Review by NES4EVER
"A game that would make Vin Diesel proud"
Need for Speed Underground was the title from Electronic Arts that finally brought the NFS series to the forefront. Automotive enthusiast gamers had always known about the pervious titles that featured bona fide super cars such as the McLaren F1 and the Ferrari F50, but it wasn't until EA decided to focus on the emerging street tuner scene that the Need for Speed titles reached beyond supercar lovers to teenagers and young adults that had recently been captivated by The Fast and The Furious movie and the growing import tuner craze that was occurring in North America. This game was a fairly sharp departure from the high octane police running NFS titles of the past, but it did so without losing the charm of the previous titles and managed to freshen up a series that had not seen real change since Need for Speed 3: Hot Pursuit. It also played an important role in shaping ideas of later games such as a singular city that plays host to all racing events and incorporating cars that regular people might actually be able to afford in one lifetime.
The game consists of several modes, such as time trial, quick race and the main component: Underground Mode. Underground mode has a storyline to it, but it is fairly unremarkable and believe it or not that is a plus to me compared to the hilariously awful storylines to the following instalments like Most Wanted and Carbon. Nobody buys a street racing game to pretend they're some fictional hot shot with a beef to settle or a fight to pick, they play the game because they want to win the races and unlock the awesome cars that aren't available at the beginning of the game. The storyline puts you of a series of a little over 100 races of several different types. There are point-to-point races, circuit races, drag races and drift races to complete, which offers the player three different aspects of driving. My personal favourites are the drag racing and drifting, as they were not factored in to any popular racing game before this.
Drag racing requires you to shift the car manually (regardless of whether you race with a manual transmission or not) and coordinate your shifts with the optimal rev range. By not doing so, the car will not reach its maximum potential in the race and you will be put at a disadvantage. The sense of speed is also more apparent in this mode, and as you progress through the game it becomes more and more difficult with objects or other vehicles on the road to avoid.
Drifting, unlike the other modes, is not a timed event that focuses on finishing the race before your opponents. It is a point based competition that challenges you to rack up more points drifting than your competition. The controls for this mode seem to be completely different, and take some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, this is one of the easier modes as you do not need to worry about traffic or any great sense of speed or danger. Drifting takes place on closed circuits and each vehicle competes separate from the others, which gives you free roam over the entire track. It is an interesting mode in a racing game and I have to credit EA for being intuitive enough to come up with something like this.
One of the most important aspects of this game is the fact that you can customize your vehicle both in terms of performance and aesthetics. Performance modifications are a little too idiot-proof for my liking, basically bunching items into packages for suspension, tires, engine components, etc. However, the visual modifications are stunning. Minor touches such as lowering your car by 1 or tinting your windows have an effect on the way your car looks and handles, and also play a role in how respected you are in your races. The style star points seem to be a system that had good intentions, but was not developed enough to make it a pivotal part of the game. Regardless, the customization of cars is almost as fun as the racing itself, and you will be sure that nobody will have the exact same car as you with the amount of body kit options, paint, real life wheel options and spoilers. The best part is that most of these modifications are brought to you by real life companies, meaning that the BBS wheels you have on your actual car may be available in this game!
Like many games, NFS Underground starts off fairly easy and builds up in terms of track and enemy difficulty. Other racers in this game are fairly moronic, but later in the game they seem to rubber band themselves back into competition by hand of god. This is annoying because no matter how clean you run or whether your competition does something stupid is not an advantage because they can just slingshot themselves back into contention. Unfortunately, this is one of the annoying parts that has lived on through the following NFS titles and frankly it detracts from the game.
Let us not lose sight of the fact that the Need for Speed series has always had arcade style physics and this title is no different. Brakes, while useful at some points, are for the most part unnecessary when racing and the drifting mode is downright hilarious in terms of how the vehicles handle. If you wondered what a car would feel like with shopping cart wheels on the rear of the car that is basically what it's like to drive in the drifting mode. I am also disappointed with the fact there seems to be no discernable difference between front, rear and all wheel drive vehicles when racing or drifting. Front wheel drive vehicles seem to be more prone to oversteer, and all wheel drive vehicles basically only understeer, which is not very realistic.
Regardless of how unrealistically the drifting feels in this game, I cannot fault the game for it, because like I said it is an arcade racer, and the drifting controls are very forgiving, even to people who may not understand the physics behind drifting.
NFS Underground is an interesting title in the way of graphics. The cars themselves are obviously the focus, but they come off as looking way too shiny and don't really match the bland and generic background that is supposed to be the city. I understand that the focus of the game is the vehicles, and EA did a commendable job on creating a city that had differing areas (such as an industrial district, an Asian park, back alleys and a business district) but the city just looks unremarkable. However, the vehicles are faithfully rendered, and unlike titles before it, physical modifications to the car are visible when racing, even if they are minor things like a new front bumper or a small sticker for the rear fender. This attention to detail is definitely a plus, and I believe that it forced series like Gran Turismo and eventually the Forza series to adopt aesthetic personalization of cars, rather than just upgrade internal parts that changed the driving aspect of the car but not the body.
It should be a no brainer that because this game is published by EA it will have an excellent licensed soundtrack, right? This game does not disappoint in that aspect and includes hits by Nate Dogg, Lil Jon and the East Side Boys, Petey Pablo and Static X. By today's standards the soundtrack may be limited, but each of the songs definitely worked well with the high paced action of street racing. The vehicle sounds are fairly good as well, but in stock form they sound far too loud compared to what they should sound like, and in modified form they lack the dramatic difference that aftermarket exhausts can make on the same vehicle. In true street racer fashion, the sounds of blow-off valves for turbocharged vehicles are totally exaggerated but it is understandable when you consider the target audience has most likely never sat in some of these vehicles (especially the R34 Skyline).
Over all, this game is definitely worth purchasing if you can still find it. I have been successful in finding this game a few times in discount used games bins, but you're out of luck if you want a new copy of it. For a price of $5 or $10, this game is more than worth your money. The underground mode will keep you busy for many hours, and you'll own the game that brought street racing to the gaming masses.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 06/17/10, Updated 06/17/10
Game Release: Need for Speed Underground (US, 11/17/03)
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