Review by foxtrot0

Reviewed: 12/07/03

A good game that is nearly destroyed by it's faults.

Imagine that you are cruising down a highway in a heavily modded Toyota Supra, with a Nissan 300SX alongside you, doing the same thing. Both cars are veritable works of art: Their chassis's barely rake the asphalt, with a faint blue neon glow emanating from the underside of either of them. There are weird, wispish markings of their side doors, which are pervaded by logos for various aftermarket modification firms. Both cars roar from the tension. The 300SX suddenly guns it's engine for half a second, pulling a few feet ahead of you, as though to issue a challenge. You do the same. A sign depicting an exit is a mile away is coming up. You both pass it at the same time, and you floor it. The Supra's engine screams with delight as it nears the redline. Oops! You hesitated to shift into 5th gear, which means you missed the speed boost for shifting perfectly and the 300SX immediately jumps ahead of you into a 3 second lead! Restart. Oops! You shifted perfectly this time, but a milk truck came out of nowhere, completely oblivious to your existence, and smashed into your passenger door at 80 miles an hour! Restart. Oops! You both shifted perfectly and dodged the milk truck this time, but because you missed a ramp, you weren't able to jump over a cargo train that also appeared to come out of nowhere, and you crash into the train at 200 miles an hour, causing you to go through the windshield and splatter your various internal organs all over the train car carrying circus animals! At this point, you just quit out of frustration and hand over 300 bucks to the owner of the 300SX, your head held down in shame.

Such is Need For Speed: Underground. This game, which is 7th in line of one of the most popular racing franchises out there, derails from what was previously well known about the franchise-exotic supercars, open European-style environments, cops, etc.-and instead opted to go into the huge underworld street racing culture, filled to the brink with rice burners, aftermarket upgrades, and of course psychopathic madmen who would kill you if they weren't under house arrest at that time. In many ways, this game is superior to previous Need For Speeds, but as the title suggests, the bad can overshadow the good at times.

First, let's focus on the good. The graphics are absolutely amazing in this game, despite being originally designed for PS2. The cars are beautifully pre-rendered. The water effects are beyond description. The cut-scenes, while cheesy to the point of making your TV start spewing Monterrey Jack out of the speaker holes, are also impressive. But what will really, really get you about this game is the sense of speed. I guarantee that you will experience total sensory overload at least once while playing this game. The sounds are so real that you will think that you have actually just passed an innocent bystander (i.e. traffic) at 120 mph while turning into a 90-degree corner. Going at those speeds also produce a strange blur around the outside of the screen, accompanied by the camera shaking spasmodically. This works to make you feel like you are, in fact, going very, very fast, and I have never seen anything like before in a video game.

Another great thing about this game is that, in addition to having the selection of pretty much every rice burner imaginable (going up from the girly Volkswagen Golf GTI to the much-coveted Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R), you can customize any one of these cars to your heart's delight with literally hundreds of visual and performance-related upgrades, providing you have unlocked them in the story mode. I believe that this feature reflects street racing more than anything else. If you ever decide to get into it, you will realize that there is an unimaginable amount of stuff you can load (or unload) onto your car. Weight reductions, bolt-on turbos, carbon-fiber hoods, the list can go on and on and on-just like Underground.

Now, remember how I said that there were ''certain things'' that almost ruin the game? Well, there's really only one thing that ruins the game: the absolutely horrid implementation of ''Rubberband A.I.''. And damn, does it ever ruin it. Note that despite the title, this is not artificial intelligence per se. Basically, how it works is that all the computer-controlled move along preprogrammed paths, with their speed being the only variable. How fast they go depends on how well or how bad you are doing. For some demented reason, the computer-controlled cars have been programmed to suddenly get an 800 mph speed burst if one of two things happens: 1) The human player is more than 4 seconds ahead of them, or 2) The human player crashes into something. The end result? You are punished for both doing well and doing badly. In the later races, this becomes so frustrating that there seems to be no point in continuing on, as the Rubberband AI has been taken to such an incredibly sadistic level that it is impossibly difficult to win. When you finally do win (usually on the 10-15th try), you don't get that exhilarated sense of victory-you feel lucky. That's what the game's later races are all about: Luck. You just have to hope that the AI will crash into something, or that the traffic is placed precisely so that you don't crash into them, or else you may as well restart and once again hope that chance will swing in your favor. Running perfect laps will do no good, as the computer-controlled cars will simply go faster.

So, in conclusion, Need For Speed Underground is a good game that could have been so much better had it had a little more fine-tuning. In fact, now that I think about it, that's how pretty much all of Electronic Arts's games are like. Strange, huh?

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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