EA has released its sequel to the highly popular Need For Speed Underground. The appropriately named NFS Underground 2 picks up where the last Underground ended and adds a few new features along the way. While free roaming on over 125 miles of road, youíll find a variety of challenges covering several types of racing and many types of cars.
Presentation/Graphics : 70
When I first loaded up NFSU2, it looked absolutely terrible. Honestly the graphics were not to the level youíd expect from a current generation PS2 title. The off-road detail was fairly blocky and the frame rate seemed a bit jumpy. If you were to compare the graphics to something like Gran Turismo 3, you can really see the differences. However, as the game progressed and the speed of the cars increased, the graphics tended to look better. Still not the top of the heap as far as PS2 games are concerned, but at least the graphics were passable. By comparison, another EA game, Burnout 3, delivers much more out of the PS2 than this title.
What you do get with the graphics are cars that get updated with each feature you buy. Mirrors, scoops, spoilers, and more are displayed on your car as they are purchased. A variety of shops offer decals or paint schemes, and those items are also displayed in real-time on your car. The detail is pretty good and EA deserves credit for keeping the new skins intact during gameplay.
My main complaints with the graphics are two-fold. First, the game takes place at night and as such is dark. The lack of lighting from street lights and barriers that are barely visible make some courses more difficult to navigate than necessary. Fortunately there is a route map that can be displayed; I was using to the map to drive ďblindĒ for many races due to the inadequate lighting. The second problem is the annoying cut scene away from the action. Catching some air off a dip or ramming into a car and crashing causes the game to break away from the action, switch to a distant third-person camera, and show the action in slow motion. The feature adds nothing to the presentation and only serves to annoy as some may last up to ten seconds and alter the flow of the racing. I started pressing the car reset button just to bypass these lengthy scenes.
Presentation/Audio : 75
If you like your driving games to have music, youíre in luck. The soundtrack in NFSU2, depending on your taste of music, is quite good. The music is indicative of the culture that follows this type of racing or modification to factory stock cars. Personally I prefer to listen to the cars while racing so the music was turned all the way down. The car audio is pretty good. You get the expected acoustic response from the cars, and modifications affect the sound output. Some sounds, like bumping or scraping into other cars or walls, are not realistic but overall the sounds are effective. There are times when the audio creates a sound that seems out of place or seems to come from nowhere. Clanking metal sounds can be heard over the noise even when your car is in the clear and there are no other cars nearby. I can only assume the cars far back in my wake are hitting something. Aside from that, the occasional voice commentary stating where the racing action is adds little value to the gameís aesthetics.
Interface/Options : 90
While there are only a couple of game modes in NFSU2, the modes themselves are diverse in driving style. From the main menu, you can play in the lengthy career mode, do a quick race which is based on any of the race styles in career, go online, or play two-player split screen. All the various modes utilize the same race types, which are circuit (closed course), sprint (point-to-point racing), drag (uh, drag racing), drift (typically closed circuit with an emphasis on style rather than speed), street X (closed circuit racing on short, tight courses), underground racing league (racetrack based racing), or free roam (driving around town and occasionally picking a spontaneous street race against a local). Aside from the game modes, the available options include standard audio and video settings, minimal driver control (transmission options, stability control, etc), and controller options. The menus are easy to navigate through, but unfortunately take forever and a day to get to due to some outrageously long load times.
Gameplay : 75
The NFSU series really is nothing new. It rips off the racing elements from some great games on the PS2 and other systems. The whole underground racing basis owes its heritage to a game like the Tokyo Xtreme Racer series on the Dreamcast and PS2. You can upgrade your car with a nitrous system, and the nitrous tanks are refilled with stylistic driving or drafting (ala the Metropolis Street Racer or Project Gotham series) or dangerous driving (sounds familiar to Burnout fans). NFSU2 rolls all these elements into one game.
Starting out, you get your choice from a limited license car library. As you enter and win events you earn cash which can be used for performance or stylistic upgrades. You need both to serve different functions in the game. Whether itís tricking out a car with add-ons to get featured on magazine covers or tuning a better performer to win races, itís all about getting some coin.
The course design is typical EA NFS. Iíve always been a fan of the Need for Speed games and in particular the course layouts. A nice mix of turns, hairpins, sweeping curves, and chicanes are noticed on nearly every course. The exception is with the drift and street X courses. These are short courses with a heavy emphasis on hairpins and ninety degree turns. In all, the course design is excellent.
The AI is hit or miss. The AI cars tend to adjust their lines as appropriate but arenít afraid to bump you offline, particularly on the short tracks. My main complaint with the AI is that it is often way too easy to beat in the traditional racing modes. The racing tends to suffer because of the ease of the game. Going from race to race in an effort to complete the game is more often a chore rather than a challenge. The game provides ample opportunity to refill the nitrous tanks, but you really never need to use the gas to get the victory. The drag racing requires a bit more skill. Obstacles along the course mean youíll have to switch lanes. Hand-eye coordination is tested as you dodge obstacles while executing perfect shifts. In this mode, even those that drive with automatic transmissions must use manual trannies. The drift mode is scored more on style points rather than time. You can cross the finish line dead last but be victorious overall because the only thing that matters is the total drift point total. Finally, while free roaming, you come across AI cars that can be challenged. When behind you have to follow, and when ahead you set the course. The streets are all open so you can take any path you want to lose the competition. While the racing isnít as intense as the Tokyo Xtreme series, the ability to take multiple routes adds to the fun. Unfortunately the large free roaming environment also requires you to drive fairly long distances to get from one event to another. It can take 2-3 minutes or more to get from one event to another on the other side of town.
Replay Value : 60
After awhile, getting through the game feels more like drudgery than anything else. Think of the banal progression in Gran Turismo 3. Races are just as easy and predictable as in GT3. Completely uninspiring. Iíd much rather play a racing game that challenges my racing abilities. In the underground racing world, one only has to look at the budget priced Tokyo Xtreme series for such action.
Overall : 69
Need for Speed Underground 2 has a nice concept with a great mix of racing styles. Unfortunately the uninspired racing brings it down. Coupled with average graphics, NFSU2 wonít land on the top shelf of racing titles. There are simply better racers out there in all genres including purely arcade, purely simulation, and everything in between.