Need for Speed: Undercover Xbox 360, PS3 Review

Slow and steady may very well win you a metaphorical race, but in reality that rather hairy tale is very much at the core of the biggest problem Need for Speed: Undercover has. Aside from the spectacular, rather abrupt opening, a significant portion of the first half of the game borders very close to monotony. The AI of the other drivers do their utmost to let you win, the tracks lack bends, are devoid of any remarkable scenery, and the cars available offer no sense of speed.

It is not until you get past this lacklustre start to the game, totalling around 4 or so hours, that you get to the good stuff. This ‘good stuff’ is indeed very fun to play, with track layouts getting much more exciting the further you get. Additionally, two new sections of the city open up for later on in the game, which are also much more interesting and exciting to drive around. Tons of supercars are also available to buy once you save up the cash, with even the fabled Bugatti Veyron, a car which can make Jeremy Clarkson make a funny face, making a appearance later in the game. The differing selection of events available helps keep you interested, with a vast amount of racing events (including head-to-head races), time-trial events and pursuit (you vs cops) events helping to keep things varied with 100+ mottled across the city map to select.

However, even when you do get to this good bit, there are still a few more problems to contend with. None of them are game breakers that outright ruin the fun, but to do give the experience a nasty blemish. One of the game’s biggest setbacks, especially when you directly compare to the likes of Burnout, is that the racing lacks some solid oomph. This is particularly evident at the start with the slower races, but as you move on the floaty physics do end up having some ornate charm to them – even if they do make mother nature want to pull her hair out direct from the roots.

Additionally, the game lacks a first person cockpit view, which may be the norm for quite a few racers nowadays, but remains ignored by EA and the NFS franchise as a whole. Other little niggles, such as shadows that that substantially darken sections of the track, to such an extent that you cannot see what way you’re going, and nasty, highly noticeable framerate drops continually annoy as well.

There is a story going on in conjunction with all this racing, although for the most part the over stylized cutscenes seem completely divorced from the gameplay, and you’ll repeatedly feel the game could easily exist without them. Things initially look good though, with the likes of Maggie Q and Christina Milian partaking in the action. However, along with them there is a selection of other below-Z quality, no-name actors who are really, really bad at what they do, continually dwelling in their in own self-delusions of coolness. It does not help when the script is mostly nonsensical, but when the actors think that shouting loudly conveys emotion it ultimately means you just want to skip the little story there is. Additionally, the direction of the cutscenes, full to the brim with weird cuts, and shot at angles that gratuitously remind you that the actresses do indeed have a pair of breasts can grate.

Prostreet was a mess, even EA admit that to some extent. Not only was it completely the wrong direction for the Need for Speed series to go, it was also a poorly executed mash up of simulation and arcade that, in the long run, ended up impressing no one. Thankfully, Undercover manages to address that wrong, and – if you excuse the pun – gets the series back on the right track. Although parts of the game inherently duplicates much of what we’ve seen in NFS games of the past, it is a welcome addition to the new take on the series that started with Most Wanted. At times even evoking some nostalgic memories of Hot Pursuit, albeit highly diminutive ones, so let’s not get too carried away.

However, even though it is a step in the right direction, the game still lacks appeal in a number of other areas. In its current form, regardless of all its innate flash and colour, it is quite a few notches away from being a must buy. So when all is said and done, NFS: Undercover it best described as a steeping stone for the series, one that offers hope that EA can achieve better things in the future.

6/10

by

Version tested: Xbox 360, PS3

Developer: EA Blackbox

Publisher: EA

Genre: Arcade Racer