Best Need for Speed games - Our top picks

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Image of a yellow supercar in Need for Speed Heat

When talking about iconic racing franchises, Need for Speed no doubt is one of the all-time classics. Many video game series reboot themselves and lose fans, but NFS has done it three times and managed to not only retain its loyal fanbase, but has also remained one of the most popular racing series around. Therefore, it's only natural to list the best Need for Speed games you can play right now.

The franchise has evolved like no other racing game, switching styles to suit trends amongst players. From its insanely illegal street racing to its thrilling track-driving, Need for Speed is a franchise with a long history of more than 20 years. After making its debut in 1994, NFS catapulted the racing genre to a whole new level with tonnes of amazing features.

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For even more, check out our picks of the best Android racing games, to drive away on your mobile device. We've also got a list of the best free RPG games and best free action games for other recommendations!

Here are the best Need for Speed games

Over the years, the franchise has teamed up with several developers and has launched up to twenty main series NFS games, simply making it one of the biggest video game series ever. Like every long-running video game series, there are those we can't stop thinking about, and there are those that simply felt awful. So here are the best Need for Speed games that deserve your attention.

For all the latest on Need for Speed Unbound, check out our sister-site RacingGames.GG

Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2012)

A car blocked by a police cordon in Need For Speed: Most Wanted

The most impressive thing about Most Wanted is that it feels like a cohesive whole, rather than a reboot that's strapped to another title's engine. The gameplay emphasises as little downtime as possible, which is a good thing because it's a fast-paced racing game regardless of whether players are being chased by cops or not.

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Although it's not a reboot of the original game, the simplicity behind its development makes it a fine reimagining of the original Most Wanted game. The developer took minor parts of the old game and wrapped it into a whole new package and it paid off. The game's open world allows players the freedom to drive any way they wish, from taking shortcuts, hitting jumps, heading for terrains or switching cars, and of course, using lots of nitro.

Need for Speed: Payback (2017)

A street race on a dirt road in Need for Speed: Payback

Although it received lots of praise at the time of its release, Payback took so many steps in the right direction, but one major step in the wrong one. In terms of graphics, gameplay, customisation, and storyline, Payback was a massive step up from NFS 2015. However, Payback had a subpar upgrading system that was simply unenjoyable.

The implementation of Speed Cards was also just awful. The cards have four different values, and players have no control over what it's going to give them after a race. Unsurprisingly, it was very rare to get a good one. Getting a good card means you'd either have to play the game for hours, get lucky, or just spend real money to purchase loot boxes, which was frustrating because random chance shouldn't determine how you upgrade your vehicle in a racing game. EA made this one a money grabber.

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010)

Police chasing a supercar in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit
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In this game, you play the role of an outlaw who drives fast enough to reach an insanely high wanted level, but can also play as a cop who drives just as fast to try and bust other street racers for breaking the law. Hot Pursuit is also the perfect mix of old- and new-age Need for Speed, with amazing graphics and fine textures at the time of its release, setting the bar for what future NFS instalments could look like.

Although Hot Pursuit doesn't have a story or open world to explore, it does have exciting game modes that'll keep you engaged through hours of gameplay. The most fun and intense mode was by far Hot Pursuit. In this mode, you compete with opponents whilst also trying to get away from the police.

Need for Speed: Undercover (2008)

A customised car in Need for Speed: Undercover

Just as the title goes, Undercover puts players in the shoes of an undercover police officer who must infiltrate a crime syndicate by competing in illegal street races, driving exotic cars in this thrilling instalment. NFS Undercover is a heart-pounding adventure that lets players reach an absurd level of speed that is incredibly high-octane, yet very exciting.

The game also has role-playing elements, allowing players to improve their license to real-world cars. Despite its old and unimpressive visuals, Undercover is a lot of fun, with a plausible story that you won't find on most arcade games.

Need for Speed: Rivals (2010)

A car being shocked in Need for Speed: Rivals
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One of the many things we love about NFS Rivals is that it was released for both old and current-gen consoles. As the 20th entry in the acclaimed NFS series, Rivals doesn't get the praise it deserves. Although it shares a lot in common with Hot Pursuit's reboot, Rivals expands on the format by taking advantage of a legitimate open world, and offers one of the best progression system in the NFS franchise.

The game's dynamic weather system does well to provide environmental immersion, alongside a remarkable handling model that matches up to some of the franchise's newer instalments. While the campaign wasn't that impressive, the overall experience was fun at its core. It has a huge map, lots of upgrades, a variety of cars, and even allows players to takedown other cars, using weapons like shock wave.

Need for Speed: Underground 2 (2004)

A woman leaning on a green car in Need for Speed Underground 2

Easily one of the most fun NFS games you can play, Underground 2 offers flawless gameplay that almost never loses its appeal. The game has an amazing variety of cars and customisation options that gies players the sweet feeling of being in control of the overall style and look of their character.

NFS Underground 2 also has a great soundtrack that's perfectly paired with the gameplay, delivers an experience players will hardly forget. NFS Underground was also an amazing game that paved the way for the success of Underground 2, making them amongst the best games in the franchise's history.

Need for Speed: Carbon (2006)

A car drifting along a mountain road in Need for Speed Carbon
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The storyline of Carbon simply makes it one of the best games in the series. Its realistic theme also ties up loose ends from the previous game. Carbon delivers the next generation of customisation by giving players the freedom to design and tweak their crew's cars any way they see fit.

The game also has fun online multiplayer with a large selection of cars that were only available for the PC version. Carbon immerses players into a dangerous world filled with illegal street racing. Players and their crews must race in an all-out war for control of the city, and gradually take over a rival crew's neighbourhood block piece by piece.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2005)

A car skidding on the Need for Speed Most Wanted cover

It's almost impossible to leave this one out when listing the best NFS games in the franchise. The original Most Wanted isn't simply a fantastic racing game in the series, but a landmark in the history of gaming. It's the game that reinvented police pursuits in the franchise, and also introduced the unforgiving police cars more than any other NFS game.

Another factor that makes this game more challenging than newer instalments is its difficultly. The further players progress into the story, the tougher and more ridiculous the police chases become, due to the addition of police car types that are faster than typical cop cars. The game also has an entertaining story that will make you revisit this gem of a game more often.

Need for Speed: Heat (2019)

A car driving across a sunny metropolitan area in Need for Speed Heat
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Heat is without a doubt the most visually stunning game in the entire NFS game series. The fact that it also allows players to optimise various graphics options just makes it the best NFS game in that aspect. Heat has a decent open world with a solid driving experience, and good amount of variety in the races. The game also takes the all-or-nothing progression system that was introduced in Rivals and made it even riskier and more rewarding.

The police chases can get very intense when racing at night. The game's night section is very intense and addictive because it offers lots of cool rewards. It was great seeing the developers go the extra mile to secure numerous licenses to give players the freedom to drive and customise their cars as far as they'd like.

Among the aforementioned games, NFS Heat sets the bar really high in such a way that NFS Unbound will have a lot to live up to. Players will no doubt measure it up against Heat, and it'll be a tough one, since Heat took the franchise in a refreshing new direction.