Need for Speed Undercover
Not even a hot Asian chick in the sky can save it.
360, (All formats)
EA Black Box
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By Alan Boiston
It's the time of year when that raft of regular EA franchises makes its annual appearance, and of course no holiday charts would be complete without the inclusion of a Need for Speed title.
This year's iteration, entitled Need for Speed Undercover, sees an undercover cop working his way into the street syndicates of the "Tri-city". Not only has this story been done several times before but the constant recycling of The Fast and the Furious storyline is both tiresome and lazy.
You start the game in a top of the range Audi sports car - only to have it taken away and then sit through one of many poorly executed film clips, depicting your journey as you start with a lower range car, winning street races, adding performance upgrades and getting yourself noticed by said syndicates - all feeling very déja-vu.
So you win races, win time trails, evade the ever more vicious cops and dig yourself deeper into the underground racing scene, until you don't know whose side you're on. All of this is spilt up with a range of dreadfully filmed cut scenes, and acting that wouldn't be out of place on a 15 year old Sega CD title. On a project with this sort of budget and from the world's richest game publisher, you'd simply expect better.
Enough of the 'story' though - we want to race and dodge cops, so the first thing of concern is the handling, which is certainly among the worst of any version of Need for Speed - steering response feels like you're driving a unicycle rather than a 400bhp four-wheel-drive sports car. They feel like toy cars at best - that's not to say arcade handling shouldn't be simple, but whenever you drive a car in a 3D environment it should work by a basic philosophy, so you really feel in control, you know when to brake, when the car will slide, when the car will grip.
That sort of feedback simply doesn't feel consistent in Undercover. The whole execution has a feeling of being poorly tested and unimportant, so on the whole you just turn in, let off the power and it should all take care of itself. Of course if you are exceptionally rubbish at racing games EA has provided the opportunity to purchase additional car improvements with Microsoft Points, so for just 300 points you can feel like a winner. This is a novel use of the Points system but not necessarily a positive one.
Environments, though vast in scale, are again simply poor versions of those seen in Most Wanted, but this time appearing drab, lacking in creativity and lifeless. To feature environments in only one form of lighting is simply lazy, but to virtually copy an older title in the series is without recourse. This is a real aspect of design where the time of day could have affected many aspects of atmosphere and gameplay requirements. The lack of room for imagination never ceases to amaze - and disappoint.