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PC Review - 'Need for Speed Underground'

by The Cookie Snatcher on Dec. 26, 2003 @ 1:57 a.m. PST

Enter the world of urban street racing and high performance tuner cars with the latest title in the hit Need for Speed series: Need for Speed Underground. Take on today’s most popular tuner cars from Mitsubishi Motors, Subaru, Toyota and many more, building the ultimate street machine by earning cash to pay for custom body kits and a host of licensed car performance mods. Read more for the full review ...

Genre: Racing
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA
Release Date: November 17, 2003

Xbox | GameCube | Game Boy Advance | PC | PlayStation 2

The Need for Speed series has always stood at the top of its respective racing class for full-bore, adrenaline-inducing thrills and realistic yet arcade-style action. But the newest title, Need for Speed Underground, is the most dramatic departure the series has seen yet. This time around EA decided to go with the hugely popular street-racing concept to infuse some style and flair into the franchise. And while the developer certainly did a great job in taking all the excitement of the real-life sport and bringing it into their latest creation, it's hard to overlook the fact that every race takes place in the same fictitious city. Nevertheless, if you're burnt out on Midnight Club II and don't own an Xbox with which to play Project Gotham Racing 2, then Underground may be just the thing to sate your appetite for speed.

Like previous games in the series, Need for Speed Underground does not excel at purporting realistic physics and simulation style handling, instead the name of the game here is pure, unadulterated velocity. And lots of it. Whether you're a veteran of the series or new to the fold, you won't have trouble picking this game up and getting right to the good stuff. Keep in mind though that Underground is best played with an analog-stick PC controller, using a keyboard to navigate tight turns and avoid incoming traffic can, frankly, be downright frustrating.

Taking a queue from other street racing games, Underground features a satisfying point system that awards the player for pulling off things like powersliding, catching air, and drafting. Though unlike MCII, you are pretty much limited to only these maneuvers. Style points are present regardless of which mode of the game you're playing, and at the end of each race your points will drop into your style points meter. Each time this meter is filled, you'll unlock a new part, aesthetic additions, or other stuff to trick out your ride.

A staple of the NFS franchise has always been EA's willingness to include real life rides from actual car manufacturers. This has a double-edged effect on the resulting product. On one hand, you'll get behind the wheel of cars that actually exist, such as the popular Mazda RX-7, S2000, Acura Integra and fan-favorite Honda Civic. The bad is that in order for EA to feature these real-life models, they must refrain from showing any body damage whatsoever; regardless of how many high-impact collisions your car suffers.

Hardcore modders and tweakers will really dig the inclusion of name-brand parts and upgrades. A wide assortment of enhancements are all eventually available, assuming you stick with it long enough to unlock them. These include turbochargers, higher quality engines, weight reduction modifications, better braking, and the all-singing, all-dancing underground scene favorite; nitrous oxide. Unfortunately, each part in the same tier of upgrades performs far too similarly or even identically, negating any novelty one would derive from choosing upgrades they are actually familiar with.

It wouldn't be a genuine underground racing game if it didn't include options for decking out your ride with eye-catching decals and body modifications. Buying body kits, hoods, window tinting, or vinyl for your car are sure to raise a few eyebrows. It should also be noted that creating a unique-looking car increases your street rep. Your reputation is based on a five-star scale, each star you achieve multiplies the points that you get at the end of a race. Making sure your car is adequately spiffy also ensures that you'll be invited to all the best racing challenges.

Underground features over 100 races in its career mode, spread across 20 different tracks that are contained in a single city. While the included tracks are entirely unique in terms of structure and style, there are some areas of the city that are recycled a little too often. This means you'll be seeing a lot of the same areas over and over again, which is quite a disappointment when you consider that some other street racing games take you through dozens of different locales across the globe.

NFS Underground contains an array of different race types to counter the meager selection of available tracks. Racing within the same static city is a lot more bearable when you can do so in an assortment of different ways. Underground mode offers knockout races, which disqualify the last-place-racer for a duration of three laps until there are only two competitors left to duke it out for pole position; Drift racing pits you in a small, slippery course where the focus is not on racing but accumulating style points by constantly powersliding; And, drag racing is a nice diversion, where you race on a straight strip of road while avoiding incoming traffic and effectively managing shifting gears at exactly the right time. Underground mode features a total of 111 races, and offers up a healthy amount of game time. All of the races have their own difficulty setting, and some of them are bound to cause frustration, so being able to click it over to "easy" whenever you want is nice.

EA has included an online mode of play that is exclusively available on both the PS2 and PC versions of the game. You can put your reputation on the line with up to three other players, or just practice with a few non-ranked races. This mode is great fun, but as with all online games, there are some clipping and framing issues.

Let's talk shop, Graphics. The first thing most racing fans will notice about Underground is its ability to purport massive amounts of speed. When you really get going, your surroundings will melt away into a frenzied blur and the camera will start violently shaking. We have a feeling that this speed effect will be copied for years to come in future racing games. The lighting and reflection techniques used in the PC version are top-notch; The cars, city lights, wet roads and slick looking environment make NFS Underground shine. You will be treated to a few pre-rendered cut-scenes as you progress through Underground mode, but instead of impressing the player with exciting racing scenes or detailed character models, all the game offers up is stilted, low-polygon racing-type people that attempt to amp you up via very bad voice acting. A cool soundtrack featuring plenty of licensed music compliments the proceedings nicely. Artists like The Crystal Method, Lil' Jon and the Eastside Boys, and Rob Zombie really enhance the game's aural presentation. NFS Underground is also THX certified, so the sound quality is superb.

Overall, Need for Speed Underground is one of the best arcade style racing games to come out this holiday season. If EA paid as much attention to the career mode and track layout that they spent on graphics and sound, this game would have been the racing game to get. If Midnight Club II isn't doing it for you anymore and Project Gotham Racing 2 isn't an option, then give Underground a spin.

Score: 8.3/10


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