Need for Speed UndercoverESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: EA Black Box
Online Multiplayer: 2-8
800 KB to Game Save
Racing games have never been my forte; however they remain a genre I have enjoyed since my early days of gaming. Grand Prix for the Atari 2600 is where it all started and more recently I have become hooked on games such Forza 2 for the Xbox 360 and Motorstorm for the PS3. The Need for Speed franchise has also been enjoyable over the years, but to be honest I have not enjoyed a NFS game since Most Wanted for the Xbox 360. Most Wanted had the perfect blend of cheesy acting and fast paced action unlike anything I had played before. This year Need for Speed has returned to its Most Wanted roots as they have attempted to re-create the same feeling gamers had when they played Most Wanted. Developed by EA Black Box, Need for Speed Undercover arrives just in time for the holiday season and after a few hours with the game that feeling is definitely back. Need for Speed Undercover is the best NFS game since Most Wanted however it is not the best game in the franchise by any stretch.
Need for Speed games have always been strong in the visuals department and Undercover is no different. The opening sequence and overall presentation has a modern day Miami Vice feel to it. Bottom line, the results are outstanding and the graphics stand as a strong point for the game.
All in all the amount of detail that went into Undercover is impressive. For starters, the cars look great and look even better on display in the show room which Undercover calls the Shop. Over 55 licensed cars are on available in the game and all look terrific. From the vintage rides to my personal favorite, the Mitsubishi Evolution, all are quite recognizable. Additionally, the police cars, buildings, helicopters, and civilian vehicles also look very slick.
In addition to the well rendered vehicles, Need for Speed Undercover features some impressive Tri-City Bay environments featuring well designed roads, sharp looking city structures and beautiful landscapes. Need for Speed Undercover features over 80 miles of roads including an enormous highway system which sets the stage for some intense highway battles. The frame rate stuttered at times but overall races ran quite smooth while the draw distance was surprisingly good.
On the flipside, the lighting is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand the game does a great job with some of the day and night time races. On the other hand the lighting can be blinding and too dark in many areas such as some of those dark alleys. Not a major concern but more of an annoyance than anything else
The games cut scenes are somewhat cheesy and it is hard to take anything serious in terms of the storyline, however they look good and Maggie Q is certainly easy on the eyes. I certainly prefer this approach as opposed to what we have seen with the last couple of NFS installments.
As far as the audio is concerned, Undercover's sound is a great complement to the solid graphics. Overall the game sounds great in 5.1 surround sound. The music is very good and I found many of the tunes quite catchy. EA games have always been strong when it comes to the game’s soundtrack and Undercover is no different. Additionally, all the vehicles have their own unique roar. As you race different cars you will notice some vehicles sound distinctively different than others and I would imagine they sound identical to their 'real-life' counterparts. Now I haven't driven too many high end high performance vehicles, so I cannot confirm if they sound the same or not, nevertheless they do sound pretty good.
As for the rest of the sound effects, I would have to give kudos to them too. Such things as squealing tires, breaking glass, giant pipes falling from a crane, or bumpers crashing against a wall, all manage to convey the sound of an intense action racer. Overall there was very little to nitpick in terms of the overall audio package in Need for Speed Undercover for the Xbox 360.
Probably the most burning question on everyone’s mind reading this review is how does Undercover play? Overall, it plays quite well and is certainly on par with the other Need for Speed games in the series. Need for Speed Undercover is a very forgiving game that anyone can pick up and be fairly competitive with from the get go. It is an arcadish racer and does not fall into the simulation category. So if you are a hard core racing fan who prefers games such as Forza 2, Ferrari Challenge or Gran Turismo, then Need for Speed Undercover may not be for you. Fans of the franchise, or even those who have not played too many racing games, will have no problem with the game as driving around town at top speed with the cops on your tail is truly exhilarating.
