Need for Speed Underground 2 GameCube Review

Need for Speed Underground 2 is the latest in the long line of Need for Speed games from EA Games. As the title suggests, EA have decided to stick with the late night street racing theme for this game following the commercial success of Need for Speed Underground on all formats last year. How will this compare to the competition out there at the moment in the crowded genre of racing games?

Graphics

The graphics in this game really are a mixed bag to say the least. The stars of the show, the cars, look fantastic particularly when modded to the hilt (more later). The city looks convincingly realistic, although a little blocky in places. The weather effects, which really just amount to when it rains, are not particularly well done and are certainly not worth the huge framerate hit suffered at the time. The game generally nips along at a fine old pace, but the slowdown is really noticeable when it rains, which is a shame and really detracts from the gaming experience.

Damage modeling in the game is non-existent, a head on crash into a wall at 150 mph resulting in no visible damage at all. This is a biggie for me, and is a fundamental issue in some of the biggest games, even the likes of the Gran Turismo series. It’s inescapable, though, that a lack of damage physics really takes away from the feeling of satisfaction whilst playing a racing game. Compare this to two other big racers at the moment. Burnout 3 has superb, cringe-worthy crashes which mangle your car into unimaginable shapes, whilst Flatout has the best physics engine for damage yet seen in a game. Need for Speed Underground 2 just doesn’t compete with these games in this area.

The cut scenes in the game are worthy of a special mention, simply because they are done in an unusual cartoon strip style. This kind of thing can work in game, step forward Max Payne, but it just doesn’t work in this setting. It serves its purpose, though, in driving forward the story.

Lighting effects in the game are done reasonably well, although it all looks a bit ‘neon’ and garish. These issues may not be present on other formats like Xbox or PC, I don’t know, but they certainly make the game a lot less desirable on the GameCube. This isn’t a bad looking game, don’t get me wrong, but there’s much better out there. Whether this is a limitation of the GameCube or not is a question I’ll leave Xbox and PC players to answer.

Gameplay

Need for Speed Underground 2 is a story driven game, in which you play the part of a street racer on a comeback after being forced out of the game following an accident. You start out with nothing and must race to get cash to upgrade your cars. This is where the fun really begins, and it really is very satisfying to modify your cars and see the effects this has on how they look. This is more than just a gimmick as the mods can improve performance and also impress sponsors, which in turn leads to more cash to improve things further.

The racing engine doesn’t seem to have moved on since the last game; in essence it all feels very much the same. Where things have changed, though, is in the game’s structure. Now you have a huge, open city at your mercy, and you must drive around and pick the challenges as they suit you. There are several types of races to be done, and I shall briefly describe them here:

Drift: does what it says on the tin. The more drift, the better, and your target is to beat the total amassed by your rivals.

Street X: These are very tight tracks, where picking the right racing line and holding it is of the utmost importance.

Underground Racing League: These are track based races that take you off the streets onto a racetrack or a big, open airfield.

Outrun: Drive up to other racers in the city, flash your lights at them, and way you go in a one on one.

Sprint: Shorter, high speed races.

Circuit: Longer races that take in the sights of the whole city during each race.

Drag: Race very fast, in a straight line. Lane changes here are vital to succeed, and you must also manually change gear at the right time.

The different types of races really vary in how enjoyable they are. Drag racing can be particularly frustrating due to the high speeds and the not so clear graphics, making it very difficult to see what’s coming up ahead. The gear changes need to be pretty exact, too, and you also need to keep an eye on the temperature gauge so as not to blow your engine. This is where the game also lacks in a little realism, as a Vauxhall Corsa can beat a fully modded Ford Mustang simply due to one bad gear change from the Mustang.

The action is firmly arcade based, and the cars handle accordingly. This is no sim, if you want accurate simulated racing, go for something like Richard Burns Rally. This is pure, straight forward arcade racing, and that will hit the spot with some but not others.

There are other niggles, too, such as hitting a tiny little kerb resulting in you stopping dead rather than just driving over them. Plus points go to EA for the GPS system which makes finding your destination easier through the very accurate onscreen arrow that guides to your next point. The controls on the GameCube pad are very fiddly, though, so it feels like one step forward and two back.

The story line is nothing more than a canvas to paint the races on, and adds little to the game. There are also no Police, so there is no real fear or feeling of being involved in an illegal activity. This is a missed opportunity as far as I am concerned, and some pursuit modes would have fitted in very well in the city setting.

All in all, the game keeps you coming back to it, so it has its addictive qualities as well as its frustrations.

Sound

Again, a mixed verdict here. The sounds of the car’s engines are done exceptionally well, capturing the feeling of power from these motors. All cars sound different, and the sound of the turbo you use is also very well done, making you really feel that temporary boost of power. Tyres squeal convincingly and the crashes sound meaty enough. But that’s it. There are no other sounds in the game, no environmental sounds at all. There are voiceovers in the cut-scenes and these are OK but nothing special.

The soundtrack, though, is dreadful. Apart from one or two songs, it really doesn’t hit the mark. I have never been a fan of the EA Trax system, and it simply doesn’t work in this game. Part of the problem is that it’s not dynamic at all, it doesn’t react to events in the game, it’s just there. And not very pleasant at that.

Lifespan

The story mode of the game is a very healthy length, coming in at something like 30 hours to completion. It’s an enjoyable ride, too, on the whole and the thrill of upgrading your cars never gets old. However, there is little incentive to replay the story mode, there are no alternative branching story paths, no decisions you make that affect the outcome of the story.

There is a two player split screen mode, but again the framerate suffers somewhat making this a little less appealing. The GameCube suffers from having no online play, making it probably the weakest format for the title.

Overall

This is not a bad game, though, far from it. 30 hours solid play from a title is still value for money and, as I said, it’s all very enjoyable on the whole. It’s just that the competition out there is so strong at the moment. EA themselves have done the high speed racer thing much better with Burnout 3, a superb title and one with next to no flaws in it. Bugbear have also entered the racing market recently with the sublime Flatout. It’s difficult to recommend Need for Speed Underground 2 over these titles. However, if you’re a real racing fan, you’ll have those games already. In that case, it may well be worth checking this title out. One suggestion, though.. get it on a different format. The Xbox will likely do away with the framerate problems, whilst also having the benefit of online play. The PC version will do likewise as long as you have a powerful enough PC.

PS. A note of thanks must go to my son, Dave, for the time he has put into this game to help me write this review. He’s the racing game fanatic in the family and has given some great comments which have been incorporated into this review. Also thanks goes to Hype Council for providing us with a review copy of the game. Cheers!

7 out of 10
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