All Need for Speed (NFS) games in order of their release date

The NFS games have been historic (Image via EA)
The NFS games have been historic (Image via EA)

The Need for Speed (NFS) series has been the benchmark for arcade racing games ever since the first title in the iconic franchise was released in 1994. From offering jaw-dropping supercars to allowing players to drive through picturesque locations, Need for Speed games have never failed to thrill its players.

With every new title, EA has improved the Need for Speed games in terms of visual fidelity and the sheer quality of the gameplay on offer. While the series has gone through some rough years, especially during the eighth console generation, it has made a major comeback with its most recent entries such as Need for Speed Heat and Need for Speed Unbound.

Need for Speed is easily one of the most influential franchises in gaming history. It has paved the road for numerous other games, especially within the arcade racing genre. Here's a look at all the mainline NFS games that have been released so far, in order of their release dates.

Note: This article only includes the mainline NFS releases for consoles and PCs, not spin-off or mobile titles.


All NFS games listed in order of release date

The following NFS games are listed according to their date of release:

1) The Need for Speed (August 31, 1994)

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The first Need for Speed title might feel alien to fans who are fairly new to the series. Featuring a first-person perspective and a very limited roster of cars, the original Need for Speed felt more like a Gran Turismo title than the NFS as we all know and love today. The game was originally released for the 3DO and was eventually ported to MS-DOS, PlayStation, and SEGA Saturn.


2) Need for Speed II (March 31, 1997)

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Need for Speed II took everything the original NFS brought to the table and made incremental improvements to them. With significantly better visuals, a much bigger roster of licensed cars, and a wider array of tracks to choose from, NFS II was everything fans of the original game loved and more.


3) Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit (March 25, 1998)

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Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit is the first time the franchise brought some truly innovative changes to its gameplay formula. Ditching the Gran Turismo-inspired track-based races, Hot Pursuit took a more arcade-like approach and mixed it with real-time cop chases - a signature feature that made NFS stand out amongst other genre titles.


4) Need for Speed: High Stakes (March 1, 1999)

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Need for Speed: High Stakes was essentially Hot Pursuit with some added features to spice up the gameplay. It was the first time EA experimented with pursuit tools, making cops a real threat to players, as they were able to use things like spike strips, roadblocks, and even call additional backup units to make things much more challenging for racers.


5) Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed (February 29, 2000)

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Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed, apart from being a blatant product placement, borrowed elements from previous NFS titles, like the multiple game modes, but packed it into a very compact package. It lets players drive many iconic cars from the famed German marque.


6) Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 (October 2, 2002)

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Much like High Stakes, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 included everything fans loved about the original NFS: HP and then some. The game featured significantly improved visuals, a bigger roster of cars, and cap AI inspired by the additions brought to the table with High Stakes.


7) Need for Speed: Underground (November 17, 2003)

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Need for Speed: Underground, much like NFS: HP, is yet another pivotal moment in Need for Speed history, that shaped the franchise as we know it today. Keeping everything fans loved about the previous titles in the series, while also adding a truly innovative feature, i.e., in-depth vehicular customization, inspired by the tuner culture of the early 2000s.


8) Need for Speed: Underground 2 (November 15, 2004)

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Need for Speed: Underground 2 features everything players loved about the original Underground title, layered alongside a rather compelling and engaging campaign. The tuning system is further improved, giving players more options to customize their favorite cars. NFS Underground 2 also featured the iconic custom Nissan 350Z, painted in steel green.


9) Need for Speed: Most Wanted (November 15, 2005)

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Need for Speed: Most Wanted is basically the quintessential NFS experience that many have come to love the series for. Featuring what is easily one of the best stories that have ever been told in a racing game, with a setting that fully embraces the early 2000s car culture, with movies like Fast and Furious being the obvious inspiration, NFS: Most Wanted boasts a quality that only a few other titles in the franchise have come to match, let alone surpass.

And let's not forget the custom BMW M3 GTR, which has now become a racing icon for many fans.


10) Need for Speed: Carbon (October 31, 2006)

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Need for Speed Carbon takes place right after the conclusion of Most Wanted, but features some really cool new additions. The first of these new additions is the "Autosculpt" system, allowing players to fine-tune every aspect of their car's cosmetic features, and the second is the newly added race mode - the "Canyon." Carbon also featured proper drifting physics, a first for modern NFS titles.


11) Need for Speed: ProStreet (November 14, 2007)

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Need for Speed: ProStreet is a massive departure from the previous NFS titles. The game basically takes a more grounded approach to street racing, while also trying to deliver an over-the-top narrative, in the same vein as Most Wanted and Carbon. ProStreet also further expands on the Autosculpt feature introduced with Carbon.