As with most racing games, and the Need for Speed games are no exception, there is not much of a story let alone one with depth. Need for Speed Most Wanted attempted to provide an intense storyline and overall it was well received. Nevertheless, gamers never took Most Wanted that serious. Need for Speed Undercover is presented along the same lines as Most Wanted. You play as an undercover cop working for one Chase Linh (Maggie Q from the movies Mission Impossible III and Live Free or Die Hard). Your job is to take down street racers who are also involved in an international smuggling ring. This essentially amounts to winning racers, getting involved in high speed police pursuits, upgrading your ride, and watching the Hollywood style cut-scenes. The story is told in these cut-scenes and will immediately remind you of Most Wanted. As you progress, you unlock areas while befriending local street thugs. Eventually you will turn on these hood rats, and without giving too much away this where things start to get interesting for our undercover hero.
Overall the story is decent but it does not have the magical ingredient Need for Speed Most Wanted had. Many of the cut-scenes are too short and usually amount to Maggie Q chatting in a dark Miami-like office environment. I found myself not really caring for the characters and the plot was far too transparent for liking. The story does have its moments but overall I feel much could have been done to enhance the overall storyline.
As far as the controls are concerned, Undercover features some of the same controls we have become accustomed to in the franchise. There is nothing incredibly original when it comes to the games controls and for that reason I am relieved. As I have said before, "why tinker with a good thing". Left Trigger is brake/reverse; Right Trigger is gas; Left Stick is steer, and the B button is Nitro. There are obviously more options but these are the basics. Need for Speed Undercover does include new control scheme entitled HDE (Heroic Driving Engine). This new feature allows you to pull off incredible stunts and maneuvers which ultimately help you avoid the coppers. For example, double tapping the Left Trigger will immediately have your car swing into reverse, and start fleeing in the opposite direction. This makes avoiding spike belts and fleeing from the police easier than ever before. Master the moves and you should be able to avoid getting busted.
Need for Speed Undercover features no difficulty levels as you are forced to play in the games default difficulty. I didn't mind this until the game became increasing more difficult. At about the 2 to 3 hour mark I noticed that races became drastically more difficult. Not to mention, the AI seemed far too accurate in making every turn to perfection while racing flawlessly. I hate to use this term, but "rubberband AI" comes to mind. Eventually Need for Speed Undercover gets to the point where if you make a mistake by hitting a wall or colliding with a vehicle head-on, you might as well pause the game and hit restart race. To say this can be frustrating at times is an understatement. I should also mention that the AI is much more aggressive this time around too. I can't count how many times I would be racing side-by-side with the AI and all of the sudden they would take out my back end causing my tail end to swing. Again, it was a very frustrating experience indeed. On the flip side, the sense of satisfaction you get when you win a race is awesome. Many of the races came down to the wire and I haven't enjoyed a Need for Speed game like this since Most Wanted.
Staying true to the franchise the single player experience features several different race types as you progress through the single player mode. Thankfully drifting is gone as I was not a fan of this mode. Need for Speed Undercover features circuit races, sprints, checkpoints, outrun and highway battle. Many of these noted modes will be familiar to fans and need no further explanation. I do not know what it is but the simplicity of racing from checkpoint to checkpoint always seems to rank as arguably my favorite mode. Outrun is also enjoyable where you have to get in front of an opponent and stay ahead for a predetermined amount of time. The highway mode is new to the series and involves an intense high speed race along an interstate. This mode puts you in the cockpit and you haul-ass down the highway, weaving in and out of traffic. The mode is incredibly enjoyable and intense.
In addition to the race modes briefly examined above, Need for Speed Undercover also features a number of pursuit events. Cost to state, takeout, and escape are the modes which involve battles with 5-0. New to the franchise are the hot car missions that have you stealing cars and getting them to the chop shop in one piece. The police always appear on route and then you are forced to evade without taking much damage. Overall, the police chase modes are enjoyable and add to the overall intensity of the experience.
My overall experience to date with the online portion of Need for Speed Undercover has been quite positive but can also be quite frustrating. Online races are seamless with no lag and I was amazed with how good online gamers are in Need for Speed Undercover. I am a novice when it comes to online racers and it certainly showed. The online cops and robbers mode however is a riot. Here the robber attempts to transport stolen money to a drop-off point before the 'fuzz' show up on the scene and the disrupt delivery. All in all, this mode was lots of fun. Need for Speed Undercover features only 8 person races so this was a disappointment; however the races are short and highly entertaining.
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