Review by Turkus2

"Are you ready to make YOUR car?"

Need for Speed: Underground looks to do something Electronic Arts hasn't done in a long time: Take a chance. The Need for Speed series has always had an illegal open-streets formula that has worked for quite a long time. However, it has always been set in an upper-class unreachable fantasy formula (most, if not all, of the cars are virtually unattainable - highlighting with such brands as Lambourghini, Ferrari, Porsche, and McLaren). Underground looks to shake things up and cash in on the low-budget world of import street racing. Budget cars with budget parts that make your car not only look fast, but move equal to its flare. The advantage of this title over previous Need for Speed installments is that the subject matter is VERY relatable. Thus, with an already solid premise, Underground scores in far more areas than it doesn't.

Noteworthy Features:

- One extensive urban environment modeled after a retro-fictitious Los Angeles.
- 20 budget cars, fit for tuning.
- Underground, Drag, Sprint, Knockout, Circuit, Drift, and Tournament modes. Drag, Sprint, Knockout, Circuit, Tournament, and Drift are all utilized during Underground Mode.
- Hundreds of fully licensed aftermarket ground effects, spoilers, stickered logos, performance engine and suspension parts, and paint schemes.
- Huge support from import racing magazines including a feature that inserts your car onto their covers after certain accomplishments.
- No online/system link support
- No custom soundtracks
- No Instant Replay

GAMEPLAY (35 points)
Underground suffers from the same problem all racing games with one large environment suffer from: repetition in track design and thus, repetition in gameplay. No matter how many races you do, you feel you've done them before (and chances are, you have seen every inch of this city midway through Underground mode). However, Underground combats monotonous track design with an excellent mini-game: updating your car. With countless amounts of body combinations, your car can go from one end of the spectrum to the other in one session. Whether you have just unlocked new rims, new paint types, new body parts, new performance parts, or a whole new machine, you will spend more hours upgrading and tinkering with the licensed parts on your car than you will racing. And even after you've done that, there are several different race modes that will keep you interested (you'll find that you will hate the later sprints, circuits, and knockouts, and LONG for the much more rare drag and drift races).

How about the racing? Probably some of the most dramatic racing you'll ever be involved in (depending on how good you are at the higher difficulties of NASCAR games) due in no small part to the cinematic cuts during the race. Whenever you get insane amounts of air or hit oncoming traffic and flip in the air uncontrollably, you get a ''2 or 10 o'clock camera view of the action in slow motion. The effect is extremely well done and hardly ever detracts from your ability to race.

Physics are a little suspect, with some collisions a little inconsistent, but the core racing instincts are there and the cars react accordingly. All based off a very solid Need for Speed engine (and the gravitational pull of the walls was scrapped - thank God).

The only REAL drawback? No instant replay. At all. None. Not even an option to watch the race over or anything. Given the extremely useful nature of the Xbox's hard drive, this ''lack of'' hurts NFS more than it helps. With as many crashes, jumps, and incredibly tight straightaways that somehow manage to fit in three or four cars - replay was a must and this game didn't have it. You'll also find that when you narrowly escape certain doom during a drag race, a replay would be an amazing one...only to realize there isn't a replay.
(32/35 points)

GRAPHICS (30 points)
Little-to-no problems. Underground uses an incredibly glitzy and flashy environment that blurs at high speed and sparks when interacted with. The cars have excellent reflections and everything you do to your car is there. Its also nice to see other cars with enhancements, to give you ideas on what to do with yours.

No slowdown, complete draw distance (there's never really a time where you'll be in a position to see great distances...but the everything you can see, you do. No cars materializing on the track fifteen feet in front of you. The game has the visual package that not many expect from a 3rd party title (much less an EA title).
(28/30 points)

No system link kills this game. With as many arcade games out now that utilize a multi-station race setup, this game needed it, especially for the drag races. As it is, Underground has split-screen multiplayer that isn't much to speak about, but it DOES have the option to tune any car with any part you buy and then save it to your personal collection. 20 cars, thousands of parts, you do the match. You can make a whole lot of fun rides and you WILL.
(15/20 points)

SOUND (15 points)
The sound in Need for Speed is the best in its class. With a pretty high-octane soundtrack (though it IS missing custom soundtrack support which would have been extremely nice for the menus), the game delivers a consistent nighttime environment with all the nuances of import racing culture. Nice choices.

The best portion of Underground's sound score is by and far the environment effects. While engines have relatively similar sounds (the only noticeable difference being that a few of the V6's have a much more throaty growl), the sounds OUTSIDE the car are what make this game score so high. When you get into the upper echelons of your cars speed limits, you'll hear objects fly by, cars whisp through the air like weightless objects, and low-hanging beams zoom past the camera. The effect in the drag races and in one back alley straightaway pumps the adrenaline and gets the gasoline flowing through your veins. I'd give Underground 16 sound points if I really is THAT big of an element to this game.
(15/15 points)

TOTAL SCORE = 90/100

Underground has style and customizability left over to spare. Few regrets in this game, though I'd easily say the biggest one is the serious lack of instant replay. Other than that skid mark, this game manages to pack in the most realistic budget-car racing experience in the world. With the option of possibly having an expansion pack with more cars (perhaps older and newer iterations of each car), this franchise only stands to improve. Great sound, great gameplay with many different types of driving, and the customizability of making your ride truly your own, Underground is one of the premiere racers on the market.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/22/04

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