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Need for Speed: Undercover Review
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Nov 18, 08 (released)
|» All About Need for Speed: Undercover on ActionTrip|
Electronic Arts messed up the Need for Speed series with the release of Pro Street. Cop chases, story-driven gameplay and similar features, which were accepted long-time trademarks of the series, were quite simply removed to make way for a dumbed down event-oriented racing experience. Coupled with technical issues and bad design decisions, Need for Speed didn't show half of its former quality.
You'll never take me alive!
NFS: Undercover became an effort to change all that and bring back the free-roam style gameplay, as well as the adrenaline-pumped cop chases. This sparked the hope of actually seeing a decent Need for Speed game, even after the spectacular cock-up better known as Pro Street.
In NFS: Undercover you play a cop who goes, well, undercover in order to infiltrate a ruthless crime syndicate dedicated to illegal street races and smuggling posh cars. During your endeavors federal handler Chase Linh (the lovely Maggie Q) and Lt. Jack M. Keller are your only contacts. Things get tougher as you continue proving yourself to the top street racers. However, in order to convince the syndicate of your loyalty, you will often be required to provoke the police either by damaging public property or by taking part in high-speed races... or both.
Okay, first off, if you're in this for the storyline don't expect much. The narrative is about as entertaining as getting your nose hairs slowly pulled out by a pair of rusty old tweezers. It's a shallow, severely underwritten load of hogwash. You can forget about suspense, unexpected twists and all that. It's all fairly predictable. The cut-scenes won't do you any good if you're looking for something to reel you in and neither will the game's setting. Which reminds me, most the areas in Undercover appear rather bland and uninteresting, as is does the game's overall design. Granted the map of the fictional Tri-City is rather large and you have the freedom to drive anywhere you like. Mind you, driving freely around the city is a pointless effort, since the player doesn't have anything more to do than explore the area and test his ride. There's absolutely no reason to do this, since the streets are empty. The traffic is practically nonexistent, both during exploration and in races. You won't have any cross-traffic to deal with. The traffic only gets dense when you take part in highway battles, but that's about it.
The game consists of challenges such as highway battles, sprints, outrunning cops, circuit races, checkpoint races and so on. There's a number of story-related races to go through, which mostly involve pinching expensive wheels and then getting away from the cops, beating competing drivers in high-speed races, etc. At the same time, you have to achieve a certain 'Wheelman' level in order to improve your reputation as a street racer.
My first assumption was that Undercover actually made a successful return to NFS roots. It seemed to encompass all those things that made earlier games so enjoyable. Sadly, the first issues surfaced after a few hours of play. NFS: Undercover is an unpolished game, with collision detection glitches, AI bugs and other annoying drawbacks. One of the most obvious flaws came into view when police cars and jeeps started spawning out of the sky right onto the road in front of the vehicle I was driving. Also, I noticed that during races, your opponents don't really care if they win a race. If they're on your tail, they'll usually bump into the back of your car until you've come to a full stop. Of course, it would be proper AI behavior if only they showed some initiative to avoid getting totaled along with you.
NFS: Undercover takes long to get going. It doesn't get challenging until you've reached racing events for a level 10 Wheelman, at which time you're more than half way through the single-player campaign already. At this point, it becomes apparent that the gameplay just lacks depth and diversity. Events, races and challenges all feel very straightforward and, at times, downright boring. Races that are related to the narrative are equally tedious and often boil down to the same thing - nab a hot vehicle, outrun the cops and keep the car intact when you return to the syndicate.
The urban districts you'll be racing through at high speed is rather lifeless, which definitely adds to the general feeling of dissatisfaction. The series hasn't made any progress visually either. Some of the surroundings are so poor in detail you'd think they were taken straight from older NFS titles. This game won't be remembered for its sound either. Sound effects are okay I guess, but the choice of music for this one happens to be one of the worst in the franchise's history. Some tracks are cool, while most of them are crap. Also, I haven't the foggiest idea how I'm supposed to skip the songs during races...
It retains some of the old NFS goodness for a while;
Unchallenging, a worse racing experience than Pro Street.