Review by chattyb
"Do you want speed? You've got speed!"
The Need for speed series has always been about racing flashy cars around the beautiful countryside, dodging cops and making the player feel like they are really driving these Porsches or Mclaren F1s, when in real life they are stuck to that old sedan or jeep. Need For Speed Underground changes all that. Instead of a Kodak moment countryside and wonderful sunsets you are in a sleek city, with street racing everywhere. This is The Fast and the Furious in a video game. This game takes the good stuff from racing games and dumps the rest at the city refuse station. There is very little unnecessary crap, unlike most other racers out there, which is a big change since the previous games. Anyway, on with the review.
The Speed factor: Part of any PS2 racer, I think. Believe me, this game is fast. Really fast. The game engine goes like a greased piglet after a bee sting. Streetlights blur as you blaze through the intersection at warp speed. Take your eyes off the road for a second and you will find yourself hurtling head first into a tree. This game is built for speed. Every other racing game has so far kept the speed side of things very subtle. This is brilliant. Another new feature is Nitrous oxide, which really sets NFSU apart from the rest. Just when your engine is pulsating, your gearbox is squealing and the speedometer is coming apart from intense speed, you can inject Nitrous Oxide into your motor for a hard out speed freak's dream. You now try to save up your Nitrous for the perfect moment, knowing that when you do, it will be a huge task to even change lanes safely. My only concern is that of the realism at some points in races. Streetlights do not blur when you are going 70 kilometres an hour. This is racing near its best.
Graphics: Another thing that will strike your eye immediately is the eye candy. The visuals tease your eyes at every turn, in realistic detail. This game shows gamers what the Playstation 2 are really made of. Whether you are sliding through a rubbish tip or hurtling down the highway, you will be stunned by the greatness. However there are some bad points to this game's visuals. In previous NFS games you had enough vision to last you for a year. Slowdown is very scarce and only really happens in Drift mode, where it can stab you in the back. This is changed in NFSU. Now you turn a bend or go up a hill and hope like heck that you won't pile up into a van coming your way. This can make the game very frustrating at times, as sometimes you feel as if you have no control over the race. The cut scenes are decent, but nothing special, simply because they are hard to understand. You cannot hear the voice acting clearly and sometimes do not even know what the point of the cut scene is. The females are pretty easy on the eye, which must be a plus.
Gameplay: This game's gameplay is fabulous. It is fast, easy to get used to, and very enjoyable. Racing around a big city and finding shortcuts never felt so good. Although the game is more in the league of Arcade racers, rather than that of intricate realism from Gran Turismo, it is fairly challenging to do. Unlike games such as Destruction Derby: Arenas, taking each turn requires slowing down, choosing a lane, scanning the road for traffic in a split-second, and finally turning and burning off to the finish line. You can earn points called style points during a race, which are awarded to you for doing stunts like getting air, near misses and sliding. These points build up, and once you have enough, you are awarded with things like new parts. There is an element of frustration, though. Because of the low vision due to lack of light and intense speed, it becomes almost too easy to crash, topple on your side, have to reset your car, and build up your speed from scratch, giving you a decreased chance of winning that race. It is a pity that there are no police cars in the latest NFS, as it would have been enjoyable to lost them, because of all the sharp corners are skinny roads. Introduced are two new game modes. As well as your usual circuit race and Point to point race, you have Drag, where you race along a straight track with manual transmission, and Drift, where you go slide sideways to earn big points.
Sound: The game's music is very pleasing. Thankfully they steered clear of those wailing boy bands and Britney Spears type stuff. It just doesn't suit this kind of game. Instead expect those head banging rock songs and rocking R&B. My personal favourite is Get Low, by Ill' Jon and the Eastside Boyz. I know a lot of people who like that song. The engine of a revved up 350z sounds so authentic in its roaring glory, while the purr of the MX-5 will really get you in the right mood. They sound spectacular while roaring through a tunnel or jumping a broken bridge.
Story: The addition of a story to NFSU is very welcome, especially when it is done so well. You are basically some guy that you name who decides to go street racing and gets helped by some hot girl called Samantha, and he wants to be the best in the city. He races and beats lots of people with really weird names (like B-dog) and gets past some freak called Eddie, who is really cool in the street. Simple enough. The game is kind of like the Tony hawk series. It has been given a revamp into a much grittier game. It now focuses on you, instead of just helping out others.
Cars: What is a Racer without cars? Cars in previous Need for Speed games have been mostly really fancy Dream Machines, like a Porsche or an Aston Martin, instead of what most racers actually own. The Ferrari F50 has been replaced by a Honda Civic. The Dodge Viper has been replaced by a Nissan Skyline. I think this was good for the series, as it gives more room for comparison in the cars. Now people can argue over which is better: Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf. This really makes the street racing atmosphere complete.
Crashes: The NFSU crashes can be categorised by one word: unrealistic. They probably would have been good if there was car damage, even if it was very primitive. When you go headfirst into an oncoming truck you do not go a few feet in the air and spin around 20 times before landing. Burnout 2 did the crashes near perfection. They are ultimately unsatisfying. Taking a corner badly and scraping against a brittle wooden fence does not mean that you go flying 10 feet in the air. You might spin a bit, but you don't come out scratchless and only missing a side view mirror. Once in drag mode I hit a taxi and went as high as a lamppost. Sort it out, EA.
Time/Replayability: It is most unfortunate that the game has no replay mode, so once you complete the game, you will have almost no use for it, unless you have access to Broadband, or like modding cars. There are heaps of Style point rewards, like opponent cars and visual upgrades, that are challenging to unlock. Fortunately, for those that haven't taken the online plunge (like me), the Underground (Adventure) mode lasts for ages, and with 113 races, you are in for a challenge.
Overall: 9/10 Frustrating, but slick, good looking, with roaring engines and lots of pumping music and a story to boot, this game will really satisfy your Need For Speed.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 04/13/04, Updated 10/30/04
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