Staying with the pack.
The underground racing scene works in mysterious ways. One minute, you’re cruising around town as carefree as can be, and the next you’re screeching at a stop sign, slamming on the gas and careening around at twice the legal speed limit. It’s fast, it’s sudden and it serves up the adrenaline that many racers out there live for.
EA brings the experience home again for the second installment of the Need
For Speed Underground series.
The game has had its insides tuned up a bit since we last explored it. Some parts
have been swapped out, a few more chrome items have been added for flavor and
a couple of key features have been upgraded. Change is usually good, but just
because something can be done, it doesn’t always mean it should be
what’s the verdict on EA’s new ride? Well, it’s not bad, but it ain’t a
The biggest upgrade in NFS: Underground 2 is the free-roaming
style of play. Rather than just bouncing you between different sections of the
city like its predecessor, the game allows you to roam a sizable city in search
of the perfect ride and the means to get it. You’ll participate in various organized
events as well as a few impromptu exercises while hunting down hidden
tuner shops throughout the city.
This open-ended setup acts as a double-edged sword. On one hand, it allows you to explore a huge city at will. Performance, graphics, specialty shops and more are scattered all over the place. You can even take part in hidden underground races for extra coin. It’s a good move for the series and makes it all feel more realistic.
The downside is that it can take a while to get where you want to go. Sometimes
the shop or race event you’re looking for is nowhere near your location and
you’ll need to cruise across town to get there. This isn’t so bad during the
first few hours of the game since you’ll be hunting down hidden shops along
the way, but after you’ve found them all, the excessive travel time can be
a drag. The game could have benefited from a “jump” feature, perhaps even
allowing you to warp to select points in the city, but as it stands, you’ll
just have to deal with the commute.
Another new feature in Underground 2 is the Race Breaker. Cars
outfitted with a nitrous kit will regain spent N2O by performing impressive racing
techniques like drifting and drafting. This feature, used strategically, can
mean the difference between victory and defeat (especially in Drag Races), making
for some truly nail-biting finishes.
Speaking of Drag Races, they’re back and as awesome as ever. These
put you in a tight battle with a few other cars that test your
reflexes, shifting ability and speed. The race may travel in a straight line,
but obstacles will jump out in front of you without warning. Fast-paced and
exciting, Drag Racing is still one of the game’s best features.
Many of the other race types make a return. Tackle a few laps through sections
of the city in Circuit, hit the point to point in Sprint and slide around tight
corners in the Drift competition. The Knockout races from the original game
have been replaced by Street X, where you’ll race on a small, close-quarters
drift track. Underground Racing League (URL) events let you race tournament-style
on an enclosed track with no traffic involved.
It wouldn’t be much of an underground racing game without plenty of performance tuning, and NFSU
2 thankfully lets you tweak suspension, engine, brakes, etc. endlessly. This time around, though, you can focus much more attention on the aesthetics of your ride. Body Shops are available for a large selection of kits, spoilers and wheels, Graphics Shops handle the paint and vinyls and specialized Customization shops will add a little extra flair with neons, audio/visual systems and custom doors. Each upgrade increases your ‘Star’ rating, which will earn you spots on magazine and DVD covers. This means you won’t be really be able to cruise through the game with a sleeper car, but where’s the fun in that?
NFSU 2 starts you off with the regular selection of low-end
tuners like the ubiquitous Ford Focus and Toyota Corolla, but you’ll gradually
evolve to better rides like the Supra, G35 and Skyline. It takes a while for
you to get out of your first ride, but as soon as you get a real car, the game
really picks up. The addition of SUVs rounds out the choices, but most tuners
will want to stick to the more typical four-wheeled rockets.
Regardless of your ride, the other cars will not show any mercy. The computer-controlled
opponents are generally aggressive, shoving you out of the way and bumping
you into spins, but sometimes they go a little haywire. The A.I. has a tendency
to crash right off the bat, which can delay your start. A little more polish
here would have helped tremendously.
The same can be said of the game’s graphics, which are mostly good. The car models
are done well and the expansive city is rendered in nice detail. Effects like
the nitrous burst and the wet streets aren’t as surprising this time around,
but they still make the game pop. The predictable rain effect, however, is
pretty pathetic, as it looks like the rain is only falling over your car. I also
take issue with the aggravating lack of damage-modeling, which, after games like
Burnout 3, makes NFSU 2 look like a prude. The PC, PS2 and Xbox versions of the
game all hold up with solid framerates, but the Gamecube version falls noticeably
purple box also fails to provide the online component available in every other
version of the game. You can take on other gamers in any of the game’s races
or just cruise around and show off your ride in Free Run mode. Full ranking and
matching makes the online experience a good one.
NFSU 2 features a pretty odd mix of tunes that skew mostly toward
rock and techno, but you also get an odd track here and there like
remake of Riders
on the Storm. The sound effects are fine, although the stock cars sound
I hope you don’t mind being blitzkrieged with ads, because NFSU
2 is thick with sponsorships. Some of them make perfect sense (Bilstein
Shocks and Auto Zone, for example), but ads for restaurants and financial planning
groups takes the product placement to obnoxious lows. Since we’re the ones who
have to stare at the ads endlessly, how about at least cutting us in on all that
cash coming in the back door, EA?
Cheap money-making schemes notwithstanding, Need for Speed
Underground 2 does a pretty good job capturing the tuner scene with
fast races and flashy cars. However, some lingering A.I. issues and the
excessive time it takes just to get where you need to go keeps this ride
from shifting to fifth.