The street racing subgenre of racing games has been active in 2004, most recently with the release of Need For Speed Underground 2 NFSU2
) from EA Games. Having played through the original Need For Speed Underground (NFSU) in five days, I was excited to get my hands on the sequel. In short, NFSU2
betters it's predecessor in almost every way. Most welcome are the improvements in graphics, sound and car control. These improvements are somewhat offset by a contrived comic book themed storyline, as well as the GTA-ification of the game by implementing an open city style of gameplay. Please note that my review is based on the Xbox version of NFSU2
Features Ė 8/10
features Career, Quick Race and 2 player split-screen racing modes. The meat and potatoes of the game is Career Mode. You begin your career by stepping off a plane into an imaginary city named Bayview. Brook Burke plays the part of your agent, Rachel, who steers you toward sponsors for various races and provides tips on how to complete the game. After driving her car from the airport to your garage, you're allowed to choose a new car to drive from a pack of mostly lackluster performers. From there you can roam free around Bayview looking for races.
The races are peppered throughout the city and for the most part can be found on the in-game map. The city itself is divided into five areas. In the beginning you're only allowed to roam around one area. Additional areas are unlocked as you go through five stages of progressively faster and more challenging races. Each stage is unlocked by completing a predetermined mix of the above race types along with meeting a minimum X out of 10 star visual rating for your car.
As you complete races, messages from Rachel and other racers pop up on your Cingular branded in-car SMS station. These messages notify you of new mods, races which don't appear on the game map and DVD/Magazine photo ops you must race to in a predetermined amount of time. The hidden races are a great way to make money as they typically pay more money than the races exposed on the map. The photo ops are basically a payoff that is commensurate with your car's star rating. The visual and performance upgrades can be purchased from shops throughout the city. Shops (once you've found them) and races can be selected as a destination from the map. Once selected, a navigation arrow guides you to the indicated destination. This is a nice feature to help you initially find your way around Bayview. After you've played awhile, you'll find that taking your own route to the destinations is sometimes faster than the arrow's recommendation.
There are a number of different race types available:
-- Two to four laps around a restricted city based track layout. These races are identical to the Circuit races in the original NFSU. Traffic must be dealt with in varying amounts, depending the locale. I recall the amount of traffic bordering on the ridiculous in the original. Overall, the volume of traffic at default settings in NSFSU2 is much more palatable.
-- Point A to B style races through the city. The theme here is the same as Circuit except the track layout doesn't loop. One item I found most welcome was a percentage complete display at the top right corner of the screen. This was invaluable in deciding when to use Nitrous.
-- Self explanatory with an emphasis on accurate shifting and dodging cars and/or static obstacles. The D-Pad is recommended for steering in the drag races, as opposed to the analog stick for all others. As with the first game, I felt there was a delay in lane switching which can be cause for numerous restarts. One drag track in particular, which is mapped out on a highway curve, is almost impossible to beat due to blind spots and the aforementioned steering delay. The
-- Drift races take place either on a closed drift track against 3 other racers or on an solo downhill course with traffic to dodge. Much like the drift races in the original NFSU, points are awarded for a mix of speed and drift angle. Winning has nothing to do with how you place, rather with how many points you have when the race is over. Drifting over rumble strips (closed track) or dirt (downhill) is essential to huge point gains. On the closed circuit tracks, I generally let all the racers get a turn or two ahead of me before beginning my race. Waiting too long is a detriment because a 30 second end of race timer begins the moment the first racer crosses the finish line. Anything goes when it comes to downhill races. Traffic is pretty random, so I just took my time and made sure to hit the dirt while drifting to maximize drift points.
-- Short track racing with an emphasis on cornering and good lines. This race mode is a lot of fun, and reminds me of tearing around in go-karts as a kid. Handling is paramount to everything else, with acceleration being a nice benefit as well. Good luck beating these races later in the game if your car is low on the handling scale. I found it helpful to hang back for a turn or two as the racers ahead of me played demolition derby and sometimes got turned around.
Underground Racing League
-- Closed circuit race series with the opposite feel of Street-X. More to the point, these are very high speed races where a good mix of acceleration, handling and top speed make for an easy win. How these races qualify for the moniker 'Underground' is beyond me, as most take place on actual race tracks. I believe all but one of the URL events involved at least two, sometimes three races. Each race is based on an 8 point win system, so you need not win all races to win the series. Completing each URL series up to the 16th unlocks a new car.
