I don't usually play racing games on the PC. Either they're pale imitations of the arcade and console racers, or they're boring 50-lap simulations. I mean, why play Need for Speed II and Test Drive 4 on the PC when I can play Super GT in the arcade and Gran Turismo on the PlayStation? For ages, I told friends that the PC had nothing on the arcade, even venerable classics like Daytona and Sega Rally. Well, I think I'm going to be eating crow for the next few weeks... and loving it. Not only is the latest Need for Speed miles ahead of the last NFS game, but it approaches (and dare I say surpasses?), the best of the consoles in terms of sheer fun and speed.
Need for Speed III is a great game. It has an exhilarating sense of speed, clean and beautiful graphics, polished production values, and trackloads of unadulterated fun. In many ways, Need for Speed III has that same addictive quality I found in Quake II, Starcraft, and Heroes of Might and Magic. That's pretty celebrated company, but I don't think it's an unfounded categorization. Need for Speed III has that same "just one more turn or just one more deathmatch" quality that the other games have. And just like in those games, the action in Need for Speed III is so engrossing and rewarding that the next time you come up for air, you'll find that two hours have whizzed by.
While Need for Speed III shares an addictive quality with those games, it has something of its own: pure speed. This game is fast and fun. The frame rate is fast and incredibly clean. I've played my fair share of PC and console racers where the pop-up was horrible, as cliffs and buildings would suddenly appear out of thin air, many seconds after you should have seen them on the horizon. Whether it's the smart track design or the beautiful engine, the bottom line is that I only saw one or two instances of minor pop-up. And multiplayer is as fast and fun as the single-player experience. The sound of your revving engine and the fast frame rate both combined to create the illusion of breakneck speeds, although the replays didn't look quite as fast I would have liked.
Aside from the speed and addictive quality, Need for Speed III has the requisite list of features that marketers like to put on boxes, journalists like to list, and consumers always look for. There are many cars, with subtle differences, and the ability to tweak more than a few car qualities, such as steering speed, aerodynamics, and suspension. And, surprisingly, the tweaks will affect your car noticeably.