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Need For Speed Underground 2

written by Shaun McCracken

Game Information
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: EA Games
Year Released: 2004
Players: 1-2
ESRB Rating: Everyone

Visuals 8.75
The style is very much similar to the last game, but things have sharpened up a little more. Why they can't lock down a smoother framerate is beyond me, especially when you compare all the crap that goes on in Burnout 3, and how that game doesn't skip a beat.
Audio 8.5
It's still THX certified, and still LOUD. The sound effects are good, but the game suffers from a crappy soundtrack and hokey dialouge.
Gameplay 9.25
EA fixed a lot of the problems in the last game by tightening the controls, allowing you to keep five cars instead of one, allow you to tune your car, adding more courses and throwing in online support. The developers could have done more with the open city environment, though.
Replay Value 9.25
I spent at least three times the amount of time I spent playing the first installment, which equals about 30-40 hours of gameplay time. Xbox LIVE support adds even more.
Reviewer's Impression 8.75
I'm glad that EA fixed a few of the problems of the last game, but the bombardment of advertisments is ridiculous. Gameplay does count more than presentation, and at least NFSU has it.
Overall 9.25
I know that the overall score is higher than the average, but I don't always go with the average. In this case, NFSU2 scores a little higer than the first NFSU because there's a lot more offered in the game and EA actually did adress problems present in the previous installment, plus they gave Xbox owners what they want, LIVE support (although I don't use it). Those who liked the previous NFSU will find a lot to like here, and if you missed out the first time around, this sequels a better place to start.

You would be an idiot to think that EA wouldn't follow up Need For Speed Underground one year after it's release. One of the more popular titles in 2003, Need For Speed Underground brought street racing into the mainstream by offering gamers to race everyday sedans and sport coupes customized with unique body parts and graphics. For the most part, the game turned out very well, by delivering a unique look and a different style of racing, much different from any other game in the NFS franchise. It wasn't without it's problems, though. The amount of courses were not exactally plentiful in selection, you can only keep one car at a time, the handling was a little loose, there were no tuning options and there were no replays. That's what sequels are for.

In one year, EA sought to correct most of what was wrong with Need For Speed Underground, as well as tack on a few new features to at least make it seem improved over the first game, and basically that is the end result. It's more (a lot more) of the same stuff we had in 2003, as well as some new additions. The most notable new addition is the fact that there is a huge city to roam around, which doesn't exactally add depth to the design, but allows for bigger and a higher number of courses to be offered.

To go along with our new found freedom, we have some sort of story attached as well, which oddly mirrors the beginning of 2Fast 2Furious, in which you lost your car in the first installment, travel to a new city and start your street racing career all over again in this new installment. Except you have a person willing to give you a hand that goes by the name of Rachel. She's the one that will get you started on your career, point out where all the races are, as well as special events and oppertunities. All for a fee, of course (which in the game, is never reflected when you win money as you seem to keep it all).

As I mentioned before, the game sets you free in an open-city environment (although paths are blocked early on). You'll drive around to look for race events, shops to enhance your car, tips, cash and opponents looking for some quick race action. The problem is, that's basically all you're able to do. The developers didn't exploit the possibillities of an open-ended environment, such as secret areas and items, basically what Midway did for it's Rush games. It's nice that they at least have the AI cars roaming around that you can challenge ala Tokyo Xtreme Racer, in what they call the Outrun mode. Basically, whoever can outrun each other by 1000ft., they win. The events you can challenge that are spread out across the city include Circuit, Sprint, Drag, Street X, Drift, and Underground Racing Leauge (URL). Circuit, Sprint, Drag and Drift are fairly easy to understand, especially if you played the first NFSU. Street X is almost a useless and boring inclusion to the game, as the races are not very exciting, and the courses are just dull. Plus, you can't use nitrous. The URL races are almost an attempt to bring a little bit of racing sim to the game, as the courses are like those found in Gran Turismo (just weaker), and these events are also consisted of multiple races. At least these races span across multiple courses, much more than the ones offered in the first NFSU.

The game feels a little more tighter this time around, as the handling of the cars feel less slippery than before. The AI seems to be about the same this time around, which is to say that the computer opponents are still the same aggressive idiots as we saw the last time. The difficulty levels can be adjusted, but it seems like there's little reward for going for the tougher difficulty. In the first NFSU, before you took on a race, you could pick the difficulty level and the cash prize would vary on the level you chose. Here, you can just set the difficulty from the options menu, and you won't get more or less if you decide to play it safe or challenge yourself. At least if you grow tired of the computer AI, you can go online through Xbox LIVE, which was not even an option in the first NFSU (only PS2 and PC owners were able to go online last time).

