Need for Speed: High Stakes is the fourth title in the Need for Speed series. It was also released under the title Need for Speed: Road Challenge in Brazil and Europe, Over Drivin' IV in Japan, Need for Speed: Brennender Asphalt for the German localisation, and Need for Speed: Conduite en état de liberté in France.
The game is only officially supported on the Windows 95 and 98 operating systems although it has been known to run on the Windows XP, Vista, and 7 operating systems.
Need for Speed: High Stakes is the first Need for Speed game to include a currency-based career mode, as well as vehicle damage, which will affect the performance and appearance of a car after being involved in a collision with a wall, object, or other vehicles.
Career events are exclusively played in single player, whilst in all other game modes players has the option to enter in single player, in multiplayer through two-players split-screen, or with additional online options in the PC release for up to eight players.
Career races sees the player progressing through a series of events and is based in the use of currency and garage management - cars must be purchased, repaired, and upgraded upon using the money obtained from races. Bonus cars and courses are also awarded throughout the events.
In the PC release, players follow a single career event series whilst the PlayStation release features two interconnected career event series. In both cases, players can keep up with their progress at the Trophy Room.
- Career (PC release) - Players has to win a series of tiers composed of multiple events in order to progress, and most of them are unlocked upon winning the gold trophy of a previous tier. Each event can have restricted entry to a specific type of vehicle, as well as an entry fee.
- Tournament (PlayStation release) - Each event's entry is restricted to a specific vehicle class. Players are rewarded with cash, new courses, and have access to a new special event for each tournament completed.
- Special Event (PlayStation release) - Special Events are similar to Tournaments although often with very specific requirements and settings, such as car upgrades and presence of traffic. They consist of several races against a full grid of opponents of the same class of cars as the player's vehicle.
A career event series is comprised of different race disciplines:
- Tournament (Game Mode) - Tournaments consist of several races against a full grid of opponents of the same class of cars as the player's car. Racers are awarded points for their finishing position in each race, and the racer with the most points at the end of the tournament is the winner.
- Knockout - Knockouts consist of several races against a full grid of opponents of the same class of cars as the player. The last opponent at the end of each race is eliminated. The winner is the final racer left after all of the others have been knocked out.
- Pro Cup - Pro Cups are tournament events restricted to a specific manufacturer. The winner of a Pro Cup is awarded a bonus car that corresponds to the vehicle class that the event is specific to. In the PC release they only take place in the three Raceway course variations.
- High Stakes (Career event in the PC release) - A High Stakes race consists of only two opponents. The winner of the event is given the loser's car instead of a cash prize.
- Single Race - Single Race is a fully customisable race mode as players are allowed to choose the track, car, opponents, and driver aids. There are no rewards in this mode.
- Test Drive (PlayStation release) - Test Drive allows players to a select a car and take it out for a drive on a course. This is also the only mode where the police helicopter unlocked from Hot Pursuit mode can be used in.
- Knockout (Arcade) (PC release) - Players can set an Arcade Knockout outside of Career mode as an alternative way to unlock up to three bonus courses, awarded according to the set difficulty.
- Tournament (Arcade) (PC release) - Players can set an Arcade Tournament outside of Career mode as an alternative way to unlock bonus cars, awarded according to the set difficulty.
High Stakes is a duel in which the winner of the event is given the loser's car.
In the PlayStation release, High Stakes is a standalone splitscreen game mode requiring the insertion of a second player's memory card, and the winner gets the other player's staked car transferred to their saved game.
In the PC release it is an event type throughout the Career.
Pursuit AI and tactics in Need for Speed: High Stakes are similar to that of Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit, although introducing several improvements such as jersey barriers, spikebelts, and flares added to roadblocks.
It is also the first title to feature police helicopters in pursuits. They cannot detect the player hiding under buildings or within tunnels. Police helicopters do not appear in the PlayStation release, with the exception of the Jailbird 2000 for Test Drive mode.
Winning Hot Pursuit events unlocks additional Pursuit vehicles.
In the PlayStation release, playing as a racer requires to successfully win a race whilst avoinding the cops. Playing as a cop requires to fulfil a quota of arrested racers within a set time.
In the PC release, the game rewards players with "Most Wanted" badges upon winning as a racer, and "Top Cop" badges upon winning as a cop. Three Hot Pursuit modes are included:
- Classic - 1 on 1 duel in which racers are arrested if they exceed the ticket limit.
- Getaway - One single racer starts at a random location of a course, and has to evade police before time expires; racers are arrested if caught one single time.
- Time Trap - Similar to Classic mode except players also have to win before time expires; cops have to impede the race from finishing in time.
Vehicles in Need for Speed: High Stakes are more detailed than seen in previous titles, as they have transparent windows, and driver alongside a fully modelled interior. Players can also take down the roof of a convertible in the PC release, which also introduced a fully 3D-modelled cockpit driving perspective.
Like previous Need for Speed titles, every vehicle can be viewed in Showcase mode.
High Stakes is the first title in the series to feature visual modifications on cars besides body colour.
These modifications are only available as upgrade packages that include spoilers, vinyls and new wheels. They are only purchaseable in career mode.
Performance adjustments are still possible in the game, as Fine-tuning is available for every car. The new performance upgrade mechanism allows players to improve their vehicle's performance in races and even make it possible to compete against higher tiered vehicles.
Need for Speed: High Stakes features courses in circuit configuration, with themes based on various countries in Europe and North America. The PC release also saw the return of Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit locations as bonus courses.
All courses can have its parameters altered:
- Time of day
Need for Speed: High Stakes features non-interactive music mostly credited to composers Rom di Prisco and Saki Kaskas, with the addition of licenced songs which can be heard during races. In addition to that, the PlayStation release also includes race result themes.
The PC release received multiple downloadable add-on cars made available post-launch on the game's website.
The PC and PlayStation releases differ from each other, as well as several regional differences.
- This is the last Need for Speed title to be released in Japan under the Over Drivin' moniker. Every title released in Japan starting with Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed would adopt its Western name.
- A remixed version of the song Callista can be heard within the Afterlife club on-board the Omega Space Station in Mass Effect 2.
- Some police cars feature different liveries according to the geographical region that a course is situated.