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Need For Speed: Underground
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Old 30th November 2003, 19:23   #1
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Default Need For Speed: Underground -- Review

You like high performance sports car like Lamborghini, Ferrari, Porsche and others? You like imagine yourself driving an old-time American muscle car with enough power to almost do a wheelie? If one of the previous statements is true for you, then beware, because Need For Speed: Underground has not a lot to offer for you in that area.

If you liked the “Fast and the Furious (I & II)” and were wondering how a racing game based on those movie would be like, read on to find out if NFS:U is that game!

The main menu

NFS:U puts you in the driving seat of mostly Japanese sports cars and lets you change their looks and performance stats to suite your needs. The game offers a rich single player experience and also lets you drive against other NFS:U owners over the internet.

The Career mode starts off by a nicely rendered introduction after which you get to choose your “first” car. The choice is limited in the beginning and by progressing into the game you get access to fancier and speedier cars. The idea of being able to upgrade your car to increase its performance is not a new one. But where NFS:U really shines is in the “visual upgrade” department. Older games sometimes let you change the colour of your car and put some logos on them (Nascar Racing springs to mind). But EA’s latest NFS game goes way beyond that.

Even at the start of the game when most of the upgrade options are still locked, you get an extensive line-up of visual upgrades to change the looks of “your ride”. Spoilers, rims, front/rear bumpers, window-tinting, you name it! If you’re into car tuning then this game will please you without doubt. By winning races and contests in Career mode (or as NFS:U calls it: “Underground Mode”) you unlock more and more upgrades, both visual and performance, for your car.

The Quick Race options lets you just jump into to game and have some fun, allowing you to fine-tune any car you have already unlocked in the Career mode.

“Circuit”: lets you drive against 3 computer on a chosen.. circuit through the city for a minimal of 2 and maximum of 10 laps.
“Sprint”: is driving from point A to point B in a city
“Drag”: is one of the “new” game modes, drag-racing has been done before in other games, but NFS:U implementing is pretty smooth, more on this later
“Drift”: haven’t seen this type of “race” before, in this mode you need to drift your car on an indoor track, to more and better your drift, the more points you get.
“Lap Knockout”: “there can be only one”, last one over the finish is eliminated, the circuit race continues until there is 1 player left.
“Free Ride”: let’s you set best lap times on any of the circuits without having the worry about other riders or the # of laps.

One of the trade marks of the Need For Speed series, is the inclusion of traffic on the road. From the first Need for Speed outing players were required to avoid other cars while swerving along the roads at high speeds. NFS:U doesn’t abolish this tradition, and includes traffic in almost all game modes (Drift is the only one where you’re alone on the road, but as said before, this one is an indoor, private, circuit : - ) )

Oncoming traffic, better to avoid

The Circuit, Sprint and Lap Knockout modes are played in one big city and the road that needs to be followed is clearly marked with big pointers at every turn. The scenery is dark in general as all races are done at night, in the more dense areas of the city you get an overload of streetlights which turn the whole screen into a party of light and reflections, keeping your eye on the road becomes very challenging.

The “Drag” racing mode puts 4 cars at the beginning of a long stretch of road; traffic is present, barricades also which you better avoid. Each car has an ideal point on its rev. dial where you need to change gear, doing to early gives you an “Early shift” message, if you are close to the ideal point “Good Shift”, followed by the preferred “Perfect shift”, miss that one and you get an “Over Rev”. Without the nitro boost you have to rely on performing a perfect shift each time to keep ahead of the opponents, traffic makes driving and changing gear at the correct moment a real challenge, but luckily you’ll notice that each car is placed in a track where it stays on unless you chose to change lanes, the handling is not the same as in the other gameplay modes and is aimed toward driving straight on as fast as you can, this makes the steering part of drag racing a little easier.
The scripted traffic scenes during the drag races are a let down as they can get really unnerving. The same car shows up at the same place over and over again! It takes away the unpredictable part of the traffic in some drag races.
The nitro boost upgrade you acquire later on in the game gives another dimension this mode, using it too early or too late decides whether or not you get to be the winner. The drag race mode is implemented in a stylish way and doesn’t become repetitive as you might you think.

The “Drift” mode requires you to keep your car on the track while you slide around the corners, it takes some practise before you can get any score worth mentioning, and combining slides gives you a boost in points but also increases the risk of spinning out of control.

