Need For Speed Underground 2 Review (Xbox)
"Need for Speed" has survived the times. Just like Madonna (in a lasting way), the "Need for Speed" series has been able to evolve and continue its existence as a fun racing product. The latest evolution to the game is the incorporation of the “underground” street racing scene, and borrow liberally from the success of the movie "The Fast and The Furious". Last year’s incarnation was a success. This year, EA's game is a much deeper and ultimately, a much more enjoyable experience; assuming you can get past the cheesy cut-scenes and poor voice acting.
"NFSU2" is a pure and simple arcade racer, but the game has incorporated more customization options to keep you coming back for more. If you were expecting a "street" version of "Gran Turismo", then you'll be disappointed. Although you can’t go as tweak-happy as you would on Sony’s “driving simulator”, you will get enough options to make modifying your ride an enjoyable experience and then some if you want to delve into modifying minute details of your car(s).
The game is set in a wide-open city named Bayview. This is set up in the same way as "Midnight Club", which is to say the city is "alive" while you drive around looking for races. The object is simple; win races, earn money, gain a reputation and continuously upgrade your rides. If you win a race, you'll earn money. If you lose a race, you'll lose it. Depending on how big a lead you've had on the competition, you'll gain a set amount of "rep" points. Higher "rep" will get you noticed by sponsors, which will open up more unlockables (parts and more cars). The beauty of the game is in how the races are set up and the game can be as deep and as complex as you want to make it.
There are several modes in the main menu. But the main mode you'll be using is Explore mode; this is a "sandbox" - go-anywhere-at-any-time setup, which lets you play out your career and drive around the city; while discovering shortcuts that you can use in races, as well as hidden shops which can offer modifications for you to purchase and install. At first, you can use the GPS system to show you the way to a race or particular location. In the beginning, this option helps out tremendously, as the map can be difficult to interpret at times. The World Map lets you skip all the driving (in case you don’t like driving around town) and go straight to the races. You will be able to store up to five cars in your garage, so you'll be able to mix and match several types of racers just for that special occasion.
There are several different kinds of race types that were in last year’s game: circuit races, drag races, sprints, and drift races. Circuit races are lap-based races where you drive through a part of the city. Drag races allow you to run the quarter mile while using your shifting skills to finish in the top spot. Sprints are races from one point to another, and drift races allow you to use drifting techniques to earn points while racing a through a slippery track. There is an additional race that has been included in this year’s game, "Street X" races, which are a combination of regular and drift races.
In addition to all this, "NFSU2" has taken a page from other racing games and added an "Out-run" mode. You'll up behind a racer that you've found on your map, he'll flash his brakes, and once you push the directional pad up - you're off. The purpose here is simply to take the lead and put enough distance between you and your opponent through any means possible, and you can basically go wherever you want as long as you try to lose the racer.
As mentioned earlier, "Need for Speed" is more of an arcade racer, especially when it comes to car physics. There is no car damage whatsoever, and when you're racing, no matter how big an accident you may cause, you'll simply fall behind. There's no engine damage either - simply a "Burnout"-styled slow-motion scene to make the crash much more dramatic. The AI is very weak. You'll most likely stay in the lead, but you'd better stay on your toes, because as soon as you make one little mistake, you will be overtaken, and it usually happens at the end of a race. Since these races can take six or seven minutes of gaming time each, this can prove terribly frustrating. However, if you're running behind, you can catch up to the AI racers almost without trying.
The options available to modify your car are plentiful. You'll have the ability to change the look of your car by painting it a different color, placing all sorts of decals and stickers in many different places, and much more. This part of the game is extremely fun, and it’s very easy to make your car look either totally ridiculous or the envy of all the kids on your block. Each visual modification has a numeric value which will add up and affect the rating of your car; and ultimately, a higher visual rating will help you unlock more goodies and show up on magazine covers. Engine modifications such as intakes, as well as more standard upgrades like brakes and tires, will help the car handle better and go even faster.
GRAPHICS & AUDIO
The game is pretty. It has been given a noticeable visual upgrade from the last version. Cars are more detailed, locations are more vivid, and the motion blur at top speeds still works wonderfully. However, not all is well in Bayview. The city is lifeless; and other than a few cars driving here and there, and the “Out-run" cars constantly driving faster than normal; there are no pedestrians, an anything else to make the city fell vital. It’s just you, a few other cars, and the buildings. Because of this, you'll never truly feel a part of the “underground” scene that EA is trying to portray. You're really just driving around and occasionally bumping into races. The actual presentation is odd, as well. EA went for the comic book/"Max Payne" look, and it’s downright hokey. EA appears to have gone over what's considered "cool" so many times that they went right over the “cool” edge and crash-landed in "B-Movieville". Brooke Burke, who plays "Rachel" in the game, is arguably the most annoying person I have ever heard. She sounds like she is reading directly from a cue card the entire time. If people in the racing scene actually spoke like this, it never would have become popular in the first place. Other games might be a bit over the top, but nothing like this. It’s just not Ms. Burke, either; every voice you hear will begin to grate on you - often even worse than the last. The over-embellished story is not well served by the disconnected storylines and trite dialogue. It gets old, and it gets old fast.
The engine sounds have the low bass rumble you'd expect to hear, and modding your cars will also change the way the car sounds. As in other games, the engine and car noises do not get in the way of the game, but are pleasant enough for those looking for the throaty noises from their souped-up rides. EA has included 24 tracks to listen to while racing; and they can flow from Terror Squad's "Lean Back" to a re-mixed version of “Nothing But You” from Paul van Dyk. EA may be trying to cater to too many different musical tastes, and so the soundtrack ultimately ends up falling short due to the lack of songs for any particular taste. Adding insult to injury is the lack of custom soundtrack inclusion on the Xbox. It could have made a world of positive difference for this title, and its absence is simply inexcusable on EA's part.
The multiplayer offered by "NFSU2" is pretty standard stuff. You can set up races with different settings, or you can use the "Free Run" mode which lets you simply drive around the city with friends. Up to six players can play together online, and play is mostly lag-free. World-wide rankings and stats are on display for your viewing pleasure and to help you with picking a race type suited for your tastes.
There's a lot crammed into this DVD. "NFSU2" can provide you with roughly 40 hours of game play depending on how honed your driving skills are. Ultimately, the game is a solid arcade racer which you'll likely enjoy for a good while. If you can get past the mediocre dialogue and presentation, you'll find "NFSU2" as one of the better arcade racers available.