Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts
Release Date: November 15, 2004
The Need for Speed series has come a long way since the original debuted nearly a decade ago. Since then, EA has inundated the gaming community with various takes on the racing genre, with iterations focusing on straight racing, outrunning cops, Porsche-only competitions, and, most recently, the tuner car craze. Need for Speed Underground 2 expands greatly upon last year’s tuner-centric offering, while retaining its solid arcade-style gameplay. It may not be the best arcade racer on the market (that title goes to another EA-published racer, Burnout 3), but NFSU2 is still worth a purchase for racing fans who want licensed vehicles, tons of car (and SUV) customization options, a lengthy single-player mode, and those neat-o lights that teenage cruisers install under their Honda Civics.
NFSU2 includes four gameplay modes: career, quick race, two-player split screen, and online. Career mode is an expansive racing romp through a huge city, where you work your way up from an unknown Toyota-tweaker to a renowned street racer. This mode is where you will spend the large majority of your single-player experience. Quick race is the pick-up-and-play mode, in which you choose a car, course, and race type before jumping into a single competition. You can challenge a friend to a quick race in the split screen mode, or up to five other gear heads via Xbox Live.
The single-player career mode places your character in a street racer’s paradise known as Bayview. The enormous city is split up into a few different areas, which become available as you win races. You can drive freely around the city, using a map and a GPS system to locate various race events. You receive information on racing events via a Short-Message-System (SMS), which is basically portable e-mail. Race types include circuit, sprint, drag, drift, street X, Underground Racing League (URL), and on-a-whim outrun races. As you win races, you will earn cash and reputation points. Cash (or as the hip dudes in the game call it, “bank”) is spent on new vehicles or customizations. Reputation points earn you sponsorship opportunities.
You will take part in all types of race events while in story mode. Circuit races are multi-lap events in which you race through traffic-infested city streets. Sprint races are basically the same as circuit races, except you race from point to point. Drag racing is a rapid practice in accurate gear shifting and traffic-dodging. Drift races test your ability to powerslide with style in order to acquire more points than your opponents. Street X events take place on short, closed tracks that cater to aggressive, fender-to-fender driving. URL events are closed-circuit races that take place in off-limits areas such as airport runways. Finally, outrun races occur by accepting cell-phone challenges from nearby cruisers.
The various events in NFSU2 offer a decent amount of variety, although more would be welcome. After a while, things start to feel a little stale. Some gamers may also be turned off by the size of Bayview. Usually, large environments are considered a bragging point, but in NFSU2, driving between events can often take a few minutes. This means you’ll have quite a bit of down time between the actual racing events. Thankfully, you can activate the slick GPS system to direct you to race locations, in order to avoid too much wandering.
The vehicle control is a balanced mix of easily accessible arcade-style gameplay and semi-realistic vehicle physics. SUVs are available this time around, and they handle like the monsters they are. The game is pretty forgiving, as you can afford to drive rather sloppily and still pull off a win. Competitor A.I. is well balanced, although hostile at times, as your rivals will often forego the checkered flag in order to run you off the road or into a wall. Fortunately, they’re just as ruthless with each other. Driving with style (powerslides, drafting, avoiding accidents) earns you nitrous boost, which you use to blast past your competitors. Track design is very good, allowing plenty of opportunities to push your machine to its limits.
If you are consistently losing races, a visit to a car shop can remedy your problem. Here, you can buy vehicle upgrades such as turbos, racing suspension, and brakes. At your garage, you can automatically optimize your vehicle for a specific race event. If you want to get right down to the nitty-gritty, you may manually adjust settings such as gear ratios, nitrous power, downforce, and suspension stiffness.
As NFSU2 is focused on the flashy tuner market, you can expect to pimp your ride with a countless variety of decals, paint schemes, neon lights, spoilers, scoops, window tints, and pretty much anything else that the boy-racer in you desires. The aesthetic upgrades serve a function, because your car is rated on visual appeal. As your rating rises, you will be asked to pose your ride for magazine and DVD cover photo shoots, which earns you more cash. The massive amount of customization options is one of the game’s major selling points.
Split screen multiplayer provides a little replay value, allowing you to challenge a friend in any of the game’s race events. The real multiplayer action, however, is on Xbox Live. Last year, the Xbox’s online component was ignored, but now you’re able to race your custom ride with up to five other competitors in any of the race events. The gameplay remains smooth over a decent broadband connection, with no real lag issues.
The graphics are slightly upgraded from the first game. The city of Bayview is still stuck in an eternal night, and it rains an awful lot. Special effects such as motion blur and sparks look very good. When rain hits the windshield, it realistically distorts your view as you look through the water. The frame rate averages around 30 frames per second, but often dips below that, resulting in occasional choppiness. Aliasing is present, but it’s not too distracting. Sadly, the vehicles don’t display damage, but considering how many times you slam into walls and other vehicles, this is probably a good thing. Stylized illustrated cut scenes show off EA’s slick presentational skills. Overall, NFSU2 looks above average, but not that much better than its predecessor.
Sound-wise, it’s what you’d expect from a racing game. Engines have distinct tones, tires screech convincingly, and crashes sound crisp. Your homies (including Wild On’s Brooke Burke) will often chime in and inform you of racing events. All of the music is licensed, and the soundtrack caters to hip-hop and rock fans. The main theme is a questionable remix of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm,” which features Snoop Dogg rapping along with Jim Morrison’s haunting vocals. We’ll just write that off as a temporary lapse of judgment on EA’s part.
If you enjoyed last year’s Underground, you’ll be more than happy with the sequel’s additions. If you’re a racing fan who has never experienced the series, NFSU2 is certainly worth checking out. While Burnout 3 may claim the crown in the realm of arcade racers, NFSU2 has the licensed vehicles and endless customization options that set it apart from other racing games. While it’s not the definitive racer by any means, it has more than enough features and options to keep any racing fan busy for hours on end.
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