You get basic visual upgrades in the “Quick Race” mode, each race you win you receive “Style Points” which unlock these new upgrades. You get Style points when you are the first one to take of at the start leaving the others behind, leading a circuit race and keeping 1st place. Power slides, “near misses” with traffic and other “cool” actions are rewarded with style points and add to your counter.

But if you want to unlock new cars, performance upgrades and more advanced visual ones you need to “Go Underground”. The career mode offers you a mix of circuit, knockout, drag, drift, sprint races, which you NEED to win (come in 1st) in order to progress. The only time where coming in first is not required is in a tournament (only in “Underground” mode). You get points for finishing 1st/2nd/3rd and at the end of the tourney you have to be the winner, of course!

Racing in NFS:U is fun. Plain and simple, it is very addictive and provides and excellent mix of arcade and realism. The jumps, slides, crashes are all in the arcade corner, while the car drifting overall handling and cornering is very solid and the physics used are similar as seen in one of the first Colin McRae games.

Environment sound is awesome, improving on the already high standard set by the previous incarnation of Need For Speed. When you upgrade your car’s performance stats, including motor specifications you’ll hear a difference in sound when playing the game, also changing gears will be accompanied by a hissing sound, just like in real life (“Getaway in Stockholm”, google it!). The included soundtrack is a mix of RnB and pumping Techno, it fits the theme perfectly and different known artists have contributed to provide high quality music. (Some names: Rob Zombie, Junkie XL, Mystikal, Nate Dogg, etc..)

NFS:U is a DX9 game, it uses DX9 features to deliver stunning graphics, if you are “stuck” with a DX8 card, no worries as the difference is hardly noticeable. I played the game on a Geforce 4 Ti4600 first and was very impressed, at 1024x768x32bit with all the detail set to the maximum the game was pretty fluent, the only slowdowns experienced were with scenes where there was smoke, or complete water reflections, then the Ti4600 had troubles to keep a high (+30fps) frame-rate. Luckily these scenes are of such short duration that the overall fluent graphics experience is not disturbed.
Then I plugged in an ATI Radeon 9700 Pro and noticed no lag at all, the game was playable up to its maximum resolution. The main difference I saw between the DX8 and the DX9 were the reflections and shiny-ness of the game.

Scenes like this can get quite choppy due to the smoke, DX8 cards have a hard time rendering this fluently

The graphics, at its default quality setting, already create an impressive sense of speed when driving at +200km/h. But when you go into the advanced graphic options and enable the “Blur” option, you get another spoonful. Just like in the “2 Fast 2 Furious” movie you get a blurring effect when driving at high speeds, using your Nitro and acceleration at high speeds makes your whole surrounding wash away. Hard to explain with words, so just take a look at the screenshots ->

The multiplayer aspect of NFS:U is provided by an online EA service. You need to create an EA login to access the lobby where you can challenge and be challenged by other racers. Owners of PS2 and PC versions are in these lobbies and you can’t tell if the person on the other side is playing on a television or not.
First you choose which gameplay mode you like to play, then chat with the other players in that particular lobby, and proceed to either join an open race invitation, or challenge someone to a head-2-head. The status of an opponent’s connection is displayed next to his name to give you an idea of how “fluent” the play will be if you chose to race him/her. Selecting a player and pressing enter brings up a stats page showing you how many races he/she won/lost.

The cars you get to pick to play in the “online” mode are those who are available to you in the “Quick Race” mode. You need to finish the Career mode first to get access to all the upgrades.
You can chose to either play ranked or unranked games, as each win/lose in a ranked game counts for your global position in the list of “best players of the world”

I was unable to find a “LAN” multiplayer mode, so playing this game on a LAN without internet connection will be impossible. I hope they release an update to address this issue.

• great driving experience
• visual upgrades are a very nice addi(c)tion
• online multiplayer is plug and play

• only multiplayer through online service from EA
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Old 30th November 2003, 19:28   #2
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Nice work.

A "LAN" multiplayer mode is indeed necessary for people who are stuck with a slow inet connection /lanparty's.
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Old 30th November 2003, 19:41   #3
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pretty cool game , nice review
btw i play the game with a gamepad , but i noticed that 'drifting' is a lot easier with a keyboard
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Old 30th November 2003, 21:09   #4
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nice review
Old 30th November 2003, 21:31   #5
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Great review!
Old 30th November 2003, 21:35   #6
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impressive review
Old 15th April 2004, 16:28   #7
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I only played it once on a lan but , don't know anymore how to play it here

wasn't it on online games and so on ....
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