Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Need for Speed: Undercover

I decided there wasn't enough stress and frustration in my life, so I resolved to pick up a racing game through Gamefly. After perusing the titles, I realized that I had never tried any of the games in the Need for Speed series. I've heard some positive comments, so I picked up NFS: Undercover.

Up front, I should say that I have a love hate relationship with racing games. I'm not a big "car" guy...if it gets me where I want to go reliably that's good enough for me. But games based on cars can be entertaining as long as they aren't too insanely difficult.

Undercover was actually a bit of a pleasant surprise on that count. I found that early races were heavily stacked in favor of the player, allowing me to enjoy the game with less frustration than most racing games. Obviously the difficulty curve trends upwards over time, but that's countered by (a) your improving skills and (b) the fact that early wins allow you to build up cash to get improved cars and parts. As long as you don't squander your money foolishly in the early stages, you'll be well equipped to handle the tougher races at the end.

Undercover is built a bit like a sandbox game, though that's deceiving. You can drive around the city freely, but the only things you can find are races (which you can warp to using your map) and trouble in the form of cops. There aren't any random encounters that I've noticed, so there isn't much reason not to just avoid the police and go straight to your next event.

Events come in a number of forms. There are races of different kinds, like circuit races (laps around a specific track), sprints (point-to-point), and checkpoint events (like racing games in an arcade, where you need to cross arbitrary points before time runs out). There are also highway battles, which are presented in first person (or Bumper View as I like to call it), where you have to weave through traffic on the interstate and put enough distance between you and an opponent. Finally, there are a number of events in which you have to go up against law enforcement, either by wrecking police cars, causing damage, or just escaping pursuit.

Interestingly, the police pursuits are my favorite events because they are handled really realistically. You can hear the police chatter over your radio, and it is unbelievable how authentic they sound. The cops mention specific streets you're using, whether they've seen you or lost you, if a roadblock is set up ahead (you can use this info to avoid them), and any action you take on the road. "Look out! He just hit a civilian car...this guy is dangerous!"

The game also features an overarching plot, though it's pretty retarded. Apparently a gang of road racing thieves have stolen some important evidence implicating several major crime bosses. The FBI's plan is for you to infiltrate the underground race scene, cause about a million dollars worth of property damage, and hopefully impress the specific gang you're tracking so they'll approach you and implicate themselves. It's dumb, dumb, dumb...but I guess it's adequate at tying the various races together. The plot plays out in brief cutscenes with real actors, though they seem like they're all trying to out-ham each other.

Fair warning: there's a lot of racial stereotyping here, and the few women in the game aren't portrayed terribly well either. If that kind of thing bothers you, this is a definite stay-away.

In any case, NFS is a solid enough game to make me consider renting other games in the series. I can only take so much racing at a time, but if you're a bigger fan of the genre than me, you might dig it.


  1. You made some interesting points about what makes a racing game good. I'm not a big car guy either, but I do enjoy a good racing game. I usually spend a lot of time figuring out what type of racing game it is going to be before I try it. If your really big into cars, a Forza game is for you. If you like tough races where perfection is your goal I think that the Project Gotham games are a better fit. If you like the arcade type games better, maybe you should try the Burnout series. What it sounds like to me is that this Need For Speed game offers a little of each without taking itself too seriously. Anyway, the police pursuits sound interesting, maybe I'll give it a try sometime.

  2. I've played each of the games you mention and I definitely agree that they have specific strengths that cater to people's varying tastes. Forza is for the people who want realistic racing and cars out the yin-yang. Project Gotham is for the precision racers. Burnout has more of an arcade feel and features some odd mechanics, but the best crash animations for sure. Need for Speed is in between Burnout and Project Gotham, but pretty far from Forza. So there's something for everyone out there!