03 Sep, 2005

Need for Speed: Underground Rivals Review

PSP Review | We're going deeper Underground.
Need for Speed is a rejuvenated franchise; a few years ago it was a fledging series that wasn't looking like making a comeback any time soon. After the relative success of Hot Pursuit, EA took the series in a new direction and developed Need for Speed Underground 1 & 2. The Underground series focuses on the world of illegal street racing. These two titles were a huge success and EA have capitalised on this by developing a unique PSP version, Need for Speed: Underground Rivals. So, with no less than three racing titles available at launch, is this the one to own - or should you steer clear of the Underground?

As previously mentioned, Rivals is an entirely new title for the PSP. A lot of titles released for the PSP launch are simply Playstation 2 ports, or titles we've seen before, so we're very pleased that EA have decided to create an entirely new game, rather than just port over one of their existing titles. The game is back to being a linear affair, which - depending on who you talk to - is both a good thing and a bad thing. There's no more navigating between garages and driving to races - all options are selected from the main menu.

All of the essential features of previous Underground titles have made the cut. Performance upgrades can be purchased and visual upgrades are unlocked as challenges become available. Players must select one car from the beginning and after completing a required amount of races they will unlock a car in the garage. However, the car still needs to be purchased and credits to do this are won by accumulating upgrade points. There are a lot of upgrades available and they can be transferred to newer cars once they are purchased. This has to be done manually rather than the game automatically doing it for you.

The cars rock

The cars rock
The game itself is huge and very overwhelming from the beginning. There is a circuit mode, with four difficulty levels and three different race types, which are 'circuit', 'knockout' and 'rally relay' (two of your cars take on your opponent's two cars). Each race type has four tracks. Even completing all of circuit mode will take an extensive amount of time, and these are not the only modes in the game.

There is also a quick play battle mode which is even more extensive than the circuit mode. Quick play is divided into four different race types: Street Cross, Drift Attack, Nitrous Run, and Drag. 'Street Cross' and 'Drag' return from previous Underground offerings, except the gear shift is on the bottom of the screen rather than on the side. The objective of drift attack is to slide your car around and accumulate points based on your drift. Nitrous Run is an adrenaline pumping mode where the player is given an enormous amount of nitrous and you have to get to another gate to get more nitro. This mode sounds easier than it is, as the game runs at a fast pace when nitrous is activated.

Multiplayer support is also included in the game with support for wireless play. EA have also included a party play mode where up to four players can race in a variety of race types with only one PSP. This is an appreciated inclusion, as it allows everyone to compete against each other, without the expense of four people having a PSP.

While all of these features are great and appreciated, without game play they become void, and it is on this aspect that Underground is both a hit and a miss. We found that the analog stick was easy to use in Ridge Racer, whereas handling the cars with it in Rivals is a lot more difficult and the controls are a lot more sensitive. We were left with no choice but to stick to using the directional pad for the rest of the game.

When it was announced that the PSP would use a disk-based system a lot of people were concerned about the loading that would take place on the handheld. Underground Rivals has a fairly hefty amount of loading for a portable title, which is definitely off-putting. It takes about twenty seconds to get to the main menu, and then there is loading to get into the race. The loading is a little disappointing as there is a short amount of loading when the car modification screen is opened up as well - it makes the game feel a little sluggish at times.

We really don't advise racing with this view.

We really don't advise racing with this view.
When there is a lot of action on the screen the game also slows down a little. Whilst the frame-rate is generally fairly reliable, when a lot is happening or an object gets in the way the game takes a noticable stepdown in speed. You can basically feel the disk working overtime in your hands to process all the data.

It is a given that most racing games contain a 'catch-up' feature. Whilst it is a useful feature that can help to make the game more competitive it is also used too heavily in Rivals. With a faster car and a perfect race, at the last corner it can still be a close encounter. If you crash in the last corner then all your hard work is undone.

Just like the previous two games all the racing is done at night, so we would have at least liked a few fine-tuned settings for 'night', such as dusk, dawn or midnight - but this is noticably absent. The course design is also a little flat - we would have appreciated some of our favourite Underground tracks such as Market Street to be ported over to the PSP version as a bonus, but sadly this is not the case. A lot of the tracks are just variations upon one track, and even the new tracks feel distinctly familiar.

We would describe the graphics as being in between the PSOne and Playstation 2 versions of Need for Speed. The famous blur effect from Underground titles is back, but not as prominent as in previous incarnations. The cars look good and there is no popup in the game at all, at least as far as we could tell. There are, unfortunately, a few jaggies on the cars, which stop them from looking brilliant.

Careful of Zachattack..

Careful of Zachattack..
EA have included a Pocket Trax option in Rivals with over twenty songs squeezing onto the UMD. There is even a selection of music video clips - these seem designed to be like a demonstration of the capabilities of the PSP rather than serving a real purpose. The play list is entirely customisable and there is something for everyone in the list, however none of the songs really stood out for us. The cars themselves, however, sound great, and the engine noises are some of the best we've heard on a handheld.

EA have developed this game with the intention of it lasting. There is a mountain of things to do and this isn't including the two player option. There are lot of race options, and unlocking all the visual aids and performance options can take an extensive amount of time. Driver points are accumulated which are similar to reputation and getting these points can unlock extras too. The multiplayer could be endless as well, as it is highly addictive, although we would have loved a race for slips.

EA did so much right and so much wrong with Rivals. The analog control is poor and the loading is some of the worst we've seen, but the customisation options and large lifespan are great. We appreciate an entirely new title in the Underground franchise, but the game lacks polish - however, fans of the series should still be impressed with this game.
The Score
Need for Speed Underground Rivals comes in second place to Ridge Racer, but it does offer something different; plus, this game will definitely please those who like to modify their vehicles.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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