Review by chaosphoenix

"What a street racing game should be."

Welcome to the Underground
Finally. I think a lot of us have been waiting for a racing game like Need For Speed: Underground. Take your average run-of-the-mill grocery-getter and trick it out into a fast corner hugging demon. Race through city streets. Drag race against three other tuners. Compete in drift sessions and tournaments! Do it all and look good doing it too.

Gameplay - 9/10
Controls are tight. Not as tight as the Gran Turismo series, but they definitely get the job done. Cars handle more on the simulation side, but are a little loose to give an arcade ''frantic'' feeling to it when traveling at higher speeds.

Now, the Underground. This is the heart of the game. You start off with one of several basic rides, either a VW Golf, Civic Si coupe, Neon, Miata, or a wimpy Peugot hatch. After finishing some events, you would have racked up some extra cash and have unlocked some mods to begin tricking out your car. The amount of customization is insane. Four layers of vinyls. Brand name decals for your windshield and car body. Rims. Body kits. Variations of body paint. Everything is broken up into 3 levels and you unlock a level of a customization aspect at a time. There's so many parts you can choose from I didn't bother counting. Level 1 body kits contains 2 different parts to choose from, but levels 2 and 3 have like 5-10 each level. I think there's hundreds (thousands?) of vinyls and decals too. Under the hood (engine/drivetrain/turbo/suspension etc) you're stuck with one upgrade option each but you get to choose which manufacturer's parts are going in. But you get the picture. Complete more events to unlock more goodies. As you move up the ranks in the Underground racing world you get to grace covers of some tuning magazines that feature your car and sometimes an import model with your car. Cool to look at. Worth noting though is the final list of cars. Even though there's only 20 to choose from, most of them are cars worth fixing up. I'm surprised they even managed to get 20 cars into this game, given the amount of visual customizations possible. There's no way EA could have put in, say, 300 different cars, each having their own choice of body kits etc, and have the game ship in a year's time. Besides, its not like there's 300 different cars that make headlines on the racer tuning scene anyway.

The Drag mode is intense. To get a good start off the line, you need to have your car revving at the right RPM. Holding the gas down to the floor before the start doesn't give you the fastest jump off the line, trust me. Once you're going, you don't just shift at redline to the next gear; every car has its specific shift-point that will execute a perfect shift, providing you with the top acceleration possible. There's a big difference in acceleration between hitting the ''perfect shift'' and hitting a ''good shift.'' If you have NO2, punch it for that extra boost. There's traffic to worry about also, which can make things ''interesting.'' Imagine going 140+ mph neck and neck with your rival while dodging oncoming traffic. Thankfully, EA limits your controls at the steering wheel in Drag mode. Hitting left and right on the pad or the analog stick changes your car exactly one lane over respectively.

The last major Underground mode you'll find yourself in is Drift. You're on a short, wide, slicked track, and it's time to show off some mad skills. The longer you drift through a turn the more points you get. Hit the wall and you lose points. It's fun to play around with it and see if you can chain all your drift turns together for some mad style points.

For those with the broadband adapter, you can play online as well. I haven't tried it myself, but it sounds cool. You race against humans in the same Underground events and there's a special rankings board to keep track of who's top dawg. You can even issue 1 on 1 challenges in a chosen event. The good fellows over at IGN claim a bit of lag playing online, but its still just as fun if not more fun than playing at home.

My only gripe: where the heck is the replay feature????????

Graphics - 9/10
Honestly, it looks incredible beautiful for a PS2 game. Almost like it didn't belong. The car models are absolutely gorgeous and the reflection mapping on the cars is awesome. The environment has been done extremely well too. Streets look a little wet under the lighting, but they're reflective also. The roads don't look glassy, they look like they've been wet from a previous rain. Awesome. The architectural textures aren't great, but you hardly notice them during races since most of the environment becomes subject to motion blur relative to how fast you're going. The effect definitely executes well. Just try hitting some NOS during a race for major eye candy. EA paid close attention to the drag race in Fast and the Furious. The frame rate does just fine at 30 fps. It does dip here and there but it doesn't take away from the experience at all.

Sound - 10/10
All the car sounds are spectacular, especially during shifting and activating some nitrous. Your car actually sounds like it should. If its stock, it doesn't sound special. If you've added in aftermarket intake and headers, you can literally hear them. Drop a turbo and you can hear that beautiful hissing sound during shifts and throttle changes. I'd knock sound down to a 8 rating because of the music tracks you have to listen to but they don't knock the quality of the sound that comes out of your speakers. In fact I think the car sounds are cooler than what you'd find in the Gran Turismo series.

Replay - 9/10
It probably takes around 20-30 hours to get through all 111 Underground events. With all the different cars you can create and toy with, you could probably spend 40 hours. Throw in the online play with a real time rankings board and its like we have an international street racing federation of sorts. I can't wait to have my fully maxed out car so I can drag race against three other people with their maxed out machines. This is good stuff.

Overall - 9/10
An incredible change for the NFS series done extremely well. Close to perfection at what it aims to do, but there's always room to improve. NFS: Underground sets the bar for the street racing genre. Now we have to see what Tokyo Xtreme Racer 3 has to offer.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 11/19/03

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