The Need for Speed series has had a long history. Every version sees new additions, new tracks and something unique to try and distinguish itself from the scores of other racing games. Underground is arguably the biggest step forward for the series since its inception. This time around there are no cops, nor is there any sign of daylight. The series has always based itself around fast cars and a sense of speed and in that sense, EA have succeeded.
The core of the game rests in the appropriately named Underground mode, which places an emphasis on not only winning races, but looking good. The Underground mode has 111 objectives which vary from drift races, drag races, circuit races and sprint races. Drift Races involve drifting (sliding) your car in the wet, drag races, one of the more entertaining parts of the game, require quick reactions and lightning fast gear changing, circuit races are, interestingly enough, racing around circuits and sprint races consist of moving from point A-B in the fastest time possible.
At the beginning of Underground mode you start off as an unranked racer and, by challenging other racers and completing objectives, you must try to get to the number one spot on all race types. Winning isn't everything however. Half of the importance is placed on reputation (a unique element which sways the game away from the traditional racer), which is lifted by decorating your car and installing vinyls, decals, etc (So, ricing the car up then? - Ed). Without a certain level of reputation you simply cannot enter a race. There are hundreds of things to customize here which will keep The Fast And The Furious lovers busy for ages.
As you progress through the Underground mode you will unlock other accessories to make your car look stylish. There are also over 20 cars to unlock in Underground mode, along with hundreds of accessories which become available according to your style points. These are points awarded according for your driving skill and the higher your reputation, the more points you will accumulate.
Sounds of the Underground
As is to be expected the tunes in the game are very reminiscent of the 2 Fast 2 Furious soundtrack, with rap songs and urban beats. The music in the game is very impressive, setting the atmosphere for the game quite well. After a little while you will obviously find yourself liking some tracks and disliking others, but thankfully there is a customization mode where you can edit the play list. The effects in the game are quite effective, with the droning sounds of five inch mufflers captured effectively.
So, how does it look?
The actual game looks fantastic. It is amazing how much EA managed to pull out of the lil' old Playstation 2. However, the frame rate in the game is barely acceptable. During certain sections of a track or when the action heats up, (especially later in Underground mode when cars are glossier and more graphic dependent) the action slows down. This can be extremely off-putting. The draw-distance is also questionable at times - something that shouldn't be an issue in this generation of gaming. Aside from the frame-rate and draw-distance there are times when you will be driving along and be in awe as to the detail EA have put into the city.
The track-design is lackluster at best. The best circuit in the game is by far the circuit provided on the PC demo, "Market Street". A lot of the other tracks lack variation. Thankfully, there are still jumps, tight corners and shortcuts, though. The setting of the tracks never changes and this is an advantage that Midnight Club 2 has over Underground, as the city is always in pitch black.
It may be fun - but does it last?
This mode will take approximately 8-12 hours to complete depending on your skill and interest in the game. The only problem is that unless you're an extreme car enthusiast, you may tire of the game after the Underground mode and let it collect dust. Unless you plan on customizing your car or playing multiplayer this may not be the game for you. Best times are kept which you can attempt to improve, you may eventually feel the need to return and play another career mode under a different difficulty level (easy, medium, hard).
Rest assured that the Underground mode isn't the only choice for the game. There are single player modes of circuit, sprint, drag, drift, lap knockout and a free run option. There are multiplayer modes of circuit, spring, drag and drift. These single player modes will be revisited in an attempt to bump up your style points and unlock additional accessories.
Originally slated for a early 2004 release and brought forward for the Christmas season it does seem like Need for Speed was rushed out a little early. Whilst it is mostly a polished game, there are small glitches which appear throughout the game. The Underground mode could also have been longer. It is still a great game, but there are instances where you will be wondering why something was excluded from the final version.
The PlayStation 2 also has a minor advantage in that it is online enabled if you have a network adaptor, making it the best online racer currently available.
The gameplay is great and addictive, EA has made sure that the games give a fantastic illusion of serious speed and alongside with the music it makes the game feel like a street-racer. This is genuinely the best Need For Speed game yet, however let down by frame rate problems and length.