Need for Speed: Undercover

2009-02-22 22:47:21

Need for Speed:Undercover(Xbox 360)

Yes, I returned to the Need For Speed series, some might call me a sucker for NFS. The first of which I played was NFS:2, the only titles in the series I haven't played have been Hot Pursuit 2, Underground 2, and Carbon. Sadly that means that as you remember, I played the shitty NFS:Prostreet. At that time I pretty much expected it to be the kiss of death for the series. I mean when you make so many wrong moves with a franchise you either learn and backpedal quickly, or die off. Thankfully EA/Black Box must've listened to their consumers and rolled out something that feels as good as the old games. NFS:Undercover.

Undercover, unfortunately isn't very well explained storywise. You can assume you are an undercover agent for the police, but what department? FBI? Local Cops? Illuminati? There isn't really any resolution to that question, at least not yet. If it is revealed by the end of the game, I'll be suprised, and if so, I'll update this review with it. Black Box is pretty proud of this game, claiming they spent a lot of money and time in making this one "Truest Sequel" they could. Raging Geek is as always skeptical, but I'll tell you right now, I think they are right, with caveats of course.

So far in the franchise there have been 3 games that stuck out as great NFS gameplay. Need For Speed 3: Hot Pursuit, which gave us our first taste of player vs cop, or cop vs player, or player cop vs player racer. It let us deploy spike strips, and do whatever it took to bring down the racers. 3 Tickets and it was all over back then. Need for Speed Underground brought us the inception of the "Fast and Furious" style street racing persona, where we earned street cred not just by winning races, but looking good while doing it. Not to mention the ability to upgrade cars with needed street accessories such as NOS and improved drilled and slotted brake systems from big brand names. Need for Speed Most Wanted upped the ante again, with Free Roam so we could drive to our selected race or to our hideout, upgrade systems which not only made us look good/drive faster, but also allowed us to beat the cops by camoflaging our ride periodically changing our look anytime the heat got to know us a little too well. Most wanted pitted us against other hardcore street racers with a hellion angle, we HAD to engage the police to earn enough street cred, prove our salt, and earn the respect of our fellow illegal racer. All of these come back to the genre in NFS:Undercover. You outrun the cops, win races, look good, steal cars, and free roam. Blackbox looked back on its series, and evidently found its roots, and put together a very solid piece of game excellence.

So now you have access to what looks like the largest collection of exotics ever. Classic HEMI's all the way to Lotus and Bugatti. Races consist of Sprints(point a to point b), Circuits(2-3 laps around a specific part of town), Outrun(pull ahead of the opponents, then keep the lead in free roam racing for x minutes), Highway Battles(pull ahead 1000 yards from the opponent on a moderately congested multilane highway, Cop escapes and takedowns(outrun the cops or take out x cops and get away), and special missions that involve any number of the above.

Winning races grants you money and Wheelman Rep, Undercovers variant of the Bounty system from Most Wanted. It even has grades. As you "Level Up" you gain additional improvements to your mods, such as 8% boost to your Forced Induction, which affects all cars in your garage. The better you drive, the better your car responds in the end. Car modification is a simple process, although it presents one of the caveats I've talked about before. Purchase of virtual goods with real money. It's a cancer that has been growing in the game world for quite some time, usually focused around MMO games and those that play them to get online "rep". So people buy virtual gold or items to gain an edge. This is even more so a sin that is creeping into the competitive online environments of FPS and Racing titles. First game to commit this sin openly would be Battlefield Bad Company. This fact is lampooned in this viral video that you may be familiar with. There is a Gold Edition of the game product which comes with some of the later guns/armor unlocked early, so if you can pony up an extra 10 bucks you get an edge over other players. Prostreet also did this with car mods, and sadly, this isn't only happening from EA, Activision has poisoned their own well as well via Treyarch in the collectors version of Call of Duty World at War including unlockable guns and 1 week of double xp as well as a VIP gamechannel for collectors edition members to gather and play the game together. Undercover does not break this trend sadly and in a game where you can race other players you can gain the advantage by paying real cash for cars and kits. While this destroys the equilibrium of multiplayer it just forces me to commit to single player until such a time as I have the best cars tricked out with good old god given skill rather than material wealth.

The free roam feels good however there should be better GPS indicators on the minimap. In Most Wanted you could visually see the race markers on the road, as well as on the minimap. In Undercover your down arrow engages whatever race is closest, and there aren't any indicators on the mini map of where these races are, so you can't just get on the road and head in a direction until you get to your favorite race. This ends up with the user breaking the immersion of true free roam, to jump into a race he is looking for via the full screen GPS map, or just engaging whatever race is given to him with the down arrow option. Even Burnout Paradise City is kind enough to give you race markers, even if you should know in that game that every streetlight is a race.

Cutscene movies are simply more fan service to the players of NFS games, more breast than the chicken section of the butcher shop, and many of the ladies attempting to look like hardcore racer chix end up looking like rejects from porn auditions more than anything, with only a handful of actually pretty ladies in the stable. Storyline as revealed in this manner feels almost forced in too many places, destroying the story they are trying to put together, the actors definitely feel like they know they are talking at a camera and not at a person, it feels stilted and hollow. It carries the same feel as the old Sega Genesis CD games did, and this could be because of the Silent Protagonist stance the game takes. Silent protagonists can work in some environments, but not in instances where real live human beings are being used, as it is hard for them to emote properly to a camera, even if they had someone stand in and provide dialog during filming and then redact that persons side of the conversation it might be more believeable. In short, Blackbox needs to work on it's cinematography and choice of actors for the live person cutscenes in order to up the believability and immersion of the end product.

Voice acting for the cops chasing you over the radio feels authentic however and it is incredibly believable in that they not only talk about you in the cop chatter. Cops will talk about breaking and entering calls, teenagers stealing condoms from a local convienance store, etc when they aren't chasing your hot wheels. Pull some stunts and generally tear up the local community and you might be treated to some radio chatter about someone calling in your exploits via 911 and cops will move into the vacinity of your last hit and run/wreckless driving/epic speeding incident. Once they have you though they will emote exasperation at the sheer speeds you are performing, the fact that you aren't stopping, they sound stressed and definitely disheartened as their attempts to put an end to your run fail. They pant over the phone and sound pitiful when you disable their vehicle. It's very lifelike and increases the intensity of the pursuit side of the house. If the live cutscene people were half as realistic as the cop chatter, this would be the most epic racing game ever made.

Reason Rank
Start 10
Return to the format that made them popular +10
Cop chatter is authentic +8
Real life cutscenes are not -8
Epic garage of exotics to choose from +5
Free Roam +5
Car Customization is extensive +5
But it can be had at a real money price


Total 27/10

In the end the game gets 27/10, while paying real money for mods poisons multiplayer for me, the rest of the product manages to recapture the series and improve on it in more ways than it does disservice to it. Bravo Black Box, you saved your series, now don't let another Prostreet sneak past your QA department without a boot to the head to the guys who thought it was a good idea! .