Review by Lisanne

Reviewed: 12/22/03

Alleged "racing" game - shallow, and over-stylized.

If Need For Speed Underground were a glamour model, she would be a naughty magazine centrefold - bold, pretty as hell and seemingly classy at first glance; but upon inspection, lacking brains and with an inordinate focus on artificial enhancements. Indeed, her looks would be a barrier to getting to know the real her - instead of being able to drive her smoothly and with a clear sight of your ultimate destination, there would be constant distractions along the lines of her reapplying her heavy lip gloss every three seconds and her enhancements obstructing your line of vision.

Need For Speed Underground is a graphical showpiece let down by gameplay that is incredibly difficult to get used to - and the only reason it's so difficult is because the graphics get in your way.

A perfect description of the visual impact of playing this game would be thus: imagine driving at speeds of well over 100mph through a shopping mall decorated for Christmas with enough tinsel and lights to make the whole of Wales look festive, all whilst looking through two contrasting kaleidoscopes and with an incredibly dirty windscreen. Is that a clear image? No, it isn't, and that's the point. There is no denying that at first glance this is a graphically stunning game with superbly crafted environments and highly detailed cars. However, once you get down to actually trying to play, it is very tricky to see exactly where you are going. There are very obvious arrows everywhere to help you, but they are all over the place and really do not offer you as much help as they ought to, since they are often floating above the turn and moving whereas to make the route clear they should be fixed.

So, I have explained why this is in one aspect a bad game. Invasive as the tracers are though, it is possible to get used to them with some perseverance (and plenty of frustrating moments), and if you do choose to keep playing, the rest of the game is well worth the effort and your patience will be rewarded.

The mechanics of NFSU are very complex, but the learning curve is not steep. Assuming that you play in the game's career mode (''Go Underground''), basically you play for points. ''Style Points'', in fact. These contribute to your ''Reputation'' meter and allow you to unlock vehicle upgrades to enhance your car. Racing is broadly mission-based with different types of race available (drifting around a track for points, tournaments and so on). Winning these races earns you some cash which you will need to spend on your car to improve it. The range of enhancements available is staggering (hence the complexity) - there are all the usual performance-based upgrades (including Nos!) and a vast array of pretty-making upgrades - think paint, vinyl, spoilers and so on. This is the main draw of NFSU in my view - I found upgrading my vehicle immensely enjoyable even with my extremely limited technical knowhow (and thus it's also accessible to those who do not know much about cars, which is refreshing).

There is plenty of value in this game - there are well over 100 races to complete in career mode, and a ''Quick Race'' option (exactly what it sounds like) is also available. You can even race against a friend. Since you can keep replaying and experimenting with the cars, there is plenty to do and not much of a boredom factor, although racing around different parts of the same overall environment does become somewhat tiresome. There is also the slight issue of the aforementioned graphical ''situation''.

Overall this is a solid, enjoyable game let down by its over-the-top exterior. It's all worth it when you persevere though. Still, the initial frustration means that it doesn't warrant anything higher than an average score. I would recommend it, but you have been warned!

Rating:   2.5 - Playable

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