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Going back to Need for Speed Underground

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I originally wrote this on my site at Wasted Seconds ... but I like the game so I decided to put it here too. Enjoy. :P

We all probably know of the “Fast and the Furious” movies. Some people love them, other people hate them. I’m of neither camp in the fact that I just kind of see it a date movie or popcorn movie. Just something to sit back, watch and have fun.

But the movie did inspire a whole slew of video games, the highest on the list that initially hit (for me anyway) was original Need for Speed Underground from 2003. And I picked it up again recently on the Playstation 2. When I first played it in either 2003 or 2004, I didn’t have any of the then current generation consoles, so I played it on the PC. Which, in reality, is the way it’s meant to be played. Of course, when I first started playing it I was running it on a system that couldn’t quite handle it at full detail. But I didn’t care. I still had a blast with it.

I’d sit in front of that sucker for hours, barely even looking up to have conversations with people. I was that hooked. And it was made all the sweeter when I stuck a new graphics card in the computer that made the system more than capable of handling the game. And, when compared to the consoles of the day, the only real way to play it was on the PC with it’s higher graphical capabilities. Although on the consoles it is no less of a great game.

But, as I said before, I picked it up again recently. I had this strange itch to play it, so I went and snagged a copy for the Playstation 2 since it’s a hell of a lot easier to find it in a hurry for the consoles than it is for the PC where I would have to order it off of Amazon or something of that nature. Admittedly, it probably would have been cheaper on the PC but I’m an impatient guy. So I’m going to be talking specifically about the PS2 version in this particular writing. But, except for some graphical differences, it’s the same across all three consoles of the time and the PC.

The game, despite the fact that a lot of people see it as being “old” since it came out in 2003 still looks and plays beautifully. The graphics on the PS2 are considerably more jagged than it’s counterparts, but it still looks great and has aged like a fine wine with highly detailed cars, tracks with an equal amount of detail with that famous “wet look” the game is known for. In a day and age of high definition graphics and more polygons in a characters little finger nowadays then there probably is for this entire game, it’s just beautiful to look at with some great effects.

The gameplay is just as fast paced, precise and fun as it was back in the day. And just as much fun to play as well. The cars all control much like you would expect them to in an arcade style racer. The front wheel drive cars offer little surprises, but when you want good handling they’re always an awesome choice. The rear wheel drive cars are, as always, a bitch to control since the ass end wants to slide out from under you. But are naturally the ONLY choice for drifting. And the all wheel drive cars are pretty much the only choice for drag racing. It’s still a really impressive sight to see an all wheel drive Subaru violently jerk off the line in a race.

One thing I’ve noticed when using a controller compared to the ever superior keyboard is the almost total lack of precision. Which, naturally, isn’t the console’s fault. It doesn’t have any other choice. But this game, in my opinion, is best played with a keyboard which is better for almost all aspects of gaming. But I actually find myself using the dual analog style control scheme when playing it on the PS2 where the left stick steers and the right stick accelerates and brakes. I’ve torn through around 35 to 40 of the 111 total races in the game using that method and I’m starting to get my groove back.

Another thing the game was famous for was the car customization … which for me was always a point of annoyance. Because to advance in the races you HAVE to eventually put all those ridiculous looking body modification kits all over your car. So by the end of the game you have this monstrous behemoth of a car that barely resembles the one you started out with. While you can do performance upgrades to you car throughout the game using real world manufacturers parts … in the end it doesn’t really matter which one you choose because they all have the same effect. But I would personally rather have my car look totally stock with all the maximum performance upgrades by the end of the game than this behemoth they have you make. That would definitely make for far more interesting online races, of which you can only do on the PC nowadays since EA shut down the servers for the consoles … of course there’s always system link support.

Now on to the different modes of the game … which most are fairly typical. You have your circuit races, knockout, tournaments and time trials. And, while drag racing by all means wasn’t new at the time the way the game did it was. The game forgoes the normal control method for the cars to a much simpler puzzle game style of play. You tap left to move into the lane on your left, and vice versa for right. The puzzle element comes in on the fact that you have to time your shifts to the right point, and in later races avoid various obstacles and pedestrian cars that litter the road. If you hit any of them your car will become “totaled” (I have that in quotes because there is no damage modeling) … you just restart and all the obstacles of all kinds will be in the exact same spot they were. When to shift varies on what kind of car you have and what kind of upgrades you have on it too, so you have to be mindful of that as well.

And my personal favorite mode in the entire game : drifting. There have been very few games released since this one with a better drift mechanic to me. But at the time of this game’s release, this was the best and by far the most fun. And the mechanic changes drastically when you’re on a drift track rather than a normal race. It’s like they make the track slicker to encourage drifting. Pretty much the various drift tracks in the game consist of a lot of tight corners and turns to turn your car sideways on to get points. The closer you are to the wall, the more points you get. And god damn is it ever fun. If they made a game for Xbox Live Arcade or the Playstation Network that was just an entire game based off this mechanic I would be in heaven. Outrun Arcade is definitely close with it’s beautiful drift mechanic so I guess I’ll have to settle for that.

Now for the bad, which may turn a lot of modern gamers off. One is a product of the times, and the other is just shitty design. First off, the entire game is extremely linear. You’re going to have the exact same game every time you play it. Period. There is no open world … which to me is a great thing … you simply just choose which race you want to do from a menu. And the overall track design, while the layouts are awesome … tend to look the same and gets extremely repetitive after a while because they use the old method of reversing tracks and doing something like cutting off one part of a track you’ve already raced on in favor of a different road making it only slightly different. And since it’s all the same general inner city look, they all pretty much look the same. While it’s not enough to kill the game by any means … it definitely hurts it.

The music is a mix of forgettable, edited, watered down rap and rock with the only real standout (to me) being Rob Zombie. The sound on the other hand is great and helps to add to the overall sense of speed in the game. And … the cutscenes. That’s the only exceptionally bad part of this entire game. They are simply terrible. Horribly rendered, bad voice acting … just bad EVERYTHING. Mercifully … they can be skipped. And in the case of the PC … completely ripped out the game. Who the hell pays attention to the story in a game like this anyway. Of course, there’s really not much to pay attention TO in the game story wise because I’ve seen more depth and better characters in three panel comics out of the newspaper.

But regardless of those gripes, it’s definitely a game to check out if you like arcade style racers just because the game itself is one of the best in it’s particular genre. If the whole lack of an open world thing for you newer gamers is a turnoff, then snag up Need for Speed Underground 2, Most Wanted or Undercover. They have that bullshit. For me however, while I do love those other games (especially since Most Wanted and Undercover have the cops) this still holds a special place for me since it helped me get back into the NFS series after I finally got done with NFS III : Hot Pursuit.

The original Underground is dirt cheap anywhere you go and definitely worth picking up.

All screenshots are from the PC version of the game and courtesy of MobyGames.

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  1. Jacing It Up's Avatar
    I loved undergound and the music when racing!
  2. Dhalamar's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Jacing It Up
    I loved undergound and the music when racing!
    hehe Yeah, the music is kind of a personal thing to me. I didn't like the majority of it, but that's just me. That's why I don't comment to much on music in games. :P

    I thought the SEVERE watering down of the rap songs were kinda funny though.

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