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, Need for Speed: Brennender Asphalt in Germany, Over Drivin' IV in Japan, and Need for Speed: Conduite en état de liberté in France.
The game is only officially supported on the Windows 95 and 98 OS although it has been known to run on Windows XP, Vista, and 7 OS.
Need for Speed: High Stakes is the first Need for Speed game to include 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 - The Career mode is the only mode of the title that requires the use of money; Cars must be purchased and repaired by using the money obtained from races. The Career mode progresses through a series of tours with each containing various Tournaments, Knockouts, and a High Stakes Race at the end.
- Hot Pursuit - Hot Pursuit allows the player to attempt to escape from the police whilst racing an opponent or to stop speeders whilst driving a police car. Players on the side of the police can use roadblocks, spike belts, or take control of AI police cars.
- 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.
- High Stakes - Every tour in Career mode ends with a High Stakes race. A High Stakes race consists of only two opponents. The winner of the race is given the loser's car instead of a cash prize.
- 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.
- Tournament - 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. The racer with the most points at the end of the tournament is the winner and is awarded with one or more Bonus Cars according to the difficulty of the tournament.
- Pro Cups - Pro Cup events are restricted to a specific manufacturer and only take place in the three Raceway course variations of the game. The winner of a Pro Cup is awarded a bonus car that corresponds to the vehicle class that the event is specific to.
- Special Event (PlayStation release) - Special Events are similar to Tournaments and consist of several races against a full grid of opponents of the same class of cars as the player's vehicle. The winner is the racer with the highest amount of points at the end of the tournament.
- 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.
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.
The PC port includes two extra Hot Pursuit modes in addition to the "Classic" iteration; "Getaway" and "Time Trap".
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.
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.
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.