Publisher: EA Games
Developer: EA Black Box
|FIMP: Need for Speed: Underground [PC]|
Need for Speed: Underground does what I presume games like Midnight Club have done -- bring the underground street racing scene to the videogame world. It does this by offering arcade-style racing in a gritty urban setting, while letting you upgrade and tweak your ride to your preferences so that you can go out and race on the street in style.
Because I don't have much of a predilection for sim racers, I'm ever so thankful that the gameplay in NFSU is more on the arcadey side, with power slides abound and un-sim-like controls. You get style points while driving for finding shortcuts, executing near-misses and power slides, drafting behind some schmuck in front of you and gaining hangtime on jumps. I like this -- it's one of the reason I like Burnout 2 as well, because it encourages stupid driving... which I'm prone to behind the real wheel. I also like the idea that all of your racing is done on one huge course, with a few sections closed off to customize the track for different races. It's interesting to find yourself going down a familiar road and then taking a totally different turn from the last race.
The problems, though, are in plain sight, for me at least. The loosey goosey controls can be unforgiving at times -- I have to be incredibly light and careful with the analog stick or my car swerves out of control. This also leads to troublesome controls when trying to direct a power slide. What's worse, it's incredibly hard to recover from a crash -- you can reset your car, but it takes a while to accelerate to the point where you catch up to your opponents... if they're bad enough to allow catch-up in the first place. I also wish that they varied the course even more -- as many new sections as they give me, they're still sections in the same course and it gets a wee bit tiresome, and I've only been playing for 2 hours.
Sometimes I didn't care about staring at the same thing, though; NFSU is beautifully, and I really mean beautifully constructed. While some textures could be a bit sharper, there are still incredible amounts of detail on the course. It performs surprisingly well; I got a smooth and unwavering 60 frames per second on my Radeon 9700 / Athlon 3000+ (really just an OC'd 2500+) / 1GB PC2700 machine. I say surprising because there is a huge usage of hot effects in there: incredible bloom lighting, a la Deus Ex: Invisible War, a kick-a$$ motion blur effect that gives off the essence of speed, and lots of sexy reflections off the car body and the roads and environment. The only strange thing about it is that it looks like the road is in a state of perpetual wetness, as if a rainstorm has just passed. But it looks absolutely brilliant, so I can forgive some weirdness.
The sound is standard EA fare: licensed soundtracks seemingly to fit the sport / environment, and racing noises. The revving engine during Drag mode is way cool, with an intimidating growl. The soundtrack is cool too, as most of it got me pumped up for racing. But I'm personally not too keen on the metal while driving, or even the Dilated Peoples' track (as much as I love hip hop); the electronica tracks seemed most fitting for the races I went through. Just a personal taste though, I guess.
With a wide assortment of real, licensed cars and music, and the intricate detail applied to the racing course and tweaking experience, NFSU carries hefty production values. I know NOTHING about underground racing, but at least I can say EA did a great job of making the product like a true videogame version of Fast and the Furious.
Problem is, I truly hated that movie with an intense passion. I want those two hours of my life back. ;)
Review to come when I drive the crap outta this baby.
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