Need for Speed Underground 2
Last Year's Need For Speed: Underground pretty much came out of nowhere, resuscitating a flagging brand while simultaneously kickstarting the whole car modification genre. A shrewd move by EA - it's a huge market, with top-selling magazines featuring a winning combination of neon piss-flaps and impressionable young girls exposing their breasts. The bestselling racing game of 2003, it was no surprise to learn that a sequel would follow, and you can bet your modified camshaft that as you read these words, an anonymous game factory is currently slaving away on number three.
In a break with EA tradition, this sequel does actually differ slightly from the previous game. Whereas Need For Speed: Underground was a largely abstract series of events, number two embraces the current trend for so-called emergent gameplay', placing the action in a living, breathing' city, with even a vague storyline to back it up.
Arriving in the fictional city of Bay View following an unsavoury incident six months previously, a car is waiting for you at the airport. No sooner have you put the keys in the ignition than some Doris comes on the blower telling you to give her car back. Voiced by Brooke Burke, her CV also involves appearing naked for the gratification of men. In the game, she's a sassy broad' who introduces you to Bay View's thriving underground racing scene.
In time-honoured fashion, you start the game with a nice little runner. It may be adequate for picking up a selection of lonely meals from Sainsbury's, but it doesn't really cut the mustard in the high-stakes world of street racing. Some low-grade races soon earn you a few quid though, enabling you to pimp your ride, tweaking the performance as well as earning points for artistic merit, thus eventually securing magazine covers.
It's a tried and tested format, but one that works supremely well in this instance. Simply touring around the enormous city is a joy in itself, with a map directing you to the various shops and races, of which three new types are added. The story won't win any Oscars, particularly as it also features a cameo from Kelly Brook, but it does make it more of a rounded experience than previously. Musically, the EA Trax are again in full effect, this time featuring less hip hop and more shouting.
Ultimately though, it's all about the racing, which is rarely less than gripping. For an arcade game, it's even surprisingly playable with a steering wheel, with near misses causing no small amount of amateurish flinching. If you can't afford to attach largely pointless gadgets to your otherwise moribund vehicle, this is the next best thing.
Download Need for Speed Underground 2
If I hadn't spent the greater part of the last few months playing Burnout 3: Takedown I would have loved Need for Speed Underground 2, and in many ways Electronic Arts latest racer is better than Takedown, but just not in the ways that matter most to me.
Underground 2 is all about street racing and it excels at giving you a world of options for tinkering with your ride and having pick-up races however I just didn't find the mechanics that appealing and the story line seemed absolutely flat to me.
If you're an absolute gear-head, there is no question you are going to love this game. You can purchase and upgrade parts for everything from your engine to your exhaust system. You can even tinker with the look of your car with new spoilers, neon kits and rims.
The game itself is not nearly as exciting. While there are 125 miles of road to tool around searching for pick-up races, cash and plot, there's still not much to do on the roadway. Instead of adding to the game, this addition of more space feels like it waters down the original game, making it a weak-sister imitation.
The best add-on to the game, online play, is fairly stable and gives players a lot more to do but just doesn't go far enough to make this game shine in a year of blockbuster games. In addition, the game's graphics and sound are both solid, but again far from anything worth talking about.
The game does excel in one way: marketing. I've never seen so much product placement in one game, from billboard lined streets, to name-brand fast food restaurants to a well-known cell phone interface; this game is the master at selling everything but itself.
If you're just a fan of console racing, then Underground 2 isn't for you. If you're a gear-head into the street scene that is willing to put up with a lot of play to get to the good stuff, then pick this bad boy up.