Need For Speed Underground 2 is the next in a long line of NFS games developed and published by Electronic Arts. This sequel to NFS Underground 1, like it predecessor rides on the coattails of street racing that became a media delight with the film The Fast and the Furious. The genre is beginning to wane as indicated by the lackluster gameplay of this title.
There really isn't much of a story here. Youre a person in a car driving around looking to get cash and boost your street cred. There's a thin "plot" revolving around you and your guide, Brooke Burke, but it's so thin it's hard to tell if it's even there. Instead of a story, the game relies more on atmosphere and mood. The developers try to liven the game up with T-rated street slang which comes off more as corny than street. It should impress the white kids from suburbia who buy the latest sanitized Eminem album from Wal-mart.
Taking a cue from GTA3 (and who doesn't?) the environment of Bayview is one expansive city. You can go into free roam mode and find people to race, shops to upgrade in or customize or just cruise the quiet, pedestrian-free streets of one dull town. The streets and shops are marked by colored holograms and driving into them and hitting A puts you into race mode, the garage or whatever it is you've gone to.
Once in the shops, you can do some heavy customization and for those who like this sort of thing, they should be in hog heaven. But if they are gear-heads then they've probably also played Forza Motorsport which does customization so much better. not only does it give clear description of what each upgrade does, it gives you a number system for comparison. Such detail seem to be lacking and customization will be done solely on looks or simply because "it's an upgrade, it's got to be better". For those who like casual race games with upgrades, this will suffice. For die-hard car fans, this might be a let-down. Then again die-hard race fans don't get their jollies by making computer cars, they tend to be in garages actually making the real cars. And this is where NFSU2 is so hard to take seriously. They want so much to be a hard-core street racing sim without realizing that the only people who play this kid of game wouldn't know hard-core street racing from a Sunday Afternoon drive after church.
The controls of NFSU2 are, thankfully, just like any other racer, so picking it up and driving is not difficult. The right trigger is gas and the b button is nitro for that extra blur-effected boost. Hit the other trigger for brakes and reverse. The vibration is used modestly, if not sparingly.
There are dozens of licensed cars in the games, most of them compact imports. Interestingly enough, they added some SUVs into the mix, as if that type of car is used in street racing. Additionally, trying to race an SUV is an exercise in frustration especially after driving the nimble Japanese cars of the game. I'm not sure why anyone would want to race a truck other than to say "Hey bob, look, I'm racing a truck."
The races consist of 6 types: Out-run (Ditch your opponent), Street X (Closed circuit races), Spring (one long stretch from point A to B), circuits (Your basic race consisting of multiple laps), drift (all about sliding), Drag (Top-speed straight lengths of track), and random Underground League. As you can tell, this constitutes the most basic, run-of-the-mill racing game types. Where's the smash em ups? Where's elimination? I suppose I prefer more arcade-y racers such as Burnout 3, but I found NFSU2 to be just downright boring.
The physics of NFSU2 are decent, but not on par with Forza, nor of the viscerally unreal ragdoll physics of Burnout 3. Like the rest of the game, they are middle of the road. You can slide and different mods definitely feel different, but I didn't find myself sweating over the rack and pinion adjustments I had made like when racing in Forza. Perhaps some of this was affected by the sense of speed, which is decent, but not great.
Overall the gameplay was nothing special, really. And a disappointment given the pedigree that the NFS series has.
Certainly one of the strong points of the game is the graphics. Like all final generation Xbox titles, this is a beautiful looking game. The city of Bayview is designed very well taking samples from other real-life cities. But the problem is that the environment is virtually empty. A few cars on the road are the only signs of life. No pedestrians, no trash, no real hint of city living. The only time you see people is at the beginning and ending cutscenes.
The cars are modeled beautifully as expected and the mods and paint jobs are of the highest visual quality. Some of these cars are truly beautiful and dinking around in the paint shop was a lot of fun.
Of note is the changing environmental impacts of rain. I barely noticed the change, but all of a sudden the streets were glistening from rain and I had to drive a lot more carefully. Not only does the rain greatly affect your visibility, the appearance of the streets, but also the physics and handling of the car.
All of the cars are licensed, which creates a conundrum of sorts for the developer. While you can advertise that you have a real Honda in the game, you can't crash it. Sure you drive it into a median at 120 MPH, but the car won't take any damage. This is why I like Burnout 3 so much. It doesn't use licensed cars and you literally destroy them in the process of a race. Even Forza had a pretty sophisticated damage model and they used licensed cars. Plus the crashing cost you money at the end, unlike NFSU2 which allows you to bang your car around without worry. And when the car does crash, they briefly slip into slow motion so you can see your car getting bounced around. But the mode is so brief and the damage so minor (save for a few sparks), it pales in comparison to games such as LA Rush which take great pleasure in showing you the damage you caused by trying to t-bone your opponent.
If you like product placement in your games, you'll like this. Not only are there billboards for upcoming EA games, they actually have buildings modeled after your local best Buy. And on top of that, the HUD (Heads up display) has the stupid Cingular logo on it to direct the player which way to d-pad to get messages and race info. So much for subtlety.
Racing and snowboarding games have a tendency to use music from bands that haven't signed with any record label, or at least not a major one. NFSU2 mixes some commercial hip-hop, with rap acts of the underground, many I've never heard of. Nor do I want to hear of them again. But this is par for the course and the customizable EA Trax allows me to swap in something I do like to drive to. Like Books-on-tape or something. For those who do like hip-hop, you'll be quite happy with this extensive track listing.
The voice-acting in NFSU2 is dumb. Brook Burke plays your guide and it's unfortunate she is never really seen in the game except for artists' renditions, because that's all she has going for her in this game. She is a model and therefore should not be trying to talk professionally. The rest of the cast does what they can from the paltry writing which consists mostly of "Hey there's some punks trying to show off their new rides. Why doncha show them what a real race is like" or some such gobbledy-gunk. All of it is a bunch of nonsense, really, and is meant simply to direct you to a new place on the map.
The multiplayer is serviceable at best. You can race up to 8 players on any of the sections of the city. The lag is minimal and the voice communicator works very well. I had no problems with drops or sluggishness. The enticing thing is that you can take your modded ride and race other people whose only car mod experience is in the video game world...
Parents Should know...
The game is rather tame. There are drawings of model Brook Burke in full clothing, looking at the player coyly. But that's the most titillation the game offers. And since the cars don't really crash that much and there's no pedestrians to hit, there's no violence. The most offensive thing might be the music, but event that seems to be cleaned up for the rating. So the T for Teen rating is appropriate.
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