If you like racing games, especially street racers, you will end up playing this game a lot. It's pretty addictive to spend time modifying your car, racing to get more money for your car, racing to unlock new cars, and even tune your car to your liking. Let's face it, this game is basically about yout car, just like the first game. If you can't find any enjoyment visually modifying a car to your liking with thousands and thousands of options, then this game probably isn't for you. But if it is, then enjoy. You can also take heart in knowing that you can tune your car now, and there's a good number of options you can tinker around with. It's not on the same level as GT, but it does fill in a hole that was missing from the last game.

The overall theme of the game is a bit hokier this time around, almost like NFSU lost a bit of it's edge. It's not a slam on the design, it's more or less the production value of the game. Cinematics are handled rather oddly, where it's comic-style frames with little-to-no animation. Why? The writing and dialouge are poor (of course why even try in a racing game), with one of the stupidest quotes to ever emerge in a game. At certain points of the game you'll get calls about race events in the area, and it almost always ends with the quote "... it should be easy pickins'.". WHO THE HELL SAYS THAT? Honestly, I don't think people who are actually involved in street racing would use that term, but here it's used fairly liberally. I think game writers should stay as far away from slang as possible, because a lot of the time, they can't use it in the right context. Adding to the hokiness of the production values is the fact that there are ads for crap everywhere. Now I can accept billboards for things that are relevant to the game, like parts, oil, gas, etc. But ads for shaving gel, soup in a cup, a bank, and fast food? Now EA is just whoring themselves. I don't think it's fair to buy a $50 game to be bombarded with advertisements. If it made the game cost less, fine, but it didn't, so why should we be subject to this? It doesn't add any authenticity like a GT game or even Project Gotham would, it's basically a way for EA to fill their pockets. Be glad I don't score games off of presentation anymore, EA, but this is still a problem.

Need For Speed Underground 2 looks fairly similar to the last game in the series, but a little more sharper. The first couple of hours time I played the game, I couldn't help but feel like I was playing San Francisco Rush 2049. The main core of the city has so much neon lighting and color, the art direction seems more furutistic than it should be. The areas away from the core look less flashy, and a little more normal. The textures are fine, although not the best the Xbox has to offer, and the wet road look is still there. I'm actually a bit suprised that the game still manages to look a good as the last game, considering the open city environment. The car models have improved, and don't look as jagged or rough as the last game. The framerate is decent, although there are some dips every now and then that aren't too serious, but are noticeable. But compared to Burnout 3's framerate and sense of speed, NFSU2 falls a little short.

The audio is a bit weaker this time around, notably the soundtrack. The engine noises and sound effects are good, and it is an improvement over the last game. Plus, the THX certification returns, so you're getting a pretty clean and loud gaming experience. But the soundtrack blows. There's probably only 2 or 3 songs that I like. I actually think this group of EA Trax is worse than the lineup offered in Burnout 3 (which critics hated). At least in Burnout 3, the playlist was consistent, and I did find 6 or so songs that were good. Here, the music styles are all over the place, the songs consist of a lot of poor decisions. It's worse than the last NSFU. And unlike Burnout 3, you don't have the option to use custom soundtracks. The other sore spot is the voice acting. I mentioned before that the writing was poor, and the acting is no better. Why EA used Brooke Burke to narrate most of what goes on in the game is beyond me. Her delivery isn't awful, it just sounds akward when she talks about modifications and whatever else EA wanted her to read. The remaining cast is more of the same, with worse delivery.

Final Thought

Despite the fact that EA whored itself by jamming the game full of irrelvant ads and poor writing that tries to sound "street", the game is more addictive and more fun to play than the last NFSU title. There's a lot more to do here than the last game (in terms of races), more cars to choose from (and actually keep more of them), more parts to choose from, and the abillity to play online through Xbox LIVE. It's not terribly different than the last game in terms of looks (other than the fact that they toned doen the soft lighting) or even gameplay (the racing structre is basically the same for circuit, sprint, drag and drift races), it just offers and expands more than the last game offered in the series. If you liked the first game, you'll most likely like this installment, but if you hated the first NFSU game, well, you know the drill.