Review by Packing Heat

""Why can't I put a toaster in the dashboard?""

The whole premise of Need For Speed Underground 2 lands you (some sort of maverick underground racing guy) in a fictional city (Bayview). As soon as you arrive, you're noticed by the local street racing conglomerate, who seem to take some sort of disliking to your young upstart happenings. Yep, that's pretty much the entire plot, as detailed in the hi-octane intro sequence. From then on in, this "story" is barely mentioned. You start out as a small-time racer, immedaitely given a free car of your choice through some bizarre deal that is barely explained. It's not of great concern exactly why you're given this car, well, there'd be no game if you didn't have it, I guess, but it seems to add - or subtract, we're in a paradox logic thingy here - to the thinly fabricated reason for the game. From a choice of around 5 cars - Corsa, Focus for Europe, Civic for USA - you're thrust into the underground racing world. The ingame map highlights locations of the various race types, and it's totally the player's choice which races to enter. Simply drive around the city and find the icon, enter and win the race to pick up the cash prize. Scattered around the city are several shops - performance shops, graphics shops, customization shops, body shops, car lot - that you must track down via their variously coloured floodlights. As you progress through the races, the more cars and the more parts to stick on them are unlocked.

There are a variety of race types on offer. Circuit is a few laps around a course carved through the city streets. Sprint is basically the same, except you're racing from one end to the other. U.R.L races take place on an actual racetrack, which gets segmented into several different circuits. Drift is basically a tight course on a rain soaked track, the player to rack up the most points through powerslides is the victor. Organic Drift races are kinda rare, and take the Drift races onto the city roads. Street X races are highly competitive, aggressive, short circuits around tight, technical tracks. Last up are the best of the bunch - Drag Races. The other races are strangely lacking in any sort of excitement. You can gain the lead early on and maintain it until the end, when a civilian taxi will appear in your path and you'll lose to some heap of junk VW Golf. This happens occasionally, with the civilian traffic being very, very sparse, and seeming being on the road to get in your way. The handling of the cars are a strange mix of arcade and simulation. The game hurls up lots of hairpins and even awards you for powerslides and traffic weaving with extra shots of Nitrous, but if you even attempt a powerslide mid-race, you'll be overtaken. The benefit is far outweighed by the cost, therefore it's better to stick to the racing line and use the brakes. The game serves up a quite in-depth Tuning/Dyno section, where you can tinker with the bits under the bonnet to your hearts content. It really isn't needed to win a race, but if you feel it makes a difference, then it's there for you.

Back to those Drag Races. These are by far the best races in the entire game. Although they're all in a straight line, and the only turning you do is hitting left/right to switch lanes to avoid traffic, the competitiveness and adrenaline pumps through the pistons until the finish line. It's all about timing your gearshifts. Rev up the engine 'til the needle of the on-screen speedometer flashes green, attempt to hold it still (very tough) then put the pedal to the metal when the girl with the flares drops her arms. You're given full manual gear control for the Drag Races, and timing the gearshifts is everything. If you move behind another competitor's car, you can slide into their slipstream, and be awarded with some extra NOS and speed. Hit the NOS too early, and you'll fizzle out... hit it at the right time, and the rival cars will be in your dust.

Another strange one are the Outrun races. The map shows where your rivals are "cruising". Pull up along side, and they challenge you to a game of cat and mouse. The first to get 1000ft ahead of the other is the winner. Now here's the kicker - the only way to win is to hope the other guy crashes, and to not crash yourself. On several occasions, I've been over 900ft ahead of the guy, on a freeway doing 180mph in an Audi TT, then inexplicably, he manages to catch up? How is he doing this?!? Then when you win, you're treated to the stupid phonecall from them... "yo dawg that was phat, but you youngster's not takin' my rep, you got to respect me" etc etc. Oh and you get £100, that should buy you... oh.. er... well nothing.

Okay, here's the thing - the car modification in the game is great. A lot of detail and attention has been piled on this. But this leaves the actual racing coming up short. There's no sort of progression through the game to speak of. You unlock different parts of the city, sure, but this just means more races, and when the races are all far too similar, what's the point? It would have been so easy to include some sort of boss enemies - maybe rival racers who want to put you in your place spring up every so often, and challenge you to a race for the pink-slip to your car. But the game can't have that - there's no danger here what-so-ever. You enter a race free-of-charge, yet somehow you're eligible for the cash prize. There is no pink-slip racing, where the loser is awarded the winner's car. Somewhat thankfully, there are no police, as I mentioned, the civilian cars are annoying. But then, isn't that what the whole underground racing scene is about - danger, the constant threat from Johnny Law, high speed races through city streets... it just feels like a car modding game with some races bolted on, just so you have something to do with your vehicles. The map comes with a nice GPS system that actually directs you down roads, not just points in the general direction of your target.

