Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts
Release Date: November 15, 2004
A year ago, Electronic Arts surprised us with one of the hottest racers of the year, Need for Speed Underground, the shocker follow-up to the already-acclaimed NFS series,. The newest installment sold millions worldwide, marking a new era for import racing games. With a year gone by, it's no surprise that EA has brought out the requisite sequel, but will it meet expectations, or is it just a rehash of the previous?
EA has a tendency to reuse their already well-built system and sell it as a different product, but NFSU2 doesn't follow the exact same path. The handling and controls are rather similar to the last, but you can now feel the difference between cars, like whether one has more handling or acceleration. EA probably wanted to produce a realistic yet arcade-feeling game.
They also included huge SUVs in the game, and everyone knows that an H2 had better not handle like an AE86 or be smoking my level-3 engine Skyline or Supra. Although the option is available to you, SUVs aren't exactly the friendliest vehicles to race, and you have to be an insanely skilled driver if you want to take these into any of the racing modes.
The offered modes are: Circuit, Sprint, Drift, Street X, Underground Racing League (URL) and Outrun, with the first three modes being quite comparable to their NFSU counterparts. Circuit involves you driving around a set route within the city, trying to avoid oncoming traffic and winning by using any possible method. This is actually quite similar to Sprint mode, if it weren't for the fact that Sprint has only one start position and one finish position, with no backtracking. The final mode that resembles those in the previous NFSU is Drift, where you do as the name says and "drift" on certain courses, with the added feature of downhill drifting, much like Initial D.
The three new modes in the game are: Street X, which is similar to cross-country racing on a short, closed circuit; URL, where you will race up to six players on a closed circuit, and lastly, Outrun, which plays like Tokyo Extreme Racer, where you try to outrun your opponent. A new system has been implemented in these races, a system similar to Burnout 3s where you regain NOS. For each trick you do, your car will earn points that will add to your NOS gauge, or remove from it, if you hit oncoming traffic.
These modes might be great, but in reality, they would not have really improved the gameplay all that much, since they feel similar to the last. What really helped the gameplay feel different was EA's newest addition, the NFSU2 world map, which shows a map of the portions that you've unlocked within the city of Bayview, at least the portions you have unlocked. This map ties closely to how the game is played; having a free roam mode, you must drive to certain race locations in order to participate. At times, there may even be other special events such as a photo shoot or unique parts, which you must reach within a certain time, and this completely changes the NFSU universe. In the first NFSU, you had to go through a specific number of races, but in this title, the races that you wish to run are entirely up to you. If your forte is drifting, then go to all of the drift races, but if circuit is your specialty, then race those instead, and so on.
If you miss a race, the consequences are negligible, and the story still goes on. The entire game revolves around the sponsor; you move to the next stage each time you get a new sponsor. Each sponsor has certain requirements that must be met, like my current sponsor, OZ, which requires me to do three sponsored drift events, win 19 races, and five URL races. Other sponsors have different requirements, and there is a wide enough variety to fit your driving style.
However, nothing is more satisfying than taking your car for a spin after spending hours fine-tuning and customizing it. NFSU2 uses a system that is like its predecessor's, with a small difference: you personally have to go to the brick and mortar stores within the city in order to purchase the necessary equipment. Not all stores have the same price so checking different stores at different times may result in a great price on a turbo kit that you had wanted but could not afford.
There are several stores in this game which you will need to find: performance stores (blue light), where you purchase your engine, ECU, transmission, suspension, NOS, tires, brakes, weight reduction, and turbo kits; specialized stores (yellow light), where you purchase custom gauges, neon, window tint, lights, nitrous purge, hydraulics, audio equipment, spinners, split hoods, doors; body shops (green light), where you can get your front and rear bumpers, head scoop, spoilers, side skirts, hoods, roof scoops, headlights; and lastly, graphics shops (red light), where you get your stickers, vinyls and paint jobs. There is also one more type of "shop," the car lots, where you purchase a new vehicle or trade in your car for a new one.
You will usually purchase car customizations in packages and select certain brand items and whatnot. As far as I can tell, all brands perform similarly in the game, so choosing an HKS over AEM doesn't really matter, but what does differ between a true NFS and a wannabe is the new tuning system. In the original NFSU, there was no way to customize any of the car performances such as shocks, gear ration, and much more, but the option exists in this one, and all you need to do to activate these customizations is to go to the garage. Not only can you fix up your car, but the garage also holds up to five cars, unlike the last, where you could only have one.
To me, what really makes this game enjoyable is the aforementioned free roam mode. The city is quite large, and there is no load time when traveling between parts of the city; the only load times are when you start up the races. This makes the game a lot less restrictive, and if you are just plain bored, you can just drive around town, as I do when I have free time in my real life. In order to understand where to go, the game has implemented a GPS system (which at times gives the wrong directions or sometimes just don't exist, especially for special events), on which you can activate a direction, and it will try to lead you to the race or to the spot you wish to go. To activate the world map and the GPS, if desired, tap the left button on the directional pad. Other buttons that you can use while roaming the free area is the up button to go into a store/challenge for Outrunner, right to see the SMS messages which will inform you of new events, new unlocked parts, and races unknown to the map (better paying than regular ones), and lastly, down will show your career stats and also inform you how many more stores in the area need to be unlocked.
If you have the chance to lurk around, you will get to enjoy the background graphics that EA has developed for this game. Looking at the city from Jackson Heights is just awesome, and the town is detailed to the point where you wonder if this was modeled after an actual location. It's packed with skyscrapers, highways, houses, road signs, and stores such as Best Buy and Burger King practically around every corner. So yes, the game has implemented in-game advertising, but it's done in an acceptable manner.
The cars seem to be about the same graphical level as the previous NFSU, with no massively noticeable improvements. Bayview is completely based at night, and you never see a sunset or sunrise for the duration of the game. The only change of environment you may experience is when it rains every once in a while. For those who are wondering, the weather patterns are not dynamic, and if you play the same track over and over again, you will notice the rain starting and stopping at the same moments.
To accompany your driving experience, we must have some sort of music, and EA has done it once again by providing a pretty good track selection that fits the game pretty well. The tracks are mainly rock/alternative, and a few techno tracks are also available. If there is a song that particularly grates on your nerves, you can edit the playlist to remove the title.
To top it all off, the online portion of the game has been vastly improved, and EA has addressed almost all of the complaints that were raised about the original NFSU, from the ability to reset the race, create private or password-protected rooms, to several different modes for online play. All the modes for single player are playable online, even Outrun, with a huge range where you can drive around to lose your tail. Laudable is the fact that the game has no lag as far as I've seen, and that is even accounting for voice chat during the loading of the game. You can also smack talk the opponent while racing, which can be good and bad, but is great with friends.
Overall, the game is pretty fun in both single player and multiplayer. With a lot of upgraded features and free roam, the game is really enjoyable and just plain fun. If I had to nitpick, there aren't nearly enough cars (where is the '92 MR2?), and I encountered a bug while racing in URL mode. The Outrun system still needs a little work, sometimes it registers passing a person when in fact they have not. Perhaps in the next NFSU, EA will put in traffic and cops (no cops in single player), it would add so much more replay value and challenge to online play.
Score: 9.2 / 10
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