12) Need for Speed: Undercover (November 18, 2008)

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Need for Speed: Undercover is developed by EA Black Box, the studio behind Most Wanted, and Carbon. While the game tried to deliver a similar experience as Most Wanted, with a gritty cop vs racer storyline, and emphasizing the modern street racing fantasy, it failed to capture fans, the same way previous NFS titles did.


13) Need for Speed: Shift (September 15, 2009)

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Need for Speed: Shift is essentially a plunge into the history of the NFS franchise, delivering an experience more akin to modern racing simulation games, instead of arcade racers. Shift brought some significant changes to the series, the first of which is the massive improvements to the game's visuals, thanks to the game being built exclusively for the seventh-gen consoles, and PCs.


14) Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010) (November 16, 2010)

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Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010) is developed by Criterion Games, the studio behind the smash-hit arcade racing franchise, Burnout. Hot Pursuit (2010) is essentially a modern reimagination of the 1998 original, but with modernized controls, and some really impressive visuals for that time.

What made the game even more special for fans is its robust multiplayer game mode and social interaction system - Autolog.


15) Need for Speed: Shift 2 - Unleashed (March 29, 2011)

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Need for Speed: Shift 2 - Unleashed is basically everything that Shift had to offer, but with a much bigger roster of cars and a few more tournaments. The campaign in Shift 2 features a rather compelling story where players get to build their own racing career from scratch, eventually making their way to tournaments like the FIA GT1 Championship.


16) Need for Speed: The Run (November 15, 2011)

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Need for Speed: The Run marks the final title developed by EA Black Box and one that gets heavily overlooked by fans due to its linear and rather brief campaign, as well as very restricting vehicular customization, a surprise considering the developer's legacy with the franchise. NFS The Run featured some truly impressive visuals, as well as a robust multiplayer mode, and a similar social integration feature present in NFS Hot Pursuit (2010).


17) Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2012) (October 30, 2012)

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Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2012), despite sharing the same name, isn't related to 2005's Most Wanted. While it does feature a very loose story about a street racer named "Zephyr," narrative isn't the game's primary focus. Instead, Most Wanted (2012) is geared more towards open-world exploration and social aspects of racing.


18) Need for Speed Rivals (November 15, 2013)

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The first title worked on by Ghost Games (alongside Criterion Games), a studio built exclusively to work on Need for Speed titles, Need for Speed Rivals delivers a truly revolutionary racing experience. Built on the same framework as Criterion Game's Hot Pursuit (2010), while also featuring incredible graphical fidelity, thanks to the game being built on DICE's Frostbite 3 engine.


19) Need for Speed (2015) (November 3, 2015)

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Need for Speed (2015) is the very first title that Ghost Games built by themselves, trying to emulate the same gameplay experience as the NFS Underground titles. While the game's single-player campaign and handling model left a lot to be desired, it did not disappoint in terms of its raw visual fidelity, and unparalleled customization system, which felt like a proper evolution of Autosculpt.


20) Need for Speed Payback (November 10, 2017)

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Need for Speed Payback is a massive improvement over its predecessor, despite being somewhat lackluster in certain aspects. The game features a rather compelling story, with some really interesting characters, alongside a significantly improved customization system, letting players create specific cars for different racing disciplines, i.e., street racing, drifting, off-road, etc.

The only thing that left fans somewhat underwhelmed is the cop pursuit system, which was a massive downgrade from previous NFS games.


21) Need for Speed Heat (November 8, 2019)

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Need for Speed Heat is the final title developed by Ghost Games, but one that left a lasting impression on fans, all for good reasons. NFS Heat is an improvement over all previous titles by Ghost Games, in every single aspect. Featuring an engaging story with an interesting cast of characters, as well as one of the best vehicular customization systems, coupled with what can be considered one of the best handling models in any arcade racer to date.

NFS Heat also addressed one of the biggest issues players had with Need for Speed Payback, i.e., cop pursuits.


22) Need for Speed Unbound (December 2, 2022)

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Developed by Criterion Games, Need for Speed Unbound is everything that fans loved about NFS Heat, wrapped in a fantastic new setting as well as a rather unique visual style. The game mixes a graffiti-like art style with photorealistic graphics courtesy of the Frostbite engine, to deliver a unique-looking racing game. Apart from its visuals, Need for Speed Unbound also features a rather engaging single-player story campaign.

NFS Unbound also features a robust multiplayer mode, something Criterion Games is best known for.

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Edited by Nikhil Vinod
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