Ian Dickson
03/12/2008 18:39 | By Ian Dickson: Editor - MSN Cars

Review: Need For Speed Undercover

MSN Cars editor Ian Dickson hops in a virtual supercar for our review of Need For Speed Undercover (© image © EA)

What is it?
The latest racer in the Need For Speed franchise by Electronic Arts, available on XBox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.

What we like:
If you like cars, you’ll love the choice available: new supercars such as the Nissan GTR and Porsche 911 GT2 appear along with the likes of the Bugatti Veyron and McLaren F1.

What we don’t like:
The cutscenes are poorly executed, the cars’ handling is unrealistic, the game is too easy.

Good in theory, poor in practice, Need For Speed Undercover doesn’t advance the gaming genre one bit. Unless you’re a die-hard follower of the series, most other racing games will serve you better. 

The Need For Speed series may not be as familiar to younger gamers as racing masters such as Forza Motorsport and Project Gotham Racing – the games on which the newer generation has been weaned.

Need For Speed Undercover (© image © EA)

But the NFS series is one of the longest-running of the racing titles, starting life in 1994 on the PC and making it onto just about every important console ever since.

Need For Speed Undercover is the 12th game in the franchise and, as we have become accustomed to within this genre, gets you up close to some of the world’s most celebrated cars from manufacturers like Lamborghini, Porsche and Bugatti.

The plot has the player taking on the role of an undercover cop, thrust into the high-octane criminal underworld of the fictional Tri-City. Your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to infiltrate and take down a crime syndicate made up of road racers and thieves. So far, so good - and with a pedigree that stretches back more than a decade, this latest NFS game should blow the competition away.

Sadly, it doesn’t. Like recent games in the franchise – Need For Speed ProStreet, anyone? - the finished article turns out to be seriously compromised in a number of areas.

Free-roaming disappointment

Initial excitement at being able to explore more than 80 miles of the Tri-City area soon turned to frustration when I discovered that there are no challenges in doing so.

Screenshot from Need For Speed Undercover (© image © EA)

You can’t find people to race and there are no special missions to take part in. In fact, the only exciting thing you can do in this free-roam mode is to run from the cops; the vigour with which they chase you in cars and helicopters, setting up road blocks and trying to ram you off the road makes this one of the most exciting areas of the game.

If you want a proper race, you can press down on the D-pad and be taken straight into the action, rendering the free-roaming, sandbox-style gameplay redundant. Most races take place on a pre-set track with no civilians or cops to wipe out as you hurtle along in your exotic motor. Where’s the challenge in that?

Choice of cars

Then there are the cars. Although they are beautifully recreated, the new “intelligent AI mechanic” does not deliver the realistic driving experience it promises. If you are familiar with racing games like Forza, where each car’s dynamics is so defined and different that you get a truly immersive experience, the cars in Undercover all feel very similar. And the sense of speed, though impressive, is unrealistic. I raced in some of the slowest cars and still beat supercars in some races.

Police in pursuit in Need For Speed Undercover (© image © EA)

The choice of machinery, however, is impressive: Audi R8, Bugatti Veyron, Nissan GTR, McLaren F1, Porsche 911 GT2, Lamborghinis and fast Mercs as well as more ordinary pimped rides. You can also upgrade these cars, though the flaw here is that by the time you’re able to do so the faster cars are unlocked.

One thing you do notice, if you can be bothered exploring the city, is the complete lack of life. No pedestrians amble along the pavements like they do in other open-city games such as Grand Theft Auto. It feels like a rushed product.

Live action cutscenes

The use of cutscenes with live actors (Maggie Q and Christina Milian) had the potential to be pretty revolutionary in this genre, but ended up failing because of poor acting, nonsensical dialogue and the fact that the cutscenes don’t help move the story along.

The scoring system is also poor. Success results not in the winning of money or points, but allows you to build up your driver’s ability and skill - and since the game is incredibly effortless to begin with, that just makes the game ever easier as you progress.

Evading the police in Need For Speed Undercover (© image © EA)

Moving into the game’s online offering, Undercover doesn’t have much to redeem itself. In this mode you can play Cops & Robbers, in which the cops have to stop the robbers dropping the money off at their base. It’s reasonably fun for a short while but it didn’t require much skill or car control to dominate.

So, should Need For Speed Undercover make it on to your Christmas list? Unless you’re a serious NFS follower there are better racing games out there that will keep you hooked for longer.

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