Need For Speed Undercover was a game that had quite a lot of anticipation surrounding it leading up to its launch. Now, this wasn’t due to an overkill of marketing, but rather, it was described as the title to bring about the revival in the recession that plagued the franchise since the launch of Need For Speed Carbon. Before I continue, might I add, it wasn’t that Carbon was a poor title, it just didn’t deliver upon what its predecessors brought to the front.
Continuing back onto Undercover though, from pre-launch screenshots and videos, it was said that this would be a Most Wanted 2.0, and in a sense it is, but in a sense, it isn’t, and this resulted in quite a harsh lash-back from the community once it was released. The thing is, Undercover, whilst it isn’t necessarily a poor game, does have quite a lot missing – now, with previous titles from the franchise, the developers went for the �?remove this and add this’ approach, and while it wasn’t the best idea, it meant gamers didn’t receive half a game, but Undercover reeked of �?remove this … remove this’ and this was one of the reasons why this game wasn’t welcomed with such high reception.
Often, gamers will claim that there isn’t a whole lot of skill involved in racing titles – and this couldn’t be further from the truth. One aspect of each racing title out there, that I think continually presents itself as a challenge to gamers, is the matter of physics. Vehicles in one game won’t be the same as the controls of another, and in Undercover, I found this to be quite the case.
A main selling point of this game is the new physics engine, or rather, the �?heroic driving engine’ or �?HDE’, and initially, I didn’t quite understand what the commotion was about. Admittedly, I thought most vehicles in the game had some sort of handling problem, turning wasn’t as smooth when you were accelerating and when you released the throttle, the cars turned ridiculously well.
After many hours of gameplay, I couldn’t understand the logistics behind such a decision, that is, until I began to participate in some of the pursuits. The HDE allows for manoeuvres which would be impossible in real-life. Without much effort, you are able to make swift J-turns, sharp corners and tight turns thanks to these new physics. This becomes particularly useful when corned by police vehicles or when making sharp turns in a race. As you upgrade your car collection and gain access to more advanced performance packages, you find the ease of using such techniques much more rewarding.
Over the past few years, gamers have complained that the franchise has lost its direction, the sense of �?speed’ has been lost and a host of other things. In Undercover though, this doesn’t seem like half the case.
One of the features of this title which impressed me the most was the sense of speed in the racing. Unlike the past few titles, Undercover hasn’t relied on just blurred vision and air lines to communicate the notion of �?speed’ in a Need For Speed game. This is most evident in the Highway Battles, a new race mode added to the title which sees two racers pitted against each other on a strip of highway to either outrun or outlast. Something I found unique, and quite the intelligent thinking on behalf of Black Box, is that the gamer is forced into the bumper view – meaning the car being driving isn’t visible – being kept low to the ground, you weave in and out of traffic and ridiculous speeds and this provides what can only be described as an exhilarating racing experience.
Moving forwards, and similar to a few past titles, this game has done without drag racing, unfortunately though, it has done without drifting as well. Now, a claim by some employees of Electronic Arts were that both of these can be done in Free-Roam, but drag racing isn’t as much fun when you can’t race against A.I., and to be perfectly honest, the physics don’t exactly facilitate drifting at all, especially when compared with something like Midnight Club Los Angeles.
Speaking of free-roam, this brings me to the next point, and in Undercover, what should have been the main aspect of the game is seen to be merely an add-on, something the developers included but didn’t spend most time on. Without being too harsh, it must be noted that the world is massive … almost absurdly large and the inclusion of a great highway road-system is commendable too, but unlike Underground 2 or Most Wanted, there is no real reason for using it. Races again can be accessed with the push of a button and something which really set me back – race markers don’t exist in free-roam (just the map) and nor is there a GPS, which should be a staple in a racing game like this.
The next aspect of this game worthy of a mention though is the police pursuits, and this is where a lot of the fun in the game is to be had. Unlike Most Wanted, the requirements of the pursuits are quite relaxed – and most gamers won’t find immobilising x-amount of police cars difficult, but, to retain the challenge, pursuits pertaining to the Career are timed, so the scramble to meet the requirements and evade the pursuit before the timer reaches zero will get some players on edge, but I found this was only rarely a problem.
One disappointing aspect of the police in Undercover though is that whilst in free-roam, after approximately a minute of driving, multiple patrols cruise the streets – so much so that enjoying the game for its open-world is almost not possible, and this is a shame.
Another new addition to Undercover though is the introduction of �?Jobs’, and these comprise of two types of events – the first either delivering a vehicle to a drop-point whilst evading the police or the second, delivering a vehicle to a drop point evading drivers from the rival gang. These events can include a damage counter or a timer, both of which mustn’t reach zero before the vehicle is delivered. I found these to be quite exhilarating, especially when the Heat Level gets quite high and damage whithers down to a low.
Similar to that of Need For Speed Carbon, this game suffers from a relatively short campaign mode. While there are quite a large amount of races available in Single Player to complete, only approximately half are required to be completed to finish the Career – and this is a little disappointing. On the flip side though, there is the introduction of frequent short-clips which play before and after certain races and provide an insight into the dealings of the police and the criminal gangs – both of which you are trying to please.
Overall though, if one takes the time to complete all the races whilst completing the Career Mode at the same time, the longevity of the game can be extended to approximately twenty hours, which is a decent amount of time – and given that these events can race from jobs, pursuits and street racing, it hardly becomes boring or stale at all.
Undercover continues that tradition of delivering a great selection of vehicles for the gamer to indulge in. Sorted in three categories – American, European and Japanese, Black Box have spared no expense in securing some of the best automobiles on the market. Ranging from the Mazda Rx-8 to the Nissan Skyline GT-R, from the Lotus Elise to the Bugatti Veyron 16.4, and from the Dodger Charger R/T to the Chevrolet Corvette Z06, all car needs are catered for here.
