PC games: Need For Speed Underground

I openly admit I’m bit of an elitist when it comes to racing games and I’ll casually slam any game that doesn’t feature authentic handling and fully licensed vehicles or require the concentration of a fighter pilot to drive the thing out of the pits.

This game takes a fairly standard approach, in that you can race single player (although you must unlock tracks and cars in career mode first), career mode and multiplayer. Career mode is really the heart of the game, with 111 races to work your way through — starting with a standard street car and entering races to earn money and reputation points so you can hot up your little shopping trