|The original Need for Speed Underground blew up the charts when it was released late last year both here and abroad, so as with any successful game, a sequel was pushed into production for the strangely customary one-year turnaround. Underground 2 improves upon the illegal street racing laurels in the first game and attempts to incorporate the hottest trend, open-end gameplay, to generally good results. |
In the game you take on the persona of street racer who must start from the bottom and make his way up the ranks in the expansive city of Bayview a combination of various Californian cities and Las Vegas (why does that sound familiar)? Once you land in Bayview you are contacted by the local "mistress" of the underground, Rachel Hunter (Brooke Burke), who weans you into the scene and sends you text messages alerting you to new events and races. As a racing game, NFS Underground 2 is a solid contender. The game boasts excellent graphics, great sound and music, and generally well-developed control for each of the game's authentic cars, but did we really need a backstory to explain why you are tearing up the streets and modifying your rice-burner? I'm sure there will be some, who can forgive EA for attempting to try something new, and I'm one of them, but the inclusion of the story, told mostly in comic book form, is odd and feels out of place. This is amplified, especially, with the lame voice acting provided by Burke. I think I've finally had enough games with bad grammar and character calling me 'dawg.'
When you aren't laughing at the dialog you will be zooming around 100+ miles of streets in the open city of Bayview. Like some other game series, new parts of the city will open as you progress through the game. For the most part the open-ended city works well, because you now have the ability to practice on the courses, which will be variations of the streets you drive on, and get those drifts perfect. The game's career mode is where you take your character exploring around the city making money and earning respect among your peers to get better rides and progress through the game. To do this you will compete in a variety of events including, circuit, sprint, drag, drift, Street X, and URL (Underground Racing League). With the exception of URL, these events allow you to earn money by racing opponents while the URL races, which take place in real stadiums and racetracks, progress the game's story.
To find all these races, Underground 2 comes equipped with a map which color codes each type of race and allows you to activate your car's GPS system. When the system is activated a blue arrow appears directing you when to turn and guiding you to your destination. The map, while useful, has some limitations. While other games in the genre allowed you to jump right to the racing location, Underground 2 makes you drive to the location yourself which could turn some pick-up-and-play gamers off due to the vastness of the completely opened city. A "Jump to" option would have been welcomed greatly.
While racing around Bayview you will be treated to some excellent looking surroundings. The world around you, even shrouded in perpetual darkness, looks great and presents lots of pretty scenery to distract your driving habits. The changing weather pattern only enhances the world once you realize you aren't cursed to drive on rain-drenched streets like the game's predecessor.
Scattered around the city are garages and mod-shops which will provide a variety of services for you and your vehicle. Each car is rated on a star system, so the more stars you have, the more notice your vehicle will take by magazine and DVD publishers. This comes in handy when you are signed by a sponsor who requires you make it on at least one cover as an obligation to your contract. To up this rating visual-mod garages allow you to alter hoods, rims, spoilers, side-skirts, bumpers, paint color, etc. The abundance of options to customize the fully licensed cars is staggering, easily beating out other contenders in the genre. Once the outside gets the attention of those in power, you might want to add something a bit faster under the hood; after all, this is a Need for Speed game. Separate garages will allow you to modify the contents of the car's engine including adding nitrous and fuel-management systems for that little extra oomph at the end of the race. After your car looks and feels the part its time to take it to the Dyno and test track which allow you to measure raw horsepower and torque.
One of the more controversial, and equally intrusive, additions to the game is the flagrant product-placement to the point where it becomes part of the game's interface. Most of us have learned to accept the fact that giant billboards advertising Red Bull or Best Buy are going to be a common occurrence in the gaming landscape, and for some games, like Underground 2, that's okay. However, the use of a cellular phone company's logo as an intricate part of the gamers window into the game is just tacky. Adding insult to injury is the text messages that come across telling you to locate races and garages located near establishments baring the name of advertisers. Say what you want about an immersive gaming experience, I'll stick to a fantasy-oriented world where Burger Shot and Well-Stacked Pizza prevail.
The only other downfall of Underground 2 is the seemingly sporadic inclusion of artists in the EA Trax system. From Snoop Dogg singing with the Doors to a mix of hip-hop and punk-inspired cuts, the game is all over the board in an attempt at mass appeal. Luckily the tracks can be adjusted in the options menu giving you some control over your listening experience.
Need for Speed Underground 2 succeeded on overcoming some of the downfalls of its predecessor and presents a solid racer that is taken down a notch by the tawdry product-placement and minor game play shortcomings. Those looking to upgrade from last year's model, or presenting themselves as a first time buyer have something to look forward with if you can deal with your sudden urges to buy cellular products and shop at a giant electronics retailer.