Need for Speed II was the first video game I ever had, and unknown at the time, probably the most influential game I've ever played. It was a gift I received from my dad that I never expected. The only reason he bought me a PlayStation and the game was that his friend had one and my dad thought it was pretty cool.
It is a racing game. That is ... how do you even describe racing games? What made it stand out was it was all exotic cars of the mid 1990's. Some of the cars were prototypes like the Ford Indigo and Ford GT-90 which never made it into production.
But my 9 year old brain didn't know or understand any of that at the time. Since it was the first game I ever owned, everything was new. And I didn't know how to play any of it.
I learned how to race the first track. Proving Grounds was just an oval so you just pick the fastest car (McLaren F1) and hold down the throttle for the entire race.
As a child, I didn't understand anything about racing games, so I just took what I knew and tried to run with it. As I understood it, the winning strategy was to hold down the throttle at all times to go as fast as possible. Even if that approach sent me crashing directly into a brick wall. Yes, I know I had a button for braking but that button never got touched. I could win races on Proving Grounds or Outback but any other track, I came in dead last.
It wouldn't be until years later when I learned how to play this game that I could actually enjoy it.
The game featured 8 different tracks and 8 different cars with one bonus car you could win by completing tournament mode and one extra track you could unlock by completing knockout mode.
In terms of modern racing games, there was very little to unlock so after unlocking both, I had to find other ways to squeeze out replay value. So one thing I would do is try to beat knockout mode with every car that was available. Doing this, you really get to feel how different the cars are in the game.
For Proving Grounds and Outback, the McLaren F1 is the optimal car because there are so few corners on the track. For literally the rest of the tracks in the game, the best car is the Ford Indigo because of the high acceleration and ludacris ability to corner. And if you hadn't unlocked the Ford Indigo, the next best car would be the Italdesign Cala.
Need for Speed II also had several features which I noticed were absent in later racing games and even later installments of Need for Speed until years later. The first thing I noticed was the default racing view is a cockpit view.
This is something I didn't understand as a little kid. I didn't have a driver's license. I didn't know what shifting gears meant. So, if I ever tried it, I just sat at the starting line and had to reset the race to switch back to automatic transmission.
Compared to the first game, Need for Speed II was criticized for being much more of an arcade racer. If you wanted to play well on arcade mode, you have to handbrake around just about every corner. When I switched the mode over to simulation mode, my car would spin out and fly off the track as soon as I hit the handbrake.
Beyond extra game mode, this game was made in the era where you had cheat codes and one of the funnest thing you could play with was secret cars. Just about every asset in this game could be unlocked as a secret car such as cars that appear when traffic is enabled or any random prop in the background such as crates, logs, or dinosaurs.