For the sequel to Road & Track Presents: The Need for Speed, EA Canada abandoned the Road & Track license in favor of direct agreements with the manufacturers, and took more liberties with the driving model pursuing a gameplay focused on arcade racing, which included a simpler driving style, as well as courses with exotic settings and high jumps.
Need for Speed II features various game modes which can be played in single player or in multiplayer through 2 player split-screen, with additional online options on PC including modem, network, and serial link multiplayer.
- Knockout - A series of two-lap races involving every course of the game, in which racers that finishes in last will be eliminated. It takes place between eight racers (nine in the Special Edition)
- The last race with the two remaining racers takes place in the bonus course, which can be unlocked upon winning the event.
- Single Race - Standard circuit races with a specific number of laps set by the player. Opponents can have their skill level and car type chosen, as well as their quantity, which can be changed to one or a full grid of racers.
- Racing against a single opponent allows for having traffic enabled.
- Tournament - A series of four-lap races involving only the regular courses and a full grid of opponents, which can be raced in any sequence.
- In the original PlayStation and PC releases, players have to finish in first place on all courses to succeed and unlock the bonus car.
- In the Special Edition release, players have to collect as many points as possible to succeed, earning higher points by finishing closer to pole position for a race. bonus cars are unlocked depending on the result.
Tournament and Knockout events has cars sorted into performance classes, which are two in the original PlayStation and PC releases and three in the Special Edition.
A full grid of racers in the original PlayStation and PC releases consist of 12 cars, either from a single model, mixed, or performance-based in the case of Tournament and Knockout events. In the Special Edition release, a full grid consist of 8 racers, either from a single model or a selection from one of the three car classes.
Each of the game modes can be customised with catch-up mode. Players can also choose from different driving styles; simulation and arcade, in which the latter has cars more prone to drift and better regain of control after collisions.
The car list mainly consists of European sports cars and concept cars from the 1990s, focusing on exotic high performance models. Every car's brake bias, downforce, and gear ratios may be fine-tuned. Vehicles can also have their body colour changed.
Players can also enter a vehicle's Showcase to view commented performance statistics and history, as well as slide show, and a short video presentation of each car.
All courses follow circuit configuration, and are set in various differing environments around the world. Need for Speed II also introduced the possibility to go off-road and to take shortcuts.
- Proving Grounds - An oval test track based in Norway.
- Outback - Australian inspired route featuring landmarks based in Sydney such as the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.
- North Country - Northern Europe based on Germany and the Netherlands.
- Pacific Spirit - Running across a city, a national park, the Lions' Gate Bridge, the SkyTrain and BC Place from Vancouver.
- Mediterraneo - Coastal and cliff-side route set on the Greek coast.
- Mystic Peaks - A highland route covered in snow set in Nepal that passes through high mountains and tunnels.
- Monolithic Studios - The unlockable bonus course, based upon a Hollywood studio and themed after various famous films.
An additional course based on the Mexican coast would be made available in the Special Edition release on PC, and named Last Resort.
Need for Speed II has composed themes for the menus, as well as two unique themes for each course, with songs featuring elements based on the different locations's aesthetics.
In each race course an interactive soundtrack will be played, which is directly adapted to the player's gaming situation.
A Special Edition of Need for Speed II was released in 1997 which includes three additional vehicles as well as three new bonus cars, a new course, mirrored and reverse driving directions, a new driving style, and 3dfx Glide support.
- NEXT Generation, 1997. (27), p.69. Available at: