The Need Fulfilled
August 21, 2008 – The Need for Speed (NFS) franchise has been around for a long time now. The series has definitely seen some high notes like Hot Pursuit, Underground, and Most Wanted, but there have been several low points as well. Aware of the less than stellar response gamers had to their last game, NFS ProStreet, EA has set out to right the ship that is the NFS series. From the looks of it, longtime fans could definitely be much happier with the new approach taken in NFS Undercover.
Perhaps the most unexpected change comes in the form of the game’s story. By story, I don’t mean you are no-name-racing-guy rising through the racing ranks to become the best either. Instead, a large amount of time and effort have clearly been taken to make Undercover’s story feel like that of a blockbuster film. The story is told through a mix of live action footage (starring the likes of Maggie Q) and CG cutscenes. Thankfully, live action has come a long way since the days of the Sega CD, so expect these cinemas to be of very high quality and to feel just like watching a theatrical film.
Players will take on the role of a character that has been recruited by Federal Agent Chase Lihn (Q) to help take down an international crime syndicate. Oddly enough, this involves you going undercover as a wheelman who must constantly prove himself. This means you’ll have plenty of opportunities to drive like a madman, just don’t expect the police to be in on the fact that you are one of the good guys. In the time we got to play the game, the police were definitely a formidable force, trying to run you off of the road and smashing up your vehicle to take you down.
The action in Undercover takes place in the Tri-City Bay Area, which is made up of three cities and a ton of interconnecting highways. This world looks incredibly diverse with a good variety of locales like a dilapidated urban areas, more modern city streets, as well as more rural fare such as rolling hills and canyon roads. Of course, no matter where you are driving, it seems as though the roads have been covered with a fresh layer of precipitation, even when there is nary a cloud in the sky. That inevitability aside, the large open world environments in Undercover should provide players with a beautiful and varied world in which to showcase the game’s improved gameplay.
As an open world game, Undercover can’t rely on previous games’ engines, as the turning speed would be too slow to allow adequate freedom of movement. Instead, this time around, players are treated to the all new Heroic Driving Engine. Living up to its name, you’ll be able to pull off all sorts of quick turns including 180s, 360s, and other sharp turns with ease. With just a slight use of the emergency brake, players will easily be able to perform ridiculous driving feats to avoid the police or other foes. While playing, we were able to evade a massive police chase by spinning a 180, reversing through an ally, spinning another 180 upon exiting, and then driving away at top speed like nothing happened. Not only do the controls make maneuvers like this feel like second nature, but the camera is also incredibly intuitive, giving you an appropriate and useful camera angle no matter what crazy things you may be doing.
While we were assured that there would be more mission types, we were able to try out three different missions during the NFS event. The first was a highway battle, which had you competing against one opponent on a long stretch of highway to see who could finish in first. Weaving in and out of traffic was quite a bit of fun, and the long road made for some incredibly fast speeds. The next mission was a driver job that tasked us with making it to a chop shop while evading heavy police pursuit. This mission really showed off the open world nature of the game, allowing you to take any route you wished to reach your final destination. This was extremely fortunate, as losing the police seemed to require a lot of good driving and sharp turns that wouldn’t have been possible on a set track.
The last mission was more like a standard race, competing against seven opponents for a first place finish. Where several gamers had issues finding their way through the streets of Burnout Paradise during high speed races, Undercover will not fall prey to this issue. Although Undercover is an open world game, races are thankfully done on sectioned off race tracks. These tracks will still be made up of the game’s streets, but barriers and rails will funnel players in the correct direction. So, instead of constantly having to stare at your compass or completely memorize your map, as in Paradise, players will be able to just focus on how they are driving and what position they are in. I personally think this is a great move that helps to simplify the racing experience for less hardcore players.
After the fairly ill-received ProStreet, it is good to see the NFS series getting back on track. With its interesting storyline, open world structure, beautiful graphics, intuitive camera, and excellent new driving engine, Undercover looks like it will be one of the best racing games on the market this fall. We’ll have to reserve final judgment until we get a retail copy, but things are definitely looking up for NFS fans. Look for more information about this game as it becomes available closer to its release.