Need for Speed: Undercover

Followers of the NFS series will have been relatively unimpressed by the previous few outings of the game as they have not been nearly as good as Need for Speed: Most Wanted. Well rest assured that it this is not the case when it comes to Undercover.

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Need for Speed: Undercover
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By  Julian Pletts Published  June 1, 2009

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Key Specs

Number of players: 1
Online play: Y
Price: $54

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Followers of the Need for Speed series will have been relatively unimpressed by the previous few outings of the game as they have not been nearly as good as Need for Speed: Most Wanted. Well rest assured that it this is not the case when it comes to Undercover. EA have certainly attempted to ensure this version makes it into the same lane as Most Wanted. Adrenaline fuelled chases abound, with more high-speed car chaos than Vin Diesel could shake a torque wrench at.

Unsurprisingly, given the name, you take up the (silent) role of an undercover cop immersed in the illegal street racing and dodgy wheelman scene. Following the relatively unremarkable plot you make your way up the street racing pay scale, dispatching rival hotheads and driving desperados of the road as you go, reporting only to the alluring Chase Linh, revealed in the first-person cut scenes and as she barks orders over the in-car radio.

The game is set in the fictional Tri-Cities area, which gives you plenty of open road to out manoeuvre the cops and the suped-up Mustangs and Mercedes that make their play for dominance of the underground street scene. The boy-racer in every one of us will be kept happy and busy with the freedom to customise the rides earned after winning a ‘pinkslip’ race. Performance, handling, tuning and looks can be painstakingly modified and paid for by cash earned in the game. But, if you would rather spend your time burning rubber than changing tires, then you can easily purchase the upgrade kits for instant performance and power.

There are a wealth of cars to aim to acquire in this game with more than 50 new vehicles from international car makers such as Nissan, Cadillac, Ford, Porsche, BMW, Mitsubishi, Lamborghini and, though this reviewer never made it to buying one, there also seemed to be a Bugatti Veyron doing the rounds. The choice will keep petrol heads satisfied, once you make it past the lousy standard ride that you’re gifted earlier in the game.

Even though you are an undercover lawman yourself, you will so often find yourself pursued by the boys in blue and capture is a strict no-no, as it might just blow your cover, cost you a pretty penny or mean your hard earned and personally crafted ride is impounded to lie forlornly in some police lot.

The games’ ‘Heroic Driving’ engine, which rewards you for pulling serious neck braking stunts and encourages dangerous driving in the extreme, is a fun addition to the Need for Speed entourage but seems to be a bit peripheral and incidental, more along for the ride than a modus operandi.

The driving at times, although wantonly-fast paced, smooth to watch and edgy is often all too easy. Sticky situations are simply side-stepped by the in-game ability to slow time to Matrix-like bullet time in order to plot your course through traffic or a pesky police road block. It is only after you have progressed significantly into the game that it begins to become seriously challenging.

Not only do you amass money for races won, but you also gain driving skills which are supposed to sharpen up the driving experience on screen. But to be honest this reviewer struggled to notice the difference. Also the police chases, though exhilarating, generally seem to dissipate as the police seem to just fade away. But on the other hand it can be pretty nail-biting stuff when they do finally manage to box you into a corner.

Although the story is relatively straight forward, it can sometimes be hard to know exactly what is required of you to keep the game moving forward and you may find yourself resorting to completing all of the challenges, no matter how repetitive, in the hope you will be presented with a cut-scene, signalling your progression, at the end of each one. Luckily, the GPS map is pliant in that allows you to jump to each task or job at the click of button rather than having to chase you tail in an effort to find them all.

Hot-car jobs, where you have to deliver a stolen car in one piece to a chop shop and ahead of the cops, are certainly a highlight of the game. As are the boss chasedowns where you have to literally drive a gang leader off the road, ramming him as many times as you can until his car can’t take it anymore. All of this adds to your wheelman rep and takes you further up the underground driver’s food chain.

For: Finally shaking the cops after what seems like a mini-eternity of scraping and screeching to get away.
Verdict: A solid Need for Speed worthy of sporting the sticker, with only a few minor scrapes on the paintwork that spoil the overall finish. This game may not provide a shot of nitrous into the NFS group of games but it's certainly a strong first person wheelman adventure.

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