Whilst the pricing listing might be absurd for some vehicles costing much more than they would in real-life, there isn’t a shortage of cash to be made in the game to fill your garage with your personalised line up of carbon fibre and steel. There is also a wide range of customisation options to allow individuality and creativity to personalise each vehicle in the manner which you find fit.
One of the strong-points of each title from the franchise over the last five years or so, was a quality soundtrack, but unfortunately, Undercover didn’t quite continue the tradition. I never quite understood exactly which genre the game was trying to focus on. Throughout the last fifteen hours of gameplay, I can only recall hearing about seven different tracks – despite the credits listing a soundtrack with about twenty songs.
The thing is here, there isn’t exactly that focus on a wide variety of genres like the last five games had. Rather, there is a few alternative tracks, one Latin track, and one R&B track, but nothing engaging like we had during the Underground – Carbon period in the franchise. To an extent, the music is a little soothing, and it fits with the abundance of light blues, bright oranges and white colours of the world, but in terms of good music – it can’t be found here. Another shock was that the soundtrack can’t be found during gameplay, yes, when you enter a shop it displays the track, but there is no soundtrack editor in the menu and the only way you are going to find each listing is in the credits or by using the internet!
Online mode is almost the same as what we saw in Need For Speed Carbon. We have the stock standard races, which are enjoyable, and then there is the inclusion of a new game mode �?Cops and Robbers’, where one team picks up money and drops it off to another location while the other team has to stop them by all means necessary. This is quite fun and with teams of 4 on each side, it does make for some frantic driving, but that is the extent of variety in this game. That said, I have come to expect that from the series and it isn’t a weak aspect of the game at all.
Matchmaking I found was quite difficult for the races but relatively easy for Cops and Robbers, and thankfully, waiting times aren’t all too bad. Of course, it isn’t a strong-point of this game and much like the last three games, it has remained that way, so Undercover really caters for the gamers after single player racing. I didn’t encounter that many problems with lag in Cops and Robbers, so for those looking for some good racing online, that is the mode to go for.
The franchise has never been considered as a benchmark for superb graphics. Now, with that said, it doesn’t mean the visuals of the past titles have been poor, by any sense such a claim would be utterly false, but we have never seen something in contention with GRID or DiRT – the emphasis on that level of detail simply isn’t there. However, the graphics of this game are fantastic and are without hesitation, are a step up from ProStreet. The environment is great and the cars themselves look stunning.
The damage model is also quite realistic, again, it mightn’t be of a GRID standard, but it is fantastic nonetheless. Numerous racing titles suffer from curved-damage, that is, bumpers bend rather than crumple, and it is great to see that this game doesn’t suffer from that. Whether it be a Toyota or a Lamborghini, the damage looks great and the prestige of the vehicles doesn’t skew this.
While I have tried to maintain a relatively positive mood throughout the review, I must bring to light the aspects which have plagued this game – to assist in explaining why some gamers have considered this title another contributor to the slump in the franchise. While most of these can be overlooked, when bunched together you can see the reasoning behind such complaints though.
The first issue relates back to the topic of free-roam, and there isn’t exactly a shortage of problems here. The main thing to take note of is this inclusion of skipping to events, in what can only be considered as a feature for the lazy gamers out there. We revoted against it in Carbon and it only returned worse in Undercover. Not only can you jump to an event from any point in the game, but it recommends a race to jump to whenever in free-roam! A simple press on the D-Pad will take you to the race recommended, or you can enter the map and select one from there.
In addition, and as referred to earlier, there are no race markers in the world and nor is there a GPS. Even if you wanted to mark a route on the map then drive to it, then jump to the event as if there were a marker positioned – you can’t. And this was a massive argument that most people had claiming that �?free-roam is pointless’, and when looked at from this perspective, it isn’t half wrong.
The next issue relates to the physics, or rather, a problem surrounding them. On many occasions, a simple scrape on a wall or barrier will result in a great reduction in speed – sometimes dropping from 300 to a little above 200 km/h. Adding on-top of that, there’s also a problem where an impact with a wall will temporarily immobilise steering. Now, this latter issue isn’t a punishment from the game, but rather, a persistent uncommon issue which sometimes presents itself.
From all this though, there is some good. Recently EA released a patch which rectified a frame rate issue, and since, I have not encountered any problems, so it is definitely appreciated that the developers looked at gamer demands and released a solution to the problem. In addition, additional downloadable content is set to be released in the near future adding a �?Challenge Series’ to the game, free of charge, which promises to offer even the most experienced racers a run for their money (ironic since it won’t cost anything for the content!). Anything mentioned above though, whilst some might find them irritating, shouldn’t disrupt gameplay, and nor should it cloud your judgement on what is really, quite an enjoyable game.
Overall, Need For Speed Undercover is a good racing game. It is one of the few out there which offers fast-paced racing action and includes police pursuits which are enjoyable rather than a irritating – something to be avoided. The storyline is quite good and the abundance of cut-scenes throughout make for an engaging Career. Sans the negatives mentioned at the end of the review, I think that Black Box have made a decent racing title, but not one which can be considered better than the likes of Most Wanted or Underground, for their times.
I would definitely recommend this title to fellow racing fans, but it also is a great game for casual gamers, or those who might not have a whole great interest in the genre. With decent visuals and more than enough races to keep you occupied for well over 15 hours, credit is due to the developers, but there still must be mention of the lack of features which were removed – particularly those revolving around free-roam. It mightn’t be a complete reviver to the negative reputation of the franchise or the developers, but it proves that there is still fun to be had with these games.