. You can see a plane flying overhead in one track, a helicopter flying around in another, lightning in the sky when it rains, wheels will kick up dirt when driving on terrain, and you can even turn your head lights on and off, obviously useful when driving at night. The sound work is equally as good. Engines roar as you speed down the tracks and the closer the camera is to the vehicle, the louder the engine will sound. You can even hear gears shifting when driving in the behind the wheel perspective. Even ambient sound effects heard when racing are nice touches. Cows and roosters, crickets chirping at night, the sounds of the water on the coast in the Aquatica track, and even the cops, themselves, have different models for each track. The music is also pretty good with a mix of rock and techno. I mean it’s no Slayer, and I’m not a fan of techno, but at least it’s better than all of the EA Trax music found in future games. For a 1998 game, Need for Speed III offered a lot in terms of presentation. When using the Modern and NextGen patches, the game runs super smooth and the load times are super fast. The main menu seems to be hard coded at the 640×480 resolution which neither the Modern or NextGen patches can resolve.
Please be sure to read the description and any “readme” files for the Modern and NextGen patches because they will detail exactly what they do and the instructions for installation. It’s also a good idea to read up because then you can get a better idea of how they differ, but overall, I would say both patches are equally great. If you don’t really care about the nitty gritty, then the two patches will seem identical. The Modern Patch is easier to install but the end result for both feels the same and I would recommend either one.
As for the game itself, Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit is a product of its age. It’s still a great game and back when it released there really wasn’t anything like it. At least when talking about driving games that offer exhilarating police chases. You still have your standard racing modes but who the hell wants play those? I found the tracks to be a bit too long, the AI need work, and there’s no real balance in difficulty. The gameplay definitely leans towards the easy side. The lack of pursuit vehicles compared to racing vehicles and the limitations of some of the gameplay options is disappointing. Future Need for Speed titles do the whole racing and pursuit stuff much better, including Hot Pursuit 2, and my recent favorite – Need for Speed: Rivals. Don’t get me wrong, Need for Speed III is not a bad game by any means and I would still recommend it, it’s just dated. There’s an excellent modding community and I think new mods still show up every now and then and there’s definitely enjoyment to be had here, even to this day.