Need For Tweaks
Those who battle over which style of Need for Speed they enjoy more – the deep cops n’ outlaws storyline and open world of Most Wanted or the more street race rooted Underground – have the best of both worlds with Undercover, a game that combines both ideas with live-action cutscenes and a very cinematic feel. Essentially, Need for Speed: Undercover returns to the concepts of Most Wanted with even more aggressive police chases, involved Career Mode, and larger open world.
The Career Mode plays out like a film, as opening credits roll and you’re quickly thrust into the action having to speed away from cruisers on your tail. Cutscenes are all live-action and the cast includes names such as singer Christina Milian and Kurt Caceres of Prison Break bringing their star power to the game. Career Mode can be entertaining, albeit not entirely original with somewhat of a contrived storyline and clichéd scriptwriting. The story brightly reflects the plot of the original Fast and the Furious movie, as you’re put behind the wheel as an undercover agent with a mission of busting a street-racing gang involved in criminal activity. Typically, your options are limited when first beginning, as it seems the Tri-City P.D. doesn’t have the budget to start you off with a decent ride. You’ll have to win crowded street races to earn money (which is illegal, by the way) and unlock new rides, upgrades, music, courses, and the respect of local street racers to work your way into the circuit and dismantle their organization from the inside.
The in-game graphics are initially unimpressive. Everything from the cars to the cityscape seems to be boxy and poorly rendered. When in a high-speed race or in hot pursuit, the cars and city whizzing by become blurred as if the game has trouble rendering at such speeds. Finding where you need to go can be straining on the eyes, as it is difficult to see directional markers from a distance. The poor visuals also make for less enjoyable free roaming, as the game has an open city concept that seems somewhat wasted while you never really forget you’re playing a video game. With outdated graphics as a constant reminder, Undercover simply lacks visual appeal.
Where this racing title excels is in its blending of free-roam capabilities throughout the Tri-City Bay area with a variety of races and challenges you can pick up at any time. The setup offers some variety while playing, as you can choose your challenges by quickly jumping to any one on the map. You can’t actually drive there, which also makes the open world feel somewhat pointless, though roaming and exploring the map can be fun for short periods of time. The map is the largest free-roam environment in the NFS series with a number of different districts and a long stretch of highway where you’ll have to partake in a number of challenges. It doesn’t take long until you have a fleet of vehicles available to purchase either. There are over 50 cars to unlock, including Porsches, Lamborghini’s, muscle cars, and the new, notably publicized Nissan 370Z. There are lots of upgrades and overall upgrade packages available which make the game even more interesting, with enough unlockable courses, cars, and tune-ups to make playing through the entire story worthwhile. It would, however, be nice to see a few more variations in the types of challenges in Career Mode. You will repeatedly take part in Sprit and Circuit comps on the same courses, which tends to get repetitive with time while not without ample reward upon completion.
At the start of Career Mode, races are extremely easy to win even with the stock vehicles provided. As you continue to win races and challenges, your skill level increases as determined by your Driver Skills and Wheelman systems. You are also rewarded for performing various stunts while in a race such as near misses with oncoming traffic to rapidly increase your ranking and bank account to purchase upgrades and other goodies. The reward system for style and stunts also ads for a bit more variety while racing, though it would be nice for the same system to be applied while free-roaming.
One of my only other concerns with this game is the way the races are set up. As you accept a challenge, you are loaded into a typical race track with guard rails and some traffic as you have to battle pedestrians, oncoming vehicles, as well as the cars you’re trying to beat. Not only is the setup an unbelievable street race track, but the fact that an organized street race would occur in a downtown area filled with light traffic is pretty unlikely. Remarkably, all through traffic is also blocked off for the street race, which means you’ll only have to avoid head-on collisions while weaving through traffic. Undercover definitely doesn’t offer the most realistic take on street racing, with a return to the arcade feel not present in last year’s ProStreet.
Cop chases are genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, as overzealous cops in unmarked cars do all they can to box you in by ramming your vehicle and performing P.I.T. maneuvers. They’ll do whatever they can to stop you, and it’s obvious how much more aggressive cops are behind the wheel in Undercover compared to Most Wanted. Multiple cruisers come out of nowhere, as suicidal officers smack into you at top speed to sandwich you between guardrails and other cop cars. Escaping police isn’t entirely difficult, giving the player a fighting chance against Tri-City’s finest, thanks to NFS’ traditional race mechanics that are forgiving and easy to grasp. Thankfully, the game makes full use of the fun police A.I. with three different single-player modes, including Escape, which is just as it sounds, Cop Take-Out, in which the goal is to wreck a specific number of cruisers, and Coast to State, which rewards you for damaging property while on the lamb.
If you were less keen on last year’s more realistic ProStreet offering from the NFS series, Undercover returns to the arcade style and cinematic feel of Most Wanted in somewhat of a disappointing fashion. To really enjoy it, the player not only has to overlook serious graphical issues, but also suspend disbelief and take the game with a grain of salt to bare with the script, the way races are set up, and the way lives are put in danger just so you can infiltrate a crime ring by winning hundreds of street races. In all, Undercover may not be the highest in quality or win any awards, but it can offer a good time for those who play it.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.3 Graphics
Poor rendering, blurring techniques, and issues with draw distance are among the game’s worst aspects, as Undercover appears visually outdated. 3.8 Control
Forgiving and easy-to-grasp controls make a return to the arcade style of the series. 3.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
In-game sound effects are standard, while a solid rock and electronic soundtrack remains energetic. 3.6 Play Value
The amount of cars and courses offer a lot of variety to the game, though the open world becomes pointless with little to do while free-roaming. 3.4 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.