Review by Tails 64
A decent racing game, but Burnout is more fun
EA Games has always been able to dazzle the crowds with its very own Burnout series, yet started the Need for Speed Underground series in hope to attract a more experienced audience. The first game was impressive, with its seemingly endless customization options and arcade-style races. Since then, the same crew unleashed the wildly successful Burnout 3: Takedown. However, the latest installment was not released on Nintendo's little purple cube. Though Need for Speed Underground 2 does not have the same console barricade, can it even be recommended to gamers with nothing but a GameCube?
The game begins as the character goes to a city known as Bayview. Since he has made a name for himself before, it's now time to start fresh and make a name in the Underground Racing League in the new city. With nothing but flat, comic book-like cinemas to progress the tale along, finding even the slightest moment to appreciate in the story is a neigh impossible task. Though it was mostly set up to get the "gangster" feeling, it is rather glaring how quickly the character manages to snatch sponsors and magazine covers. Being flooded with advertisements and comments such as, "Yo, baller, think ya can hang with us?" managed to also completely slaughter such feeling. Luckily, no one on Earth cares about the story in racing games.
In order to join such underground races, the city of Bayview must be explored. The city is relatively large, but offers very little in the freedom of exploration. The spider web of roads is where all driving is confined, as most places have a gate or an invisible wall preventing any sort of off-road exploration. With no pedestrians, and an eternal night, the city never felt alive. Plus, there are very few items of interest to even be found. When almost all places appear right on the map, all there is to do is drive from race-to-race, shop for car parts, or challenge other racers to an Out-run. In an Out-run, the goal is to pass the opponent and get one thousand feet between the two of you, which can become very addictive.
When driving around the area, the GPS can be used to guide oneself from one place to another by pressing left on the D-Pad. When activated, a blue arrow is placed on the top of the screen. This is a very handy feature, as the arrow goes not in the direction that the crow flies, but will actually point to the proper roads to take. However, it has a tendency of changing its mind on the best route to take when there are many intersections about. The SMS, which just so happens to constantly display the Cingular symbol, allows communication with the other racing "dawgs" on the circuit, but is mostly used just to give the player advice on where to go next. The exploration added in Need for Speed Underground 2 certainly helps give more freedom of choice, as kicking back and competing in Out-runs for an hour has more charm that menu surfing. Yet, with very little items to interact with, can sometimes be a burden for those who just want to race, have a need for speed.
On the bright side of things, EA's latest racing game serves up a very wide variety of racing modes. Circuit, Sprint, Drag, Drift, Street X, and Free Run are only the beginning of the list. Plus, thanks to the added exploration, the player can avoid any mode that is simply not his or her cup of tea. Circuit, with a deceiving title, is a single race of multiple laps. Sprint is a dash to the finish line. Drag is a straight-on race with the manual control setup, but uses an awkward control scheme for steering. Pressing left or right on the Control Stick will cause the vehicle to slowly change lanes, which makes traffic very difficult to avoid. Drift, a very pointless mode, forces the player onto a very small track. The only goal here is to drift and skid more than any other racer. The game tries to enforce the use of the hand brake for this task, but it is much easier to hold right, then left, then right, then left, etc., until the "race" is finished. Street X is very similar to a Circuit, but takes place on a very small track where brutality is equivalent to victory. Free Run is simply a good way to explore for shortcuts.
Many races, rather than beginning with a countdown, feel the best way to achieve the ghetto feeling to have a person motion for the start while standing on the starting line. This dishes out a unique trick, as the type of person may vary when it is best to begin revving the car up. When the race begins, expect the AI, whose difficulty can be varied in any mode, to fly into the lead. While this is initially discouraging, the longer the race, the more mistakes that the AI will make. While the AI could be ahead at the start of the second lap, it is perfectly feasible to take the lead with almost ten seconds to spare before the race meets its end. The corner of the screen constantly shows how far ahead or behind the opponents are, which can be very helpful when the heat is on near the end of the race.
EA clearly stole a few pages out of its own Burnout series and tried to glue them into Need for Speed Underground 2. Another racer or even a poorly attempted turn can easily spin out other vehicles, and your very own. More glaring, however, is the Nitrous feature. This device gives the player boosts through doing risky acts, such as closely missing traffic or drifting. The aspect tried to emulate the crazy pace of its sister series, but is executed more as an identity crisis. The detection of such crazy tactics is off, and power behind the boost boarders on slim to diddly squat for the opening hours of the game.
One significant edge Underground 2 has over Burnout is the amount of tweaking that can be done to the vehicles. Since companies like Ford and Honda never expected their cars to have to go this fast, special parts can be purchased from various shops in Bayview. While Burnout merely offered a fresh coat of paint, ranging from sturdy engines to flashy neon lights, almost every part of every car can be customized with dozens upon dozens of different pieces in this game. The shame is, it is very difficult to find shops for such things in Career Mode, making the process of snagging a stylin' set of wheels a difficult task. Luckily, all of the other modes allow for quick and easy changes to be made.
The GameCube was, as usual, given the worst version of the multi-console title. While the X-Box and Playstation 2 frolic in glee with online play, the GameCube is stuck with nothing more than a two-player split screen. This does provide fun and replay value, but cannot compete with the endless competition found online.
At least the graphics are a pretty sight in Need for Speed Underground 2. The scenery is gorgeous, especially with the realistic night lighting. The rain effects are up to snuff, and the vehicles themselves are some pretty sights. Details like the glow of headlights adds a lot of enjoyment, too. Like many racing games, however, the audience of every race is what one would expect to see a console generation ago.
While Burnout is famous for its madcap crashes, this game makes one appreciate those fan-made movies shown online. While the cars fly, spin, and screech along pavement, there is almost no signs of damage shown on the car at all. It almost seems as though the programming department was in a hurry and released something that would only be acceptable in a test version of the game.
The audio department of the latest Need for Speed is a very mixed bag. Like many EA games before it, Underground 2 offers a soundtrack composed of actual songs from actual artists. While most games had offered a wide variety of tunes, about the only style here is rap. Plus, the amount of songs is nothing to write home about. The sounds of the game are very passable, offering the typical engine sounds, screeches, and screaming brakes. The voice acting, though featuring Brooke Burke, is another stale attempt at the underground feeling the game so treacherously misses. With nothing but slang comments from people that sound pissed off, the only thing to be thankful for is the fact no one talks during the actual races.
The entire presentation of Need for Speed Underground 2 seems confused. On one hand, we see advertisements for dozens of companies and a safety message on the importance of seat belts, yet we hear street talk in a night racing environment. It almost tries to become Burnout with the Nitrous, for which no one could belittle. However, once the racing is found and the confusing menus have been navigated, there is some great arcade-style racing to be found. Though the AI may be unbalanced, the tracks are well designed with tricky turns and shortcuts, an endangered species in many recent racers. The deep customization also adds a lot of replay value to the game. Though Burnout 3: Takedown is an all-around better game, GameCube holders dying for a racing experience would be foolish to skip over Need for Speed Underground 2.
The AI could use some tweaking, the racing could be a bit faster, and exploration could be deeper, but the amount of modes and custom options help to make up for some of these flaws.
The environments and cars are great, but even the Nintendo 64 has seen significantly better crashes.
The poor voice acting and the limited sound track have plenty of room for improvement, but the actual car sounds are up to par.
The single-player career is over forty hours long and plenty of fun can be found in the two player mode and custom shops, but online play could have driven it much further.
Though certainly not the best racing game ever made, the variety of features makes it a worthy purchase for gamers with only a GameCube or for any racing fanatic.
The Verdict: 7.4
Rating: 3.5 - Good
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