It's interesting to look back through this thread all these years later. I recently clocked a lot of time into the 3DO version, yet in my earlier posts in the thread I hadn't clocked much time into the game and didn't really appreciate it that much. Now it's one of my favorites on the system. Once you get the hang of things it's hard to describe the feeling you get driving down these roads. It's good stuff.
So, with my interest piqued I picked up both the Saturn and PS1 versions. And you know what? I think they are pretty cool.
As was mentioned in an earlier post, there is traffic--just not in the tournament mode where you race against seven other opponents. In head to head, it mimics the 3DO original in format with cops, traffic, and you versus a single opponent.
The menu system is much better organized, is clearly labeled and easy to navigate. The soundtrack can be set to rock or electronic. Don't like the music? You can disable it. Tracks have time of day options (morning, mid-day, evening). You have more viewing options (in-car, full screen, and third-person). Third-person camera angles are actually pretty well playable, unlike the 3DO one (I could never get the hang of it in that one). Many of the non-X-Man cutscenes are still in the game. The games also support steering wheels. Overall there is more flexibility and I don't see that as a bad thing.
The most interesting thing to me is the supposed "arcade" feel I keep hearing about. I guess many look at it like that due to the speed increase, and I can understand that. I do feel like the perceived increase isn't just due to a slight bump in actual movement speed, but a combination of that and a considerably better framerate (especially in the PS1 version).
That said, I often relate "arcade racing" to also include a more twitchy control and handling scheme, but this doesn't have that. You still absolutely have to brake, and you lose most if not all turning control braking at high speeds. I actually have a harder time staying off of walls in these versions compared to the 3DO one, and it's not because I am all over the road--it's because I can't seem to turn efficiently while maintaining a high speed. The PS1 and Saturn versions definitely still have a high learning curve.
I'd say my biggest issue with these versions is the AI. It is absolutely brutal. Where I do a pretty good job winning on Professional in the 3DO version, I can't do a damn thing in the PS1 and Saturn ones. Second place is the highest I have ranked so far, and that was only once. Granted, I have only clocked a short period of time into them, so more time will be needed.
For those that want to see direct comparisons that really put things into perspective, Digital Foundry did a fantastic episode on the original Need for Speed, covering the 3DO version, the Saturn and PS1 versions, as well as both PC versions (original release and the SE version). Link: https://youtu.be/FjLXLhaGfFA