Need for Speed Underground 2, the highly anticipated sequel to one of the best street-racing games in recent memory, is finally here. Electronic Arts took everything from the previous version of this Xbox driver and duly expanded upon it. They gave it steroids, gamma radiation, spinach, and anything else they could think of to make it bigger and stronger. In so doing, they spawned a monster?but in a good way.
We’ll begin the review focus with the cars, since they seem to be the most important aspect of the game. There are over 30 different automobiles for you to get your hands on and customize, including things like SUVs. Of course, you only have access to a few substandard cars at the start of the game: meaning that you may well start out with a mere Ford Focus. You can imagine the gripping fear in the eyes of opponents upon seeing that ferocious gem. As you progress, though, the faster, more high-profile cars become available to you. All the cars are licensed, including Toyota, Hyundai, Cadillac, and Nissan, to name but a few. Of course, it’s not just the cars alone that stand out. Oh no, it’s the 70 billion possible customization combinations that you can create using the plethora of upgradeable parts in NFSU2. Of course, much of what can be changed on your car is based on its inner workings, which you obviously can’t see. So, the actual visual and aesthetic adjustments might not be in the range of the aforementioned 70 billion – but that’s still a formidably high number.
The number of things you can customize on your cars is close to mind boggling. You can customize the gauges on your dash, your wheels, spinners, bumpers, lights, hood, engine, spoilers, windows, stereo speakers, paint job, and a whole lot of other stuff that would take too long to write. You get the idea – the customization is literally off the hook. The developers really dug in deep when it came to this portion of the game, and it certainly shows. They definitely applied liberal amounts of their mysterious steroid/gamma/spinach concoction here. Each player can definitely have their own unique car, which is a huge plus in the attraction of these types of games.
There are six types of races available to you: Circuit, Drag, Drift, Sprint, Street X, and Outrun. There’s a lot of variety here, and these races all require different strategies if you wish to master them. Circuit is your basic ?take a few laps around the set course’ type of race – nothing complicated. Drag is a speed race on a straightaway; you have to shift gears at precise times or you will either over shift and blow your engine, or under shift and fall behind, at which point it’s hard to catch up. Drift is a score-based race where you drive around a track trying to achieve the best slide/drift you can when taking the corners. Your overall race finish position doesn’t matter; it’s the points you receive for your drifting that really counts here. The whole drifting concept is okay, but can’t really be deemed as a race; indeed, NFSU2 could have appeared equally as convincing without its inclusion. Sprint is a long-distance race, and Outrun is a race where your only goal is to ditch your pursuing opponent (the Outrun races can be a blast). Lastly, we have Street X. In these races you have a small figure eight course with many tight turns. Your opponents here play dirty, and you will quickly find yourself smashing into everything. The secret to winning this type of race is to find the inside lane and stay there. The other cars will try to crash you into the walls so they can steal your spot. Winning this race tends to be more luck than skill. The standout races here are the Circuit, Outrun, Drag, and Sprint races. The Street X and Drift races, on the whole, are not that entertaining.
In Career Mode, you get to drive around the city and explore all the areas you have unlocked. With a bunch of different neighborhoods to gain access to, you have an impressively large area to play in. Simply speeding around town can be just as much fun as the actual races, although you don’t get any prizes for it. The different neighborhoods all have their own feel and style, which is great. The overall look of the city and the detail crafted into it is amazing. As you drive around the city you have access to a world map that shows you where current races are being held. It tells you which of the six race types the current race is, and even lets you use a GPS to guide you to its location. The world map also shows you where all the customization shops you have found are located. Yes, you actually have to search for and discover the various shops within the game. Once you have found them, though, you can always go back to them.
The races are all executed to an extremely high standard, and Electronic Arts did fabulously in making each of them a unique experience. Variety is what a racing game needs, and this one has a ton. The cars handle very well through a combination of true physics and arcade physics. Whether driving around town, or in an actual race, the controls are always tuned to top gear.
The Career Mode is definitely a good thing. You have free range to cruise around the city, find races to earn money and build a reputation, and then use that money at the shops you find to upgrade your car. There will be races that show up on your world map, and once you are victorious in all of them, a cut scene is usually triggered that gives you access to a new area of the city. It is recommended that you do a lot of exploration. As mentioned earlier, all the shops are hidden and only appear on your world map once you have located them. It takes a while to get enough money to really take advantage of the shops, so only having a few to visit at first isn’t that big of a deal. There is an ongoing story that goes along with Career Mode, and it progresses through the use of cut scenes that are set up like pages from a comic book. For example, the camera passes slowly over pages that contain drawn or painted scenes portraying what is currently happening in the game. This was definitely a cool move on the part of Electronic Arts. It’s a very stylized feature as well as an extremely effective way to convey the story.
The graphics in Need for Speed Underground 2 are simply unbelievable. Well, actually, they are very believable in that they are extremely realistic. The city looks amazing; the neon signs; the skyscrapers, hotels, parks, freeways, stop lights?it’s all incredibly convincing. The amount of throwaway detail the city has is seriously huge – this could almost be a real city. When you factor in extra touches, like the weather, it really pushes the gaming environment to a whole new level. The rain is awesome; it splatters on your windshield and reflects light from off the road. The models for the cars are all true to life, of course, which is an undeniably important aspect. There are some rough edges here and there (the graphics are not perfect, though what is?), but they sure come close.
Along with the phenomenal visual presentation of the city, EA also put together an equally impressive audio track for the game. With all the ambient sounds of the city, the roar of the cars’ engines, and the hammering of rain, you would think there’d already be more than enough aural variety. But, on top of all of that, they have given us a collection of complementary songs that fit fairly well with the racing scene. Although, to be honest, though not in love with the songs chosen for the game, they do fit nicely into the street-racing theme.
With the huge size of the city, the insane amount of car customization options at your disposal, and the numerous types of races to choose from, NFSU2 has many, many hours of game play in it. The car customization alone creates a huge amount of replay value. The graphics look fantastic. The sound effects are great. And the music is decent for the genre. Racing customized cars is what this game is all about, and it definitely lives up to expectations. There are a few minor quibbles but, overall, Need for Speed Underground 2 has all the right stuff in all the right places. If you like driving games it’s a must have; plus, and not that it matters, but Brooke Burke is in the game, too. Brook Burke is hot!