“A radical change for a popular franchise”
Need for Speed from EA has been around a long, long time. Starting off with a game somewhat affiliated to Road and Track magazine, the franchise has grown to become one of the best known racing franchises on the market today. Lately however the games have seemed a little lacklustre and felt like they needed a boost. Well this new game has given the franchise that boost and Need for Speed is back and ready to take on all comers.
As mentioned in the introduction, Need for Speed has changed and many would say for the better. Instead of taking exotic cars such as Ferraris and Lambourghinis out for a spin on fictional tracks, EA went back to the drawing board. Noting popularity of films such as the Fast and the Furious no doubt they have crafted a game which lets your imagination somewhat run wild. There are a few game modes available for you to choose from with the main one being Go Underground. Others are fairly standard modes allowing you to select unlocked tracks, cars and parts to play a single race or against some friends.
Go Underground mode is most definitely the primary section of the game. You start off as a rookie and for the first race you are provided with a fairly hotted up car to prove to the underground scene that you are a top driver and deserve a crack at the tournaments which run. Having won this race you then have to decide which model car to use and from there its up to you to impress the others and move up the rankings. There are three disciplines in which you must conquer all; drag, circuit and drift.
The drag mode is an intense gaming experience. It's usually over within about 10 seconds but for those ten seconds the utmost concentration is required. In drag mode gear shifting is the key between first and last and therefore the game does not allow you to use automatic gears during these races. There is a point between gears where a perfect shift will occur, should you successfully perform this the car will get a slight boost in speed. It is easy to liken the drag mode to a futuristic version of frogger. You start in your own lane and can dodge and weave between traffic to get to the end. Hit something and your race is over and your car is totaled. Drag mode was probably our favourite mode in this game just because of the insane sense of speed which is portrayed.
Circuit mode is what we have come to expect from Need for Speed. Rev up your car and tackle some opponents in a race around the city for a number of laps. Memorisng the tracks is a core component of the circuit mode and towards the end it becomes more and more unlikely that you will be able to pass a race first go. Drift mode puts you into a closed arena track and you have to perform tricks and get the car sideways to boost up your points. As you go around the track you can see how many points the other cars have scored and can really put in a top effort for the last drift if required. Drift mode is arguably the hardest mode to complete in the game because linking combinations can become tough with the tighter and longer tracks.
There are twenty cars for you to choose from but some are only unlocked when you reach milestones in the Go Underground mode. Models from manufacturers such as Toyota (Celica), Mazda (RX7), Nissan (GTR) and others are included. The big difference between this game and other Need for Speed games comes to the fore here. You can customise your ride to a large degree in terms of both power and looks. Aftermarket parts are included and they are also licensed from manufacturers such as MOMO. Which parts you can add to your car is determined by how many style points you have which are gained by winning races and tournaments.
Need for Speed: Underground is a tough game and you won't finish it in a day, or even a few days without solid play for most of the time. At first you will come up against some tame AI and should win the races easily but once you move up the rankings and start to customise your car somewhat be prepared for a challenge. It is here where one of the games shortcomings rears its ugly head. Numerous times during circuit races we had been leading a race or closing on the leader only to come over the crest of a hill and crash into some traffic thus totally ruining our race. When a race is three or more laps it becomes a game of Russian roulette and trying to guess exactly where the traffic is going to be. It can be incredibly frustrating especially when ninety nine percent of the time it is sheer luck that you miss the traffic.
The developers haven't set the races in a real city which has allowed them to create some truly stunning and challenging tracks. The drag tracks feature ramps and jumps, and sometimes to win a race you will have to clear a locomotive moving full steam ahead. The draw distance is impressive and the lighting used on all the buildings and the street lights looks fantastic, especially the reflections on the road. The environments are somewhat destructible with you able to drive through powerpoles at speed and continue on your merry way without damage. That's probably one of the biggest gripes about the game is the lack of damage.
Visually the game is nothing short of stunning and its definitely one of the best looking PS2 racing games available. Having set the game in a fictional city you will see dazzling lights from buildings featured around the track and some tough sections of track to deal with. Some of the tracks are reused and form others which can help when trying to pass through a track for the first time. The car models are highly accurate and once they start getting customised with various parts look even better. On the sound side of things you will find a hip hop and R&B soundtrack which suits the game quite well and some beefy engines which sound different depending on the model of car and also how customised the car is in terms of power. One really nice sound effect is the gear changing especially in drag races once the cars have been customised significantly. The game can be played online via US servers with the PS2 online adapter and also split screen on a single PS2 console.
Need for Speed: Underground is exactly what the Need for Speed franchise needed to lift it out of the doldrums and back into the public spotlight. With licensed cars, fictional tracks and the ability to customise your car to one inch of its life, it truly will appeal to racing fans of all ages and disciplines. If you're looking for a game to tide you over till Gran Turismo 4 and don't mind a little less realism then that formidable franchise then Need for Speed: Underground may be right up your alley.