Review by bearsman6

"It’s not street legal, but that’s half the draw."

Welcome to the world of Underground street racing, where anything and everything goes. If you want to win, you’ll learn that… quickly. Need for Speed Underground rides the coattails of the Fast and the Furious movies and gives every car lover what they want – the opportunity to drive and completely control the appearance a list of imports. You can rice it out beyond recognition or leave it a sleeper. You can upgrade the performance part by part throughout a career mode. You can even race your baby online against others just as eager to show what they’ve got. If this sounds like fun, then you’re in the right place; the emphasis of Underground is obviously the cars, but there are some shortcomings. Either way, be prepared to buckle up, kick back, and make your machine all that it can be.

Beautification made easy.

Perhaps the most hyped claim of the game is the complete control you have over your ride’s look. The process is simple. You race, and with victories you earn money and unlock new parts and upgrades. Then, you choose between which you’d like to install on your ride, and when I say complete customization, it really feels that way. You can control everything from the brake pads to the body kits, and then paint it all as you see fit. In the end, I guarantee you will have one road-ripping machine that will set even your parent’s mouths drooling with envy. The cars just look that darn good. Everything in the game does, in fact, and with a sense of style (or just a bit of creativity), you can do almost anything imaginable to your car’s appearance.

The problem with the style system is the unending linearity of it. In fact, the whole game is too linear for its own good at times. It’s impossible to unlock a ‘higher level’ part unless you win the appropriate event, whether you have the funds to buy that extra nitrous or not. This essentially makes the money you accrue from racing completely worthless. Yes, it is used when you actually buy the parts available to you, or when you trade in your ride for a different model, but I have yet to be in any semblance of financial trouble. Let me unlock my level 3 spoilers already!

Furthermore, for a game that builds pride in the way your car looks, you sure don’t see much of it during the races (and when you do, it’s a bad thing). Mostly what you see is the rear end. However, at certain times, the game cuts to alternate-angle cameras… like when you’re making a large jump, or getting into a nasty accident. In other words, it changes angles to this cinematic view during the most inconvenient times imaginable, and always just long enough to lose your driving reference, and thus control. Luckily, you have the ability to change the frequencies of these cuts, but they are still terribly annoying.

Another issue is the notable absence of any replay mode (or any replays at all). You could have the race of your life, but you’ll never be able to see it again. I suppose you’re supposed to be content knowing that your car looks like a million bucks, but I would actually like to see it in action.

Wait a second. I’ve raced this map before!

Believe me, you will say that far too often. The entire game takes place in a single city, and as you might predict, that means you will race the same tracks over and over again. However, this doesn’t occur to the frequency that you will get bored of any one track or another. Since the city is fully detailed (but not so that you can freely roam it like in Midnight Club II or GTA3), what ends up happening is that the streets are thrown together in different packages cut-and-paste style. This leaves every race feeling like a jigsaw puzzle. You end up asking, “Ok, which piece is coming next?” Then, when you see it, you know how to drive it; you’ve done it that many times before.

This feeling of patchwork racing is actually one reason Underground can be so aggravating at times. By the tenth mission (out of 113), you will have ridden on almost every piece of road you will cover for the rest of the game, just not in all the orders or directions. Every race after that will become easier to maneuver through, until the computer AI gets in your way. Enter the frustration.

What this game really lacks is the ability to explore the cities and environments you so readily race through. The designers obviously fleshed out the city enough to create 100 different variations, but not being able to freely roam outside of a race’s set streets is upsetting.

By an inch or a mile…

Winning is winning. As I’ve said, in Underground all of your racing skills will be put to the test. That means that you’ll have to not only corner and accelerate well, you will have to deal with competition, and traffic. The traffic is sketchy at best, often coming out of crossing roads just in time to hit and subsequently flip your ride, sometimes costing you the race. Don’t worry, though, because the computer AI is far from perfect and often they have just as nasty collisions.

This brings up another conspicuous weakness in Underground’s performance: cars never show damage. You can get hit by a van, roll five times, slam into the road’s median, and then continue with the race in your still-stunning racer. This is a bit unrealistic, and in a genre where other street racers gladly allow for the physical demolition of your cars, it’s also a glaring omission. And yes, I realize that there is a lot of emphasis on how your car looks – and rightfully so, because everything is depicted in stunning fashion – but wouldn’t it be even sweeter to see two of the layers of vinyl scraped off the car by the impact you just had with the wall? I think so. They would compliment the skid marks on the road perfectly, and then you might even have something to use all that money on… like repairs.

As it stands, Need for Speed Underground is a very solid racer. It’s absolutely gorgeous, to be honest, with as good a soundtrack (if not better) than can be expected. With all this praise, however, there is some criticism, mainly due to oversights. With so beautiful and full a city to explore race by race, it would be nice to actually have a free mode to explore its inner workings entirely. The multiplayer modes are great, with Online standing out well (except the cheaters), and yet this is undercut by an amazing lack of gloating – like a replay function. It seems like for every bit of praise, there is some minor undercutting detail that likely should have been addressed.

Still, the problems only detract from the experience when you let them, and if you never take your eyes off the surroundings, you won’t even notice. Underground is a great, if linear, racer. It’s just missing that little bit that would make it one to remember.

Gameplay: 7/10
Graphics: 9/10
Sound: 9/10
Replay: 6/10
Multiplayer: 7/10

Overall: 7/10

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 01/20/04

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