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Need for Speed Underground
Platform:  Windows
# of Players:  1-4
Developer:  EA Black Box
Publisher:  EA Games
Features:  Online Play
Ratings:  Everyone
Memory Req.:  
The Need for Speed series is a series that constantly demands attention because it continues to evolve in quality with each release. Need for Speed Underground is no exception. Dropping the ďHot PursuitĒ theme of the last game, Underground throws the player into the world of the street racing cult. At first, I just thought that EA Black Box had done this to cash in on the popularity of the whole Fast and the Furious type racing. But after playing this game, itís quite evident that a lot of effort went into making this the best NFS yet, and for the most part, they have succeeded.

Underground features basically no story except with random people popping up to insult you or tell you what you need to do next. Fortunately, this is fine because a game like this doesnít really need some type of narrative, just to know youíre climbing your way up and trying to create the ultimate racing machine.

The gameís automobile selection consists of mainly regular cars, mid-range and compact cars that you see people driving around nearly everyday. These include the Dodge Neon, Ford Focus, Mazda Miata, Subaru Impreza, Honda Tiburon, and much more. New cars for you to trade your old one in for constantly become unlocked as the game progresses through the large 111 race objectives that Underground throws at you.

These 111 objectives are all in the Underground Mode, the heart of the game. This follows you as you start from scratch and build up your ride however you want until you get the best car out there. The customization is very deep, and features all name brand products in just about every area you can think of. But because this is street racing, the engine and tires arenít the only things that need upgrading. You can install neon, custom paint jobs, vinyl, and decals, basically everything you can think of. Customizing the spoiler, side panels, bumper, etc. gets you points which boosts other racersí respect of you.

So the customization is great, but how does the actual racing play out? For the most part, itís a blast. First of all, the sense of speed is definitely here as you fly through the tracks barely even able to see things going by you or where you are going. Control of the car couldnít be better, as the handling is spot on and the drifting around corners works great. There are even style points that can be earned if you drift for a while, fly through the air after hitting a ramp, nearly hit traffic, etc. This also adds another level of depth to a great game.

The racing types themselves can be mainly grouped into three types: Drift, Drag, and Race. The Drift mode throws you into a drift track alone and has you trying to powerslide your way to the end to rack up as many points as possible. The Drag mode is exactly what it sounds like: a drag race to the finish line. Speeds get so fast here that even if you nick a car you are automatically totaled and lose the race. You also have to worry about shifting properly and know when to use your Nitrous. Racing is where the real fun is at, and presents enough racing types at you so that the game never gets to boring. There are tournaments, plain races, knock-out, and racing from Point A to Point B to see who can get there first.

And while this all sounds great, there are a few annoyances that Underground has that really did nothing but aggravate the hell out of me. For one, I donít know what city this takes place in, but please show me where traffic behaves in this manner. I am talking cars that will literally turn into you just because you are next to them, ruining your chances at even considering taking a first place finish. And itís not like this happens once or twice so it doesnít matter, the stupid traffic that Black Box put in gets ridiculous.

Thereís also a nice ďfeatureĒ the game has that zooms out whenever you get into a crash to make it look really cool in slow motion. By about the tenth race, this was unbelievably annoying to be right in front of a finish line and have some car pull straight through an intersection, stop in front of you, and ruin it for you. Thatís right, I have had cars drive through and intersection and stop directly in front of me as if they were willing to sacrifice themselves just so I couldnít win the race. And itís not like you can swerve around them because you are going so fast that you donít know itís coming until it is too late.

Finishing all 111 tasks is a very daunting accomplishment alone, and itís not helped by the games monotony that appears about half-way through. The entire game takes place in the same city, on the same streets, and in the same areas from beginning to end. Racing around the same exact few blocks throughout the entire game with the only difference being a "mirror" of the track and going on the same exact path does not equal variety and most definitely does not equal fun. Also, it's hard to believe that streets could be slick and wet every night throughout a cityís existence, but in NFS, it happens. Another small complaint is that the racer AI, while strong most of the time, definitely has a tendency to be all over the board. All three racers can be in a massive crash behind you, only to magically catch up after you have raced a perfect, accident free race and give you a fight to the finish line. Riiiight.

The other main mode besides the single player Underground mode is the interesting Online mode. Only available for us PC owners and PS2 gamers, it allows four players to race in the different race modes presented in the single player game. This isnít just an online mode that is tacked on as an afterthought, though, as the developers have definitely put some thought and effort into it. Certain upgrades and features can only be unlocked from playing opponents online, and thereís also a weekly leader board to see how you stack up against other racers. I thought it was really neat when I was about to race someone, checked out his car, and the game told me my chances of winning. Of course, they werenít very good, so I went anyway and got my ass kicked. I also really like that traffic has been erased from this mode, as any point where the stupid traffic isnít present in this game is a very good thing.

And then thereís the fact that Need for Speed Underground may be one of the best looking racers I have ever played. On the PC, I played it on a Radeon 9800 PRO and it ran so smooth and looked so amazing that it was hard to believe. The car models, environments, lighting effects, particle effects, everything looks fantastic. The game also sports a very cool blur effect that takes place when you are going super-fast or hit the turbo boost button that really gives an amazing sense of speed.

The game has that EA Trax soundtrack, which of course throws a bunch of rappers and a bunch of rockers at us that will probably never go anywhere. With such amazing performers as Blindside, Story of the Year, a song by Rancid off their horrid new CD, this soundtrack is just brimming with quality. No, seriously, there are a few good ones. I enjoyed the Rob Zombie song, Lilí Jon is always great, and a couple others were alright. Some people will probably like it, but then again, those people are probably just hitting puberty.

Another year, another Need for Speed. What I think is so cool is how this franchise could be turned around so quickly in about a year to something completely different than we have seen before. Everything about this game is slick, from the visuals to the awesome gameplay, Need for Speed Underground is a title that shouldnít be missed.


Chris George

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