Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Games
Release Date: March 15, 2005
Buy 'NEED FOR SPEED: Underground Rivals': PSP
I recently picked up a copy of Need for Speed Underground Rivals to see if all the "watered down PS2 games" reputation of PSP games was in fact true. I have played many of the Need for Speed games through the years, and while titles in the Underground series are indeed cool, I wondered how EA would translate such a cool console game into something new for the PSP. I could only hope for the best.
I immediately jumped into the game and started poking around to see what had changed and what was new. To my relief, the annoying free roam was removed because I couldn't begin to tell you how bored I was driving back and forth to get to the races. The races in Rivals are broken down into two parts: Circuit Racing and Quick Play battle. Circuit racing is your tried-and-true multi-lap race with varying difficulty, and Quick Play battle is the "Underground" side of Rivals, with drifting, street x, nitrous run, etc. Drifting has been revamped with a higher degree of difficulty, and now you must drift within a set zone around each corner, or you will fail to acquire points. Personally, I liked this added difficulty level.
Nitrous run is an entirely new game type, where you must boost through a series of gates around a race track. This is, by far, one of the hardest set or races to complete. Boost too little, and you won't make it to the end in time, but boost too much and you will be sent flying out of control and slamming into cars and/or walls, a worthy addition. The only game types that are ported from the console version are Street Cross and Drag. Each race type is further divided into sub-races with three difficulty settings, bronze, silver and gold. As you complete each race and difficulty, you unlock another race. There are loads of races to be won, and with winning come the cash and the cars.
Speaking of cars, you start out with only a few cars unlocked, most of which have made a debut in the console version. It's not till you start winning that the car factor really starts to shine. As you complete races, you unlock more and, in some cases, better cars. I was expecting to unlock the obvious Skyline or Supra, and while they are in the game, it was a surprise that I started to unlock classic muscle cars and boss cars like Chargers, Mustangs and 'Vettes. The cars in Rivals are infinitely improved over its console counterparts, and the customization and tuning options are also superior. Visual upgrades are free, and engine upgrades carry a heftier price tag. The cars themselves are the most expensive things in this game, carrying $50,000-$70,000 price tags, but the races themselves provide you with more than enough funds; it just might take a while to accrue.
Gameplay in rivals has been tweaked a bit, the AI is much tougher and the driving physics has a more realistic feel to it. The cars move more realistically as well, which is an excellent feature because now you can't just use one car to win all of the races. Some cars have massive acceleration and horsepower but sub-par handling, perfect for drag racing, while other cars have better handling, making them perfect for circuit races. This motivates you to acquire as many cars as possible. Don't worry about garage space because you own an entire shop with enough space to store a fleet of cars. Another neat feature about your garage is that once you have acquired performance upgrades, they apply for all cars you own and or buy.
The multiplayer portion of Rivals is one of the key features. Head-to-Head pits you against a friend in any of the available game types. You can also use your cars from your garage, which may or may not give you the upper hand. So far, the wireless connectivity between PSPs is lag-less for the most part. I have experienced some disconnects, but I was playing in my company's server room with my boss so I believe interference was the culprit. Party Play is designed for up to four gamers on a single machine. While I admire the effort, I would prefer to play four players with wireless capabilities. The game controls were responsive, and all the buttons were easily accessible. You can't create custom-mapped keys, but there is a selection of key configurations that you can choose. I am sure the analog pad is rather bad (so many missed Tiger Woods drives), but I don't really care and am just happy to have it available.
The audio and visual departments of Rivals are nothing short of pure awesomeness, and the graphics really show the power of the PSP. While the LCD really shows the jaggies, the crispness of the textures and the polygon-pushing power of the cars really give the game an awesome look. There are some parts where the game severely slows down, mainly when you are racing with multiple cars in close proximity, but it doesn't last for more than a split second. The tracks and city landscape keep with the Underground feel.
The graphics details, such as the glossy gleam of the paint jobs and the blurriness of reaching 200-plus miles per hour with nitrous firing, show that not much was left behind when EA took everything that made the console version great and packed it into a handheld. The audio portion of Rivals seems to be directly taken from the console version, since most of the same songs on the EA Trax are there, and the sound effects sound the same. There are, however, some new additions to the music, and some audio effects sound a bit more defined, but there's nothing really new here.
From what I've seen, Rivals isn't a watered-down version of the console release. The gameplay, cars, and tracks are new and offer a fresh take on an awesome series. Sometimes you have to race the same tracks over again, but the overall feel of the game makes it worth it. Taking an awesome racing game and have it look great on a handheld shows that all involved parties knew what they were doing.