Posts Tagged ‘car game

23
Jan
09

Need for speed under cover hits the gaming world

In many ways, Need for Speed: Undercover is like a “greatest hits” package of ideas and concepts that we’ve seen the franchise play around with since Need for Speed: Underground turned the series on its head five years ago. Undercover revels in street culture, much like both of the Underground games, while putting a greater emphasis on cops and car chases like Need for Speed: Most Wanted. And like Need for Speed: Carbon, it leans heavily on a narrative that’s plays out in occasional cut-scenes while building on some of the impressive graphics and driving-physics technology built for Need for Speed: ProStreet. On paper it seems like a slam-dunk, but it sadly falls just a little flat in practice.

The vehicle list is impressive, boasting a broad menu of 55 cars that includes a large number of relatively attainable desirables like the Audi TT or Mitsubishi Evo X as well as exotics like the Audi R8 and the Bugatti Veyron. The general feel and handling is exactly what we’ve come to expect from Need for Speed over the past few years; while based on realistic principles that allow the cars to lean and grip like the real thing, the game’s tuned for gameplay rather than realism. If you’re familiar with the franchise, you’ll be pleased to learn that its “point and squirt” approach is fully intact. Point the car where you want it to go and squeeze the throttle, and all you really need to do to make course adjustments is ease off the throttle briefly. When you get the feel for it, you’ll hardly ever do anything more than feather the brakes to get around particularly aggressive turns.

Click the image above to check out all the Need for Speed: Undercover screens.

Structurally, the game has the most in common with Most Wanted. While the city of Palm Harbor offers you freedom to cruise around hunting for events, you can instantly hop from race to race without having to waste any time cruising around if you don’t want to. All of the events are in keeping with The Fast and the Furious vibe that Black Box’s clearly trying to cultivate, with circuit and sprint events supplemented with 1-on-1 races that have you weaving through traffic to impress the bad guys, cop-chase missions that borrow Most Wanted’s “cost to the city” mechanic, and a Test Drive-like car delivery mode.

New to the franchise is a fully transparent “leveling” system that borrows heavily from role-playing games and evenWorld of WarCraft. Successful completion of “missions” boosts stats, and stats in turn allow you to level up your driving skills. The higher your level, the more cars you can drive, and the more upgrades you can access. Even if you have enough in-game cash to buy that Nissan GT-R, if you’re not sufficiently leveled up, you can’t buy it yet. Unless, of course, you want to buy it with real money. See? Not only is this a Need for Speed with something that’s essentially grinding, but it also has microtransactions for “cheating,” too.

While these may sound like what could be Undercover’s greatest crimes against fun, the real offenders are yet to come. Anyone that worked their way to the end of the “Blacklist” in Most Wanted will recall that the cop chases got a little aggressive toward the end. In Undercover, the difficulty ramps in even more obnoxious ways. Though things start off very easy, by the time you’ve become just a level 5 driver, both the opponent and cop A.I. is so obnoxiously aggressive that it borders on absurd. Drivers will ram you off the road, while cops will somehow find ways to squeeze past you and pull right across your front bumper while you’re hurtling along at 120 mph.

Click the image above to check out all the Need for Speed: Undercover screens.

And then there’s the story. While arguably an improvement over previous attempts to bring “real” actors into the franchise, the script and the performances here are laughable at best. The desperately earnest street racers that chide, threaten, and try to intimidate you throughout make Lucas Black’s performance in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift look almost Oscar-worthy.

As a mashup of Need for Speed: Carbon and Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Undercover is ultimately fairly successful. For many, though, in a post-Burnout: Paradise world, the question has to be raised: “What does this give me that Paradise doesn’t?” The answer to that is “cops and robbers,” a mechanic that has worked well in single-player since the days of Hot Pursuit, and works even better online when played in teams of 4-on-4 in Undercover.

This year is all about face-offs. FIFA 09 versus PES 2009. Rock Band versus Guitar Hero World Tour. Need for Speed Undercover versus Midnight Club Los Angeles. EA has the honour, in our opinion, of coming up trumps in the first two stoushes. The third however? Well, you can’t win ’em all.

Need for Speed: Undercover is clearly an attempt to cash in on the success of 2005’s Most Wanted after ProStreet flopped with critics and fans. The game itself is as straightforward as you’d expect; race, come first, win cash, buy new cars. The underlying story is you’re an undercover cop working for Maggie Q, the crazy kung-fu bird from Die Hard 4.0. It’s pretty weak. The Fast and the Furious-lite.