-- Outrun races are a one-on-one challenge to see which driver can pull 1000ft ahead of the other. These races can be found on the map as moving orange arrows representing fellow street racers. Each race is started by rolling up behind a prospective racer and signaling the go ahead through your SMS system. The monetary payoff for Outrun racing is nothing compared to other races. However, the reward for completing a minimum amount in each stage is much more valuable than money. In short, you can acquire a number of unique performance and visual upgrades that will allow you dominate in the later stages and also free up money for modding additional cars. Details on how many wins and rewards can be found at gamefaqs.com
In order to complete the game, you'll have to spend a sizeable amount of money exclusively on visual mods. The visual mods are divided amongst three shop types. The Body Shop features body modifications such as front and rear bumpers, side skirts, spoilers, rims, etc. The Car Specialties shop sells neons, car audio, hydraulics, scissor doors and nitrous purge. Finally, the Graphics Shop is where you go to paint your car and add vinyls and decals. The selection of visual mods is quite astounding. I found a lot of my favorites from the the original NFSU as well as a ton more new to NFSU2
. For those who are really into the aesthetic of their cars, NFSU2
sets the bar on customization.
On the performance side, all modifications are purchased through the Perfomance Shop. Everything goes in a Stage 1,2,3 fashion, with the third stage of mods becoming available at around stage 5 in Career Mode. The mods available are Engine, ECU, Suspension, Drivetrain, Turbo, Nitrous and Weight Reduction. I found the most effective mods to be ECU, Suspension and Turbo. You'll need to purchase all mods as they become available, but definitely steer towards the aforementioned three as a priority.
A welcome addition to NFSU2
is the ability to tune your car for the various types of races at the Dyno / Test Tracks. As you unlock performance mods, you'll gain the ability to change settings of the affected parts. Here are the settings available for tweaking once Stage 3 modifications are applied:
- Ride Height (or as NFSU2 puts it Ė Lowering)
- Sway Bars
- Steering Ratio
- Individual and Final Drive gear ratios
- Tire Grip
- Brake Bias
- ECU power band distribution
- Turbo boost power band distribution
- Nitrous burst power vs. boost time
Overall, the setting changes are a welcome addition. While you can tune your car for each race type, the ability to save a car setup for application on a particular track is absent. This is especially cumbersome for drag tuning, where fine tuning the gear ratios can be time consuming. You can dyno your car before and after making changes to see the difference, but this only tells the story of straight line acceleration. To realize the full impact of your changes you must get out on the test track specific to each race mode. One really
cool feature I noticed is the ability to pause during track testing to change a setting and then resume the current test session. This saves a lot of time in gauging the efficacy of your changes.
The most immediate benefits I notice in making changes were in the Downforce, Gear Ratio and Tire Grip areas, especially when tuning for drag and drift racing. If you are driving a car that has both a high acceleration and top speed rating, tuning is not absolutely essential to winning Career Mode. On the other hand, if you have a car that excels in handling but not the other two categories, you'll find that you either have to build application cars, say for drag racing, or spend some time tuning and testing. I guess I could gripe about the fact that top speed & acceleration seems to be rewarded over handling, but the name of the game isn't 'Need For Handling'. It just doesn't have the same ring to it. I prefer a car that handles well to a car that just has all out acceleration. That being the case, I was forced into building a car specifically for drag racing in order to beat the mid-level drags.
Graphics Ė 8/10
The graphics in NFSU2
are a marked improvement over the original. The overall look and feel is much more polished and doesn't suffer from the blockiness that plagued NFSU. Lighting effects are nicely done, and the environment is fairly well detailed. Details of some of the textures in the car modification shops are a bit muddy upon close inspection, however this doesn't detract from actual gameplay. Blurring effects are present when using Nitrous boost and also driving at speeds over 150mph. I expected the Nitrous blur, but the high speed blur can be a bit annoying at times.
Sound Ė 7/10
Immediately upon starting the game I noticed some of the sweetest over the top engine sounds I've heard to date. Each car has a pretty distinct note which becomes ever meaner as performance upgrades are applied. I've yet to hook up my surround speakers after moving recently to a home with a slab foundation, so I cannot comment very well on the immersive quality of the aural environment. Surround issues aside, the details are nicely done. For instance, the whoosh sound of an overpass as you fly by at over 150mph is incredible.
is a mix of rock, rap and hip-hop tunes from acts of varying notoriety. I was happy to see some of my favorites like Helmet, Ministry, Mudvayne and Queens of the Stone Age (anyone out there into Kyuss?). A remake of 'Riders on the Storm' done by Snoop Dogg is the lead off song every time you boot the game. I guess if any rapper were to pull this song off, it would be Snoop due to his trademark flow and delivery. I know though, that die hard Doors fans are most likely preparing litigation and Jim Morrison is rolling over in his grave. Let's put it into perspective though... it can't be worse than P Diddy's catastrophic trundle through 'Every Breath You Take'.
I was quite surprised at the selected Ministry song, called 'No W'. The 'W' stands for 'Walker', as in George Walker Bush
. I don't know which this song makes me want to do more Ė race like hell or stage a revolution. I'm surprised this one got past the execs at EA. Maybe it's because the screaming lyrics overlaying the industrial mayhem are nearly unintelligible.
All in all I was quite pleased with the audio, with the exception of the voiceover acting. Virtually all of the voiceovers except for Brook Burke's are what I like to call 'suburbo-street'. Basically, everyone in the game sounds like a suburban punk pretending to be street smart. Most of the street racing games I've played are saddled with this nonsense, but it's an annoyance nonetheless.
Gameplay Ė 8.5/10
The overall gameplay in NFSU2
is a definite improvement over the original. Car handling physics are well implemented, with each car having it's own distinct characteristics that you must learn to exploit. Steering is much less touchy than in NSFU, which is very welcome. I can't remember how many times I'd barely touch the wheel in NSFU only to see the car slingshot off to the left or right. I'm more of a RWD fan than anything else, so I spent most of the time driving cars of that type. Of the cars in the game, my favorite by far is the Mazda Miata. The Miata is available from the very start, and with strategic addition of unique performance mods will become a monster that cannot be touched. I also particularly liked the Audi TT and, to a lesser extent, the A3. In the Nissan/Infiniti camp, the G35 was my favorite as it had a very mild manner and was a lot of fun to push around corners. One gripe I have is with the performance difference of the G35 vs. the 350Z. In real life, these cars share the same engine but the G35 is a bit less of a performer as it has different suspension and lots of luxury options absent from the 350Z. In the game, however, the G35 is quite a few rungs down the ladder in terms of acceleration and top speed. I found the 350Z in the game to be much more squirrelly coming out of turns, even though it had better straight line speed.
Racer AI is a decent challenge in NFSU2
. The opponents are fairly aggressive from the start, and if provoked will do everything they can to nudge you into a tailspin. The boomerang effect, which can be toggled outside of Career Mode, is not overly pronounced. More than anything, just racing a clean race is going to keep you in the winner's circle.
doesn't have a damage model, which is fine with me as it's an arcade racer. In my opinion, a damage model is unnecessary (see SRS). That being said, the crash physics are purely acrobatic and comical in nature. Bumping and rubbing other cars isn't too unrealistic. However, I recall one wreck where I hit a stationary car at 160mph. I literally launched up doing a 720 with 3 end over end flips only to land on a bridge 50 feet above. When caught in an accident, you can hit the select button to reset your car to where it was immediately before the wreck. This can be done instantaneously when roaming around. If, however, you wreck during a race, be prepared to watch the show for a bit before being able to select out of the wreck and get back to racing.
As far as plot is concerned, NFSU2
's is woefully and unsurprisingly thin. Progress in the game is marked by cutscenes done in a comic book / storyboard style. The visual style of the scenes is actually pretty polished and I felt it was a much better alternative to 3D video rendered on the fly. As I mentioned before, the voice acting is sub-par. It has been proven on TV that Brook Burke's success in a project is gauged by how much skin she shows (i.e. Wild On vs. Rank). NFSU2
is no different. I found myself skipping past the scenes after the novelty of the first couple wore off.
Overall - 8/10
is in most ways a great leap ahead of it's predecessor. It sets the bar in terms of graphics, tuning in a street racer and in-game sound. On the flip side, the game predictably lacks in the area of plot and replay factor. In my opinion games like these simply don't need a plotline, so why go to the expense? Brook Burke and the contrived street talk were obviously added to appeal to the pubescent gamers out there. Those who are more serious about racing and customizing will still find a lot of fun to be had with all the performance and visual tweaking made available. I don't see a lot of replay value in NFSU2
. Even with the addition of GTA style free roaming, there really isn't much to do other than win race after race until you've completed the game. Overall though, the items the developers got right on this second outing far outweigh the negative points. NFSU2
has been the best street racer I've played to date, and I highly recommend picking up a copy in order to stave off the hunger for GT4.