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Need for Speed: Underground Preview

publisher: EA
developer: EA
genre: Racing

PIII 700, 256MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 2GB HD
ESRB rating: E

release date: Nov 17, 03
» All About Need for Speed: Underground on ActionTrip

At present, the PC gaming industry is not short of good racing titles. Codemasters conquered the market with its top-notch racing simulations Colin McRae 3 and Pro Race Driver (TOCA). Microsoft left some solid impressions with their excellent racer Rallisport Challenge, which, by the way, should have a sequel out sometime soon. But, we mustn't forget that Rockstar took its fair share of the gaming scene as well, offering a commendable variation on conventional driving games with first-class titles such as Midnight Club 2 and even GTA: Vice City. Now, yes, it's not technically a racing game, but it does have a significant amount of driving in it, so the driving engine has to hold its own. (Ed. - Not to mention that you can score in your car! Now that's a REAL driving sim!) Understandably, the folks at EA refused to dawdle, so they immediately unleashed Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2. As you undoubtedly already know, Hot Pursuit 2 is all about riding in flashy cars and outrunning cops. EA's Canadian studio plans to revamp the franchise with its current project Need for Speed: Underground.

Inspired by movies like "The Fast and the Furious," the development team decided to focus the game on street racing. And I think it's safe to prophesize that EA hit the nail on the head with this approach. After all, you have to admit there's something exhilarating about flooring it as you maneuver through crowded city streets. (Um yeah, especially when you can fill an entire photo album with traffic tickets. - 2Lions) This particular style of play was already seen in titles such as, Test Drive, Midnight Club 2, etc. Although many aspects in Test Drive sucked, the concept of illegal street racing was quite catchy. Need for Speed: Underground encompasses nighttime high velocity racing events through fictional inner-city surroundings (hence the resemblance to Midnight Club 2), most of which carry mixed resemblances of Los Angeles, Detroit, New York, and even Tokyo.

At the beginning of the game players will be able to create a unique driving profile. Once you've adjusted the settings to your preference, you can select one of the following racing modes: underground, quick race, and split-screen. As you'd expect it, the crux of the game is the underground mode, which is basically the main single-player career mode. Immerging as a rookie driver on the underground racing scene, your task will be to prove your driving skills throughout various competitions, such as circuit, lap knockout, sprint, drag, drift, and other various tournament races. All of these competitions set diverse challenges before the player. In almost any type of competition players must rely on speed and, of course, finding the quickest shortcut to the finish line (or checkpoint). Players who wish to get started as soon as possible can always use the quick race option. This particular mode also allows you to participate in circuit, sprint, drag, drift, and lap knockout racing modes. Next to these, you may also choose a free run mode. In free run you take an enjoyable spin through some of the beautifully designed city districts. Before you begin any of these competitions in the quick race mode, you'll have the opportunity to configure several parameters: traffic density, number of laps, AI level, etc.

The Need for Speed: Underground features a slightly different control system than the conventional one normally seen. However, the development team fitted in a nice and straightforward tutorial, in order to loosen things up for both newcomers and experienced racers. Everything was devised so that players can use all the controls without any problems. In Underground, you get the full works in controlling your ride. Just like in a normal car, you get the gas and the brakes, but also the shifter, the emergency brake and the obligatory nox (nitro) booster. Additional features were added to assist rookie drivers when they handle tight corners at high speeds.

Earning cash is one of your main priorities throughout the entire game. As you progress through underground racing championships, new tracks and cars are going to be unlocked. The gameplay was spruced up with some additional challenges, such as acquiring these things called style points. (Can you say "Kudos" from Project Gotham Racing? I knew you could. - 2Lions) After each completed race, your overall driving skills are assessed with a specific amount of style points. This is not something players can earn casually though. You'll have to make an effort on the road if you want to accumulate these points; for example, pulling off powerslides and well-timed gear shifts, drafting, and so on. These points can also increase for other reasons as well, like if the players successfully use shortcuts or if they happen to finish first after each lap. Quite a welcomed gameplay component, don't you think? (Yeah, "very innovative," too! - 2Lions)

For your racing pleasure, Underground will feature tons of cars by 20 different automobile brands. These include the Subaru WRX, the Skyline GT-R, Ford Focus, the Honda RSX, Nissan, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Volkswagen, Dodge, Toyota, and more. Nearly all the vehicles are customizable and ready for modifications, tune-ups, and other improvements. Changing the exterior of your favorite vehicle and adding various accessories to enhance the aerodynamics is often a good way to enhance its overall performance. You will have the option to do almost anything with your car: give it a new paint job, add cool-looking spoilers, change taillights and headlights, increase the vehicle's horsepower, improve acceleration, etc. Also, the game gives you a chance to throw in additional, shall we say, aesthetic adjustments... just for the fun of it. One of the coolest aspects is that you may brand the hood, left and right doors, windshield, and rear window. That should keep you busy for some time.

As you may have noticed by now, the graphics in Need for Speed: Underground have gone through a considerable overhaul. For starters, an obvious effort went into creating highly detailed tracks, thanks to which the game conveys a sense of a genuine and fully-populated urban zone. (Ed. - Complete with hot racer girls, what is it about a hottie in a tank top behind 300 horses of American heavy metal. Ahhhh...) The surroundings have also been refurbished with improved lighting effects and beautiful reflections. Lighting in particular was highly improved, which certainly makes the ambiance more convincing. Another delicate touch is the cool cinematic camera angle - a slow-motion view, usually triggered during greater collisions (similar to what we've seen in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2). Even tough all racing events transpire during the night, the developers went all-out to put in as many different and unique settings as they could. From what we've seen so far, the environments look wonderful and never seem repetitive or poor in detail. Car models also appear to have solid-looking reflections and ample texture patterns. In all, we expect this to be one of the most visually appealing additions to the Need for Speed series.

As for the multiplayer, there will be a split-screen mode for all of you who'd like to test your driving skills in intense races against your friends. The developers also incorporated a cool extra feature for the PC and PS2 users - it seems that both of these versions include an online multiplayer mode that gives players the opportunity to race in cross-platform competition. (Ed. - I think this will be the first online cross-platform racer, just an FYI.)

Judging from the media we've seen thus far, Need for Speed: Underground seems to have considerable visual potential and it promises to be a compelling action-packed street-racer to boot. Expect the game to head into stores in late November for PC, Xbox, PS2, GameCube, and GBA platforms.



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