Everything seems to work as it should – the racing is fast and frenetic; the sense of speed is swell and the cars look mostly rad. It ticks most of the boxes it ought to in order to get by.

The biggest problem with Undercover, and it’s a fundamental one, is that it’s lazy.

The new Heroic Driving Engine isn’t too shabby – we like the way it feels and we love being able to pull off incredible 360s at 200km/h on the freeway. The cars seem suitably weighted and handle well. We’re also suckers for good presentation, and Undercover also performs swimmingly in that department. The stylish opening sequence, for instance, smacks heavily of Michael Bay – you know you’re not about to have your intellect tested but you do begin to expect action a-plenty (presumably of the high-octane variety, with two or three exclamation points for good measure!!!).

No, the problem is that most improvements that have occurred in Undercover will either be difficult for your average gamer to notice or fail to add anything noteworthy to the experience. What we’re left with is a lazy game we have the sinking suspicion we’ve played before.

Undercover features a great range of cars, but it’s a simple cut-and-paste job from ProStreet and the DLC cars that followed its release. There just isn’t enough new here, and you’ll likely have driven nearly every ride on offer here in a previous iteration of the series. Unsurprisingly, there’s no local content either – no W427, no F6, not even a Pontiac G8. Pick up a phone guys, we make cars down here. Boo.

The cops make a return from Most Wanted, one of the better NFS games since Hot Pursuit 2, and while we still feel they’re remarkably tenacious and remain impressed with the tactics they employ to try and stop you (boxing you in, attempting to PIT you) there’s no getting around the fact they’ve more or less been clicked and dragged from the three-year-old Most Wanted. Even the bulk of the radio chatter remains identical – and if it isn’t, it sounds identical.

The best part of Undercover by longshot are the freeway races. If there’s one thing that this game does exceptionally well it’s translating the real danger of speeding down the freeway at more than twice the legal limit where one tiny slip-up means the last thing you’ll see will be the contents of your glovebox and the last thing to pass through your mind will be the steering rack. Via the use of sound and force-feedback the freeway races nail not only the speed, but also the claustrophobia of careening down a packed freeway at speed. The traffic isn’t so sparse when you’re encountering it at 250km/h.

The cities (there are three of them) are big, criss-crossed with wide, powerslide-friendly streets – but they lack personality and they all begin to look the same. We’re really, really starting to yearn for the varied environments of the old NFS titles – desert, forest, alpine, city… that kind of stuff. The open-world facilitates slightly more interesting cop chases, but if Black Box is going to stick to rigid, pre-determined tracks anyway we might as well return to the days of Hot Pursuit 2.

In fact, we’d love to return to those days. These cities are just boring. Midnight Club’s LA, for instance, is a far more vivid, sexy and dynamic metropolis. Undercover is pure vanilla. We didn’t notice any time-of-day or weather effects either, and the game would occasionally drop frames and suffer music stutters whenever things got really hectic.

We’ve also got some huge issues with a few decisions relating to track design. The street circuits are all bordered with physical barriers, but although these make better visual sense than an invisible wall covered in glowing green chevrons they don’t make a lot of sense in the world itself. The street racing doesn’t feel very illegal when you’re racing on what’s essentially a closed, purpose-built circuit – and it feels a bit dopey when you start to wonder how civilian cars are making it through these impenetrable wall and onto your race track. Why does this happen?

Burn rubber and eat dust

The answer, we’re guessing, is either the civilian population of Undercover are all warlocks who exclusively use their ungodly trickery to drive their cars through solid stockades OR testers failed to bring up the fact that being denied victory by a random NPC yahoo who appeared in front of you by DRIVING THROUGH A WALL is perhaps the biggest kick in the wedding vegetables a racing game can ever give you. It’s probably the latter.

The niggles keep coming though. Bonnet cam is useless because it takes forever for the thing to blow off when a crash pops it ajar. Too many of the basic systems are left for you to discover yourself – we found out how to buy new cars by accident after backing out to a menu.

No number plate - what a bad ass
Need for Speed Undercover Screenshots
Need for Speed Undercover Screenshot
Need for Speed Undercover Screenshot
Need for Speed Undercover Screenshot
Need for Speed Undercover Screenshot
Need for Speed Undercover Screenshot