The Need For Speed series has never stood still, always changing, evolving and experimenting, often with mixed results. In Need For Speed Undercover, we have the gaming equivalent of Quantum of Solace. A video game set to confuse and disappoint many, but one that may discover a new audience.
Too often the series has become bogged down with a storyline and trying to fit that dynamic into a racing experience. Yes, Undercover does include a plot of sorts, but it has been watered down to the level of Fast and Furious, where it becomes insignificant. The cars, chases and ensuing action are the real stars, and in Undercover theyve been pushed to the forefront. From the off youre being pursued by the police, such an initial twist almost caught Gamestyle out, as we were waiting for the opening monologue!
The storyline is delivered via mobile calls when youre on the road, or a series of live cut scenes featuring real actors and actresses. It has been a long time since Gamestyle has seen this method in action and it certainly benefits from the Undercover budget and the high definition ratio. Gone are the days of badly acted live action scenes and were delighted, but there is still room for improvement. Your main point of contact is Federal Agent Chase Linh (played by Maggie Q), who has placed you deep undercover to expose the kingpins of the Tri-City Bay Area. At first this means establishing your rep, making contacts and winning over enemies through street racing, or giving the cops the run-around.
Undercover never drops a gear, content to offer a variety of races across the city map, or allow you to roam and build up some cash for garage purchases. Soon you can attract offers for your services and expand the city map greatly. The city does look slick, albeit reminiscent of the classic Specials track Ghost Town as youll never see a civilian on foot, anywhere. For some there wont be enough traffic on the roads, or any incentive to explore the city streets. Gamestyle can appreciate such sentiments, yet this isnt GTA so youre never going to be one foot and almost everything in this release has been thrown overboard in favour of a streamlined vision. The result is a fast and furious experience minus any unnecessary baggage, taking the series back to its pursuit roots. The Tri-City is one huge street racing circuit and your tarmac playground.
Arguably some sacrifices are too steep, such as being able to simply select missions via the map or D-Pad. So there is no need to explore or any tangible benefit surely Black Box could have included some hidden items or missions? The pick up and play nature has been extended to the difficulty curve, as for the majority of players, Undercover is relatively straightforward. Gamestyle bought British, and our Lotus quite happily (with various add-ons as we moved up the tier system) could dominate events that harboured several superior super cars. This isnt the real driving simulator, but some perspective would have been beneficial despite the arcade nature of the experience.
Causing damage or pulling off moves results in immediate cash rewards that you can spend in unlocked garages, either on new vehicles or upgrades. Then there are the superficial options that will get any boy racer excited, and unlike other releases these dont have any impact on performance. Tinkering to your hearts content is something you can enjoy, whether selecting the right rims or designing vinyl stickers, its all here. Sadly while EAs releases this year have offered fantastic online features, Undercover is lacking. Firstly you can only upload photographs, while the official site will allow you to view these and your statistics, Forza 2 was offering this several years ago. Given the options in NHL 09, it is unfortunate Black Box couldnt do more. The actual online racing is surprisingly limited. Cops and Robbers is a rapid-fire experience that is an interesting alternative. The online races themselves are extremely fast, with players being somewhat reasonable in comparison to the blatant cheating seen online in Gran Turismo Prologue. No lag was evident even on full races and the tracks themselves can be lengthy affairs, if very arcade in nature with high speeds and nitro being the staple ingredients, rather than any driving skill.
If anything Undercover reminded Gamestyle of Tokyo Highway Challenge, which we enjoyed on the Dreamcast, but was an acquired taste. The ability to free roam and engage in pursuits is at the core of Genkis racer, and Black Box have tried with Undercover to break away from the Midnight Clubs and Burnouts of this genre. While not a complete success, it is a refreshing change and a step in the right direction, unlike Quantum of Solace.