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reviews >> xbox
Need For Speed Underground

written by Shaun McCracken

Game Information
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: EA Games
Year Released: 2003
Players: 1-2
ESRB Rating: Everyone

Visuals 8.5
Great for a PS2 game, and good enough to be seen on an Xbox. There's a lot of great effects (although the developers really nail the "wet road" effect on our heads), and the framerate is locked down a little better than the PS2 version, but the textures seem to be hit and miss, and there is some aliasing present. Not bad looking, but when compared to Project Gotham Racing 2, there is a hugely noticable difference when the developers tap into the Xbox's power.
Audio 9
It's THX certified, and LOUD. Sounds pretty good through a home-theater. I wish I could use my own music and not be limited to what EA provides.
Gameplay 8.75
It's an improvement over past NFS games, but I think the controls can still use some tightening. A good variety of racing modes, but the AI can be a real pain in the ass sometimes.
Replay Value 9
Once you get into customizing your car, you really can't stop, and that's half the fun right there. On top of that, there are 111 racing events in the Go Underground mode, plus your typical single race and versus modes.
Reviewer's Impression 9
Need For Speed Underground is a nice change for the series, which was starting to get into a rut. Although I wish the city was larger, and there was actually a way for you to keep more than one car on the Go Underground mode, NFSU is actually a great floorplan for the next installment, and even a whole new series. This game will be tough for the competition to go against when they get their product out.
Overall 9
While not as big and varied as Microsoft's own Project Gotham Racing 2, Need For Speed Underground is great in providing gamers a chance to really customize their automobile like they've never done before in previous racing games. It could have used more options and courses, but that's what the sequel is for.

Here's a little memo to Viviendi Universal: know when to seize the oppertunity. In 2003, Universal released the sequel to "The Fast And The Furious", and the games division of Universal (which is VU) was supposed to have a game by the same name out around the release of this movie. While the company has piddled around with the game and license, out from nowhere EA decides to cash in on the genre of street racing in the form of Need For Speed Underground. And guess what? The game sold big time. But is their brand of street racing have enough credentials, or was it simply a lowly cash-in? Let's find out...

For starters, this is a huge departure for the Need For Speed franchise, almost a 180 in it's design, if you will. In the six previous NFS games, it was about racing "The Untouchables", exotic cars that never in my or your lifetime could be able to afford. But I guess times change, and EA has realized this. Exotics are out, compact and import sports cars are in. But these cars aren't your typical compact cars. These cars are customized to no end, with wild body designs and powerful engine upgrades. In NFSU, you not only need to have the fastest car (as well as the driving skills to win), but to earn style and a reputation, you must, for a borrowed term: pimp your ride. Install modified spoliers, front and rear bumpers, hoods and more to gain more reputation, which can lead to more style points, which unlock a load of decals to detail your car.

Detailing your car is pretty much half the game, and if your one of those people that can't get into all of the small details of a car, such as how your spoiler looks, or what color you rims are painted, then you probably won't have as much fun with NFSU. But there's still racing, which is the other half of the game. But there's not a whole lot going on in terms of geography. In past NFS games, you had a handfull of cities from around the world to race on. In NFSU, it's pretty much one city with multiple sections. It's great for maintaining a level of consistency, but racing in the same city, in the same time of day does become a bit repetitive. Plus the repetition of courses and areas is a problem, too. You would think in such a large city, there would be plenty of possibilities for courses, like the Project Gotham series.

So, now for the actual racing. The game design has also changed from the classic NFS formula, except for a couple of racing events. Before, it was basically a championship mode, an arcade mode and a knockout mode (and in later NFS releases, a police chase mode). And these races really never felt that much different from each other. Now, the racing modes have changed. In the Go Underground mode, which is the main competition mode, you have classic events such as Circuit and Knockout, and new additions such as Drag, Drift and Sprint. Circuit, Knockout and Sprint races are pretty much typical race modes against other opponents. Drag requires different skills to win, knowing when to shift gears and change lanes. Drift is all about drifting, and the bigger you drift, the bigger you score. NFSU really has taken after the Project Gotham series in certain areas. You can earn style points for jumps, powerslides, drafting, near-misses and 1st place laps, much like the Kudos system of the PGR games. The system is not as good as the Kudos system in PGR, but it's certainly a welcome addition from just getting record times and what not.

The games controls/handling is a little better from previous NFS games. Before, I found that the cars in previous NFS games were a little hard to control, like they were too heavy. Here, they still feel weighted, but they turn easier (depending on the car and the parts you have). The AI of NFSU is, how shall we say, an asshole. Maybe not as unfair as the king of the A-hole AI, Test Drive, but their behaviors are not really representative of the difficulty level you choose. I've selected the "easy" difficulty many times, and on certain stages, I've had to repeat the race three or four times to complete the race. Some opponents are determined to stop you from winning, such as colliding into other cars so you hit them, or running you against center dividers. Maybe some people will like the idea of an aggressive AI, but I think they're a little too aggressive.

The visuals of NFSU are good, but not really representative of the Xbox's power. Clearly designed with the PS2 in mind, the textures are not as high in resolution, there is some aliasing present, and the framerate is a bit jittery. But this isn't really that bad in terms of visuals. In terms of a PS2 game, this would look really great, because of all the visual effects that are used. The Xbox version has pretty much the same look with minimal changes. The overall resolution is higher, and the framerate is much smoother in the chase-view, where as the PS2 version's framerate was very inconsistent in the chase-view. But don't expect any of the great lighting or bump-mapping effects we've seen in Xbox racing games such as Project Gotham Racing 2. I will say for a game that takes place in the night, I have no problem playing the game on my TV , which has a slightly dark picture. The game also has a pretty colorful look to it as well.

The sound is pretty good, and loud, thanks to THX. There's a lot of "whooshes" from all of the objects you pass by (as you would expect to hear if you're driving really fast). The car sound effects are different from other racing games I've played, mostly within the shifting noises when you have a turbo installed. Every time you change gears, you'll hear a clunk, rather than an air sound. It's kind of cool, really. Then you have the sound when you have the boost deployed, which is unique on it's own. On the music front, EA really needs to let Xbox owners use their own music in their games. The selection of songs are adequate, but there's not the same level of customization in your music as you had with PGR2. But overall, this doesn't sound too bad through your home theater (or stereo speakers).

Final Thought

NFSU is a radical departure from what the series has been in the past, and I think that's a good thing. EA was willing to experiment and evolve the series to a whole new experience. For those who love customizing their cars, you'll really like this game. If you're looking for a game that fairly represents the custom car culture, NFSU is definitely worth a look. I just wish that the area of the city you race in (which is never named, and not totally identifialble) was a lot larger than what is in the game. The PGR series can pull off 10 cities of this size, so I wonder why this area is so small. At least there's 111 racing events to participate in, and it's not a total cake-walk either. This is a pretty challenging game, but maybe a little unfair at times.

For fans of street racing, or for those who like to customize cars, this is definitely worth a look. But there will be those who will not like this game, either because they don't understand that customizing your car is a big part of the game, or that it's just not as broad in approach to the racing genre as Project Gotham Racing 2. Or maybe they just don't like racing games. I would say to those who are not sure about the game design to rent the game first. If you can get into the customization aspect of the game, then go ahead and buy it. Overall, it's a great racing game, and a really great way to re-energize the aging NFS design.