As for the actual car modding, it's actually excellent. There's practically everything you could wish for available (at some stage in the game) to weld onto your car. A huge selection of tyres, rims, spinners... gauges, neon underglow, hydraulics, engine neon, trunk neon, trunk kickers & amps... split hoods, Lambo doors (these take a bit of work to unlock)... hood scoops, roof scoops, bumpers, lights, even wing mirrors, window tint.... a huge selection of paint, decals, designs ... it's all here. If you want to take a Hummer H2, chrome it out, add purple neon, 4 huge subwoofers in the trunk, huge spinner rims, hydraulics... you can.

The selection of cars is also impressive. You start out with basic models that your parents probably drive, soon you have access to Toyota Supras, Nissan Skylines, Mitsubishi Lancer Evos, Escalades etc. The new SUV range for Underground 2 adds some diversity. At first, it's like trying to pilot a snowplough around the windy streets of Bayview... when you pump around £30,000 into it... it's still like trying to pilot a snowplough around the streets... but now it looks cool! And people can't see you behind your tinted windows driving a souped up snowplough. That's always a good thing.

Your garage only has space for several cars, so it's not a case of Gran Turismo collect-every-vehicle, it's more about choosing which ones you want to keep and which you want to swap for a new one. If you've put a few thousand into a car, then suddenly a more desirable ride becomes available, be prepared to lose all that cash, there's no way to recoup it, and then you're stuck with a stock car... but you must trade up to better handling/speed.

At some periods, you'll be given the opportunity to appear on a DVD/magazine cover. This is basically how it goes - get to the yellow star on the map, which will then tell you to get to some other point in the city in about 2 minutes, then you can take a photo. And that's it. Is there any point to this? Not really. All you get for this is a little more cash, nothing much. The game also has an SMS system, where Rachel (the game's girl, played by Brooke Burke/Kelly Brook) messages you, alerting you when a new part has been delivered to one of the various shops. Other racers will sometimes call you on your cellphone, telling you there's a race "somewhere near the airport". This is practically useless. Also, whenever you enter a race, the pre-race stat screen has some dialogue by one of the rival racers. It goes something like this ... "Yo dog, your ride is fly, but you gots to put the rubber on the track to gets the respect around here". No further comment.

As for the whole graphics of the game, they're really quite impressive. You can drive around the whole city - it's admittedly pretty large, think about the size of Vice City from GTA - without a single loading time. For some bizarre reason, the entire city seems to be bathed in perpetual darkness - it's never daytime!! I guess it makes your car look nicer in the dark or something? The city is divided up into a few sections - the neon soaked inner city where you start, the winding hills to the north, and the coal district to the south (it's like the rest of the city, only browner). The city has a kind of soft pastel vibe going on. Although the city is soft, the cars are a more high res affair. The vehicles look rather nice, easily on par with Burnout3's racers. The civilian cars are terrible though, they're like Tetris blocks with wheels. There's no car damage either, which is probably a good thing - considering the game's bizarre gender confusion (can't decide if it's a sim or an arcade game), it would probably make you drive around to a Body Shop to get it fixed every time... veeery annoying. The game does, however, have a lovely rain effect. The car's headlights blurring through the downpour are great.

The game's choice of music is the traditional rock/hip-hop garbage. Not that rock/hip-hop is garbage, but there's nothing on here that you want to listen to. Often, it's just some whiny punk guy screaming into a microphone type stuff. You can purchase a complete audio setup for your car - woofers, kickers, amps, subs, monitors etc. - which does... wait for it.... nothing at all! I really don't care for the music, it's best turned right down. The sound effects are average. That is all.

Longevity? Well there's a decent chunk of your month gone unlocking everything. If you decide to keep playing that long though, is up to how tedious the overly repetitive nature of the races gets to you. You can join various sponsors, which does.... wait for it... waiiiit..... nothing! You saw that coming, huh. All the sponsors do is spawn more races, and give you a little extra cash for winning them. Is there a point to it? The developer seems to have put 80% of it's efforts into getting the car-modding down (and they've done it very well, fair credit to them), and the last 20% going "oops we forgot to work on the actual racing".

Buy or rent? I'd say rent. If you just want to mod up a Hummer H2, rent it for a weekend, plug in the cheat-codes, and mod it up to the nines (what the hell does "the nines" mean? Maybe I heard it in the game...) Wait for Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition, which seems to have good racing as well as car modding included on one disk!

Graphics : 7/10
+ cars are excellent
- city is kinda drab and lacking any life/soul

Sound: 6/10
+ nice exhaust noises?
- .... someone may like it

GamePlay: 6/10
+ car modding is top-notch...
- the races aren't though...

Re-playability: 5/10
+ tonnes of car parts to unlock
- it's unlikely you'd want to go through it again

I liked:
- the car modding. It really is in-depth, everything's here.
- the drag races. Fast and indeed very furious.
- it's online (although I didn't try the online mode)

I hated:
- stupid civilian traffic get out of my way damnit!!!!
- the races are repetitive and dull.
- the races are repetitive and dull.
- the races are repetitive and dull. (ba-dum-chaa!)
- driving around trying to get to the shops (quick-select menu needed!)
- total lack of... anything in the city

The graphics on the cars are nice, the races are pants. There. I said it.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 01/18/05

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