This review comes from someone who isn’t a racing game junkie. That can lead to a review that is both more objective yet not as deep as some may prefer. Hardcore fans will always think there was something missing from every racing game. The Need for Speed series has been for a good number of years the best-selling racing game, though not always the most realistic. Hardcore racing fans have been always critical of these arcade-oriented games, and other gamers have just enjoyed them for what they are. The main characteristic that these games need to have is the fun factor. Taking all that into the mixer, this review will try to grade NFSU2 as an arcadey racing game. This is the second game from the illegal street racing path the series has taken lately. Will this installment please both hardcore and casual racing fans alike?
The first Need for Speed Underground featured very good environmental graphics. It had highly detailed city streets and buildings by night, with some dew and fog effects thrown in for good measure. The level of detail was immersive, and the other departments, like sound and game play, reeled in the player even further. The look was described as akin to seeing a movie from director Tony Scott, where cities by night are presented in a breathtaking way. That is the direction EA wanted to take the Need for Speed series, making it more cinematic than before. That was achieved in the first NFSU game. The sequel doesn’t steer too far away from the original, with some minor improvements to the graphics.
The fact that the whole game takes place in one city gives the opportunity to give more detail to that one city without worrying about creating others. That detail is achieved, making you feel like you’re really driving around a big, living city. Actually, to get to the different races and shops to customize your car you have to find them in the city (like you would in real life). This adds a level of realism to the game and adds another task aside from participating in races. The scenery is great, but what about the cars? The cars look very good, especially when you start customizing your own. A flashier car can get you to appear on magazine covers (well, not you but your car); this is due to the storyline mode added to the game. So it’s up to you, you want to be a cover boy or a hardcore racer?
Excelling in this department is a must if the developers intend to have a quality racing game. Sound is an integral part of the overall gaming experience with driving games, especially the background music. The sound effects make the player feel more like they’re in the game. The music will set the pace and mood while the player is driving a car. Like any good movie, the music can evoke many emotions. Usually the music in driving games is upbeat, even loud, and fast-paced. This will heighten the experience and make the player feel more “rushed,” like you were really driving very fast. The music in NFSU2 is good, though not outstanding. The sound effects do their job well enough, sometimes too much like an arcade game, but that’s the idea of the game anyway.
Some great tunes can be heard in this game. Even a remix (for better or for worse) of the classic Doors’ song, Riders On The Storm, which gives a very different tempo to the driving experience. The other songs, although not very exciting are good enough to set the mood in every race. As for the sound effects, one adjective can describe them: loud. After all, a racing fan will want to have loud machines to race (you know you do). And with all the extras you can put in your car throughout the game it can sound even better. Being an arcade-oriented game, the sound effects do a good job of taking the experience in that direction, but the music could have been better picked to achieve that same goal.
There’s also another type of sound in the game: dialogue. In a racing game that would be forbidden. Well, it should’ve been forbidden on this game in particular. Not even E! Entertainment’s sexy Brooke Burke can make things better. That’s a grim statement when you consider the fact that her inclusion in the game was to make the dialogue a bit better, at least more sexy, but it falls flat. It wasn’t a good idea to include dialogue to begin with.
You have a whole city to drive around trying to find the best underground races available and shops to make your car better. The idea of a city ready for you to explore sounds like real fun, but the only fun is when you race. Driving around the city is not terribly exciting; it actually borders on being lame. For racing game, “lame” is not the word you would want attached to it. The real meat of the game is the races and that is done very well. The races are exciting and fun to participate in, even more so when you have a monster car to drive. At first your car will be to cry for, but after a few mods it will become to die for. It’s not hard to be “good enough” in this game; the A.I. in the races is not the most competitive. It’s fairly easy to not lose the lead once you’ve got it. It seems like the game play is focused more on fun than realism, fitting with the arcadey style. The difficulty level can be described as slightly below average.
The controls are responsive; the cars respond tightly. You can avoid tight turns and other cars very well, without wanting to destroy your controller because it didn’t respond on time. The only problem that can get in the way of game play is the poor frame rate that occurs every now and then. You can make your car even more responsive by adding new modifications to have advantages in the races. This boils it down to needing the best car to win, not always the best driving.
The original Need for Speed Underground is still better than its sequel, which speaks for the great quality of the first game or the lack of it in the sequel. NFSU2 is not a bad racing game but it does feel like it fell short for of expectations for what the game should have been. It’s still a fun game to play for a short time if you’re good at it. Most gamers may go back to the original more often than playing NFSU2. Hopefully a third installment will make more improvements, and blend perfectly the best aspects of both games.