The 10 Best Need for Speed games you can play today

Need For Speed Unbound
(Image credit: EA)

There's never been a better time to return to the best Need for Speed games. After 29 years and 25 titles, Need for Speed is one of the most popular and enduring racing franchises out there – and it's in a fantastic place right now too, following the success of Need for Speed: Unbound. 

The best Need for Speed games are all about fast arcade-racing – the thrill of leaning on the handbrake around corners, and of pushing a car's acceleration to its limits with the police right behind you. Sadly, some classic games from this series are not readily available to play, and especially difficult to find on modern platforms. So on this list you'll find the best Need for Speed games that you can play today – and they represent some of the best racing games of past generations. So strap yourself in and get ready for some carnage, because these excellent NFS games deserve your time and attention. 

10. Need for Speed Undercover

Need for Speed Undercover

(Image credit: EA)

Release date: 2008
Platform(s): PC

EA Black Box released one of the most peculiar Need for Speed games in 2008. It was the first to introduce an open-world setting to the series, but it’s also intertwined with a heavy focus on story, as you play as an undercover cop who slowly goes through the ranks of an international crime syndicate. It’s very cheesy and far from the charm of the Fast and Furious films, mind, but it's more than worth your time for scratching that cop chasing itch.

9. Need for Speed Payback

Need for Speed Payback

(Image credit: EA)

Release date: 2017
Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One

In 2017, the developers at Ghost Games presented Need for Speed Payback, showcasing an interesting mix of ideas that were pushed back by some slightly tedious aspects. On one side, you had a huge map to roam around using a vast selection of vehicles, performing stunts and collecting medals in your way. On the other, cars are tied to categories representing race types, from drag to off-road, and performance upgrades are all tied to collectible cards, and even a slot machine with RNG elements. However, Payback still presents a great racing game that's highly focused on providing an arcade feel tied to constant attention to your progression.

8. Need for Speed 

Need for Speed

(Image credit: EA)

Release date: 2015
Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One

The series’ reboot developed by Ghost Games came close to achieving the atmosphere we all know and love from Need for Speed: Underground 2. It was met with general criticism mainly because of the requirement to always be online, even if you were just doing the main, live-action based story. But the car customization truly shined, and it was the first Need for Speed game to showcase the graphical potential of EA’s Frostbite. The campaign is straightforward and short enough to make this a compact package that doesn’t overstay its welcome, and that can spark some additional longevity in your backlog thanks to its multiplayer.

7. Need for Speed: Shift

Need for Speed: Shift

(Image credit: EA)

Release date: 2009
Platform(s): PC, PS3, Xbox 360

Developed by Slightly Mad Studios, Need for Speed Shift, as the name implies, a change of direction compared to the rest of the franchise. Whilst not quite a full simulation racing game, it’s by far the closest. Shift has a big focus on providing an in-depth HUD, the possibility of providing you with a complete customization over your cars, and cars modeled inch by inch as their real counterparts. If you want to take a break from the arcade mayhem of the other entries, playing something more akin to Project Cars, this is the one for you.

6. Shift 2: Unleashed

Need for Speed Shift 2

(Image credit: EA)

Release date: 2011
PC, PS3, Xbox 360

This direct sequel to Need for Speed: Shift doubles down on everything that made its predecessor stand out. The change towards a far more realistic driving, joined by over 120 licensed cars to drive as well as a deep customization, is one of the many highlights. Driving in first person, however, could be considered the major feature, improving each impact your car receives, and making the HUD feel real. There’s also a big focus on your career in-game as you partake in new Endurance races, hunt and customize retro cars, and engage in the world as you see fit.

5. Need for Speed: Unbound

Need For Speed Unbound

(Image credit: EA)

Release date: 2022
Platform(s): PC, PS5, Xbox Series X

Criterion Games finally returned to Need for Speed, almost a decade after it delivered open world racer Most Wanted. The studio delivered a surprising instalment, embracing a vivid, anime-inspired visual style to help the series stand out from the crowd of arcade racing games. In our Need for Speed: Unbound review we found the game to be "a high quality, breathtakingly fast open-world street racer that is both technically superb and strangely familiar."

Need for Speed: Unbound is currently one of the best games on Xbox Game Pass

4. Need for Speed Rivals

Need for Speed Rivals

(Image credit: EA)

Release date: 2013
Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One

Criterion Software came with Need for Speed Rivals in 2013, an intricate entry in the series that aims to erase the line between single and multiplayer by creating a seamless online world. Here, you are constantly on the edge of your seat due to one of the most aggressive and smart police AI, using all sorts of tools to take you down. As a racer, you can be out there on your own (there’s also an option to use bots instead of playing online) but as a cop, you’ll band in teams to make for some of the most intense pursuits in racing games.

3. Need for Speed Heat 

Need for Speed Heat

(Image credit: EA)

Release date: 2019
Platform(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One

Developed by Ghost Games and released in late 2019, Need for Speed Heat is one of the latest entries in the series, and certainly one that respects the series’ roots. Its biggest highlight is the possibility of day and night races, which have their own rules and conditions. Whilst driving in the sunlight will let you stand toe to toe with racers in official tournaments, taking your Dodge Racer to the night will allow you to compete in illegal encounters, with the addition of police chases that can become brutal real fast. There’s also customization for both your cars and your avatar, a huge open-world map to explore, and yet another storyline to follow through.

2. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit

Need for Speed Hot Pursuit

(Image credit: EA)

Release date: 2010
PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch

Introduced as the first Need for Speed developed by Criterion Games, known for the Burnout series, Hot Pursuit looks away from live-action cutscenes and car customization. Here, you have an overworld and set of races that appear over time, and not much else. The focus is on delivering fast-paced races either as a racer or as a cop, performing bounties, challenges, and even comparing yourself to others online with Autolog, a system that links friends directly to each other’s games to create new milestones. If you’re only interested in grabbing a fast car and driving through the highway at high speed, this is the entry for you.

1. Need for Speed: Most Wanted

Need for Speed: Most Wanted

(Image credit: EA)

Release date: 2012
Platform(s): PC, PS3, Xbox 360

If you’re not that big of a fan of customization and just want to indulge yourself in fast races around a highly destructible city, Need for Speed: Most Wanted is the one for you. It sets itself apart from the 2005 entry of the same game and instead looks to provide the mayhem that is akin to the Burnout games, with the cop chasing that we all have grown to love from this series. As an interesting feature, there’s no menus or lobbies. You can access everything on the fly without letting your hands off the wheel, making Most Wanted one of the most straightforward and intense experiences in this list.

Freelance Writer

Diego is an Argentinian freelance games journalist. His words can be found at Eurogamer, Polygon, The Verge, Washington Post, and GamesRadar, among others. He's now a Featured Contributor at Fanbyte, and is also the Editor-in-Chief of Into the Spine. Diego also hosts the Turnabout Breakdown podcast.

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