Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Black Box
Release Date: November 17, 2008
The Need for Speed series has always been a reliable bet for EA, but sometimes, the reliable needs to be shaken up a bit in order to keep it interesting. With Need for Speed Undercover, the series looks to introduce a bit of story along with open-world racing and the traditional breakneck chases.
Lending her talents to the game as Federal Agent Chase Linh is Maggie Q, who starred in "Mission Impossible III" and "Live Free or Die Hard." Linh acts as a federal "handler" who recruits you and guides you through the game as an undercover agent. The ultimate goal is to infiltrate an international crime syndicate while tearing up the road along the way. Much of the game is still shrouded in secrecy, but EA did allow us a look at an early build.
Set in the fictional Tri-City Bay Area, Need for Speed Undercover allows players to roam the map while freely picking up missions in a non-linear fashion. The first mission we played was a chop-shop run. We had to navigate through the city in a stolen car, while avoiding local law enforcement and getting to the chop-shop in one piece. If the coppers spotted us, we had to work on losing the pursuing vehicle before we could sneak into the chop-shop for refuge.
The next mission we played was a simple race from point A to point B. We were situated in an American muscle car, and the only thing to worry about was winning. There was no real context for this race, but we're assuming similar challenges will show up during the course of the game either as a way to earn money or to better your reputation with the syndicate you're trying to infiltrate.
Another race we experienced wasn't a mission per se, but a highway battle. Here, the object was to race through traffic against another car and attempt to put a certain amount of distance between the two of you. So long as you and your opponent were close, the race would keep going, but as soon as one pulled far enough ahead, a winner was declared.
Outside of the mission system, we were free to roam around the freeways surrounding the Tri-City Bay Area. Traffic moved normally, and officers on patrol would take up chase if they saw you fly past at an unsafe speed. In some ways, driving around the city was reminiscent of tooling around town in Burnout Paradise as you look for a mission.
As a limited first look, there's a lot EA isn't saying about Need for Speed Undercover. Sure, we saw a few different cars in the game, but EA couldn't officially confirm any makes or models. Questions about online modes, multiplayer or a possible garage were met with nothing more than a "no comment." If we had to make an educated guess, based on the hype surrounding Maggie Q's announcement and the open city style of play, it's safe to say that Need for Speed is evolving in the same way that the Burnout series evolved. Just as Burnout Paradise rethought what it meant to be a Burnout game, the developers at Black Box appear to be doing the same with Need for Speed Undercover. Key elements of the series remain, but we fully expect to see some dropped and others introduced.
Evolution isn't always pretty. Sometimes there are missteps. More often than not, a core group of fans will be annoyed. If it's done right, though, the new experience can both appeal to the old school as well as offer a fresh take on an old classic. It's a risk to be sure, and right now Need for Speed Undercover is a big question mark. In an industry that is so often accused of cookie-cutter sequelitis (and EA has certainly been very guilty of that in the past), it's refreshing to see a big studio take such a risk. Here's hoping the gamble pays off.
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