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10 Best Need for Speed games, ranked

(Image credit: EA)

Need for Speed has been present ever since 1994, introducing itself as one of the most important and emblematic racing video game series of all time. It has mutated in many ways since the beginning, but it always remained true to its core, offering arcade experiences with a varying focus on police chases, customization, and much more.

Our ranking list looks at the best entries in the franchise that are available today. Many past entries are, sadly, unavailable on new platforms. It’s unsure whether some of them will be included in Xbox One's backward compatible games in the future, and as it stands, the catalogue is scattered and missing some old gems like Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2005) and Need for Speed: Underground 2. Thankfully, there’s still a really interesting selection that is bound to appeal to everyone.

10. Need for Speed No Limits

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If you were wondering whether or not you could take Need for Speed with you on the go, well, the answer is that there are currently no Need for Speed ports on Switch. But, whether you have an Android or iOS device, you can give No Limits a try. The scale is surprisingly big considering the game’s format, and there are many events and cars to unlock that keeps the game feeling fresh. That being said, be ready to face a pay to win nature around its microtransactions, especially against other players online. But you can still make the most out of your lunch breaks to slowly progress through regardless.

Available on Android, iOS

9. Need for Speed Undercover

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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.

Available on PC

8. Need for Speed Payback

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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.

Available on PC, PS4, Xbox One

7. Need for Speed (2015)

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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.

Available on PC, PS4, Xbox One

6. Need for Speed: Shift

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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.

Available on PC

5. Shift 2: Unleashed

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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.

Available on PC

4. Need for Speed Rivals

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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.

Available on PC, PS4, Xbox One

3. Need for Speed Heat 

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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.

Available on PC, PS4, Xbox One

2. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit

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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.

Available on PC

1. Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2012) 

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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.

Available on PC, Android, iOS