Need For Speed: Underground
It's Time to trade in the Ray-Bans and Soft Rock driving anthems CD for a puffa jacket and earrings, because, as those rear-window stickers of many a teenage Nova SRi driver proclaim, Need For Speed is on a mission. Yes, whereas the previous NFS outing, Hot Pursuit 2, indulged us with Ferrari fantasies amid the rolling hills of a tropical fantasy world, Need For Speed Underground follows Rockstar's Midnight Club II down to the dirty, neon-soaked streets of the urban sprawl - without the needless violence, of course.
More than 20 motors from Max Power favourites Subaru, Mitsubishi, Toyota and more can be souped-up with everything from InGen' engine chips and Nitrous Express Inc' boosters, to plain old panel stickers. All these strap-ons are available in the real world too, so it's sure to appeal if you spend your weekends fitting neon underlighting to Ford Capris for burnouts in Asda's car park.
You start out with a small amount of cash, enough to buy a somewhat sluggish Golf GTi or Mazda MX-5. Win races and you'll earn more lolly for engine upgrades etc, and, eventually, a better car. All simple enough. There are three prime racing styles: Street, Drag and Drift, and these are scattered across 100-odd challenge stages, increasing in difficulty as you progress through the game.
Street racing parades the new graphics engine at its best, offering multi-lap blasts against a handful of cunning opponents. Every race is set in the city at night, so the courses demand absolute concentration. Hot Pursuit's shortcuts make a welcome return, while sprawling city centre junctions transform into single-lane back alleys at the turn of a corner.
When you peel out for the first time, you'll be genuinely impressed at the leap forward in terms of speed and graphics over its somewhat sluggish predecessors. In 1024x768, the game (running on a pukka PC) totally shats on anything you'll see in console land. Project Gotham 2? Pah!
Feel The Need?
The last three NFS games - Porsche Unleashed, Hot Pursuits and HP2 - were too slow, so it's good to see Black Box drawing inspiration from the best street racing games out there, namely Burnout and Project Gotham (both console-only). We particularly like the new speed effects, such as blurring scenery and shaky cam' once you thunder past 10Omph in the Drag races. Plus, there's also the chance to earn style points for dangerous power-slides. The Al's much more forgiving too, with competing machines swerving and shunting just enough to frustrate - unlike those bloody cops in Hot Pursuit 2, who nudged you into a spin with irritating regularity.
Heck, it's all sounding pretty favourable for Underground. Is it better than Midnight Club II, then? Streets ahead. In fact, it's up there with McRae as a highly recommended drive.
Download Need For Speed: Underground
Like some sort of car-based videogame version of Madonna, the Need for Speed series likes to reinvent itself every few years. This time, it's left behind the Smokey and the Bandit-style police chases of Hot Pursuit in favor of late-night street racing, which, as legions of suburbanites driving lowered Civics can attest, is so hot right now. The biggest change to Underground, though, is visual. A lot of work has gone into conveying a sense of speed through camera shake and blur effects, and the result is pretty amazing. It's something you can't appreciate until you see the game in motion, but when you do you'll wonder why other games haven't done it before--and you won't be surprised when, a year from now, everyone has 'borrowed' the technique. Other aspects of Underground are less innovative. You'll follow a linear progression of races, unlocking upgrades along the way, but it's odd--even though you'll be flush with cash, you can't buy even minor add-ons like tinted windows until the game lets you. The tracks are also quite repetitive; the game takes place in a single city, and the same bits show up in one race after another. Still, the actual racing can be intensely fun. The drift races are especially good--these style-point challenges take place on special tracks and are the best way to get a feel for the handling differences between cars. If you're in the market for a fast, arcadey racer, check out this little number.
If, like me, you're interested in import tuning, but lack the cash to build (and insure) a competitive car, you can't do much better than this. From tail lights to tinted windows, body kits to bumpers, everything's tweakable, and you'll spend hours dressing up your four-wheeled doll. Performance, of course, is more important than appearance, and Underground boasts better handling than any other arcade racer. It's also faster. As you barrel down back alleys burning nitrous, the camera wobbles and lights smear to expertly simulate reckless speed. Demian's dead-on about the upgrade system, though. The biggest risks in street racing are taken with your wallet, yet you'll never face a difficult decision when writing a check for your next secret weapon in these races.
Forget about Midnight Club II. Take it from someone who's studied that silly Vin Diesel movie frame by frame: Underground is, without a doubt, the best approximation there is to Hollywood's rendition of illegal street racing. This game captures perfectly the illicit thrills and cocky one-upmanship of fringe racing. By combining real-life autos and aftermarket parts with totally unrealistic--but ultimately fun--car physics, Underground is a unique adrenaline rush through a psychedelic neon wonderland. The game's success rides largely on the way it constantly rewards you with goodies for your car, from performance mods to cosmetic makeovers. Underground is an awesome way to revive this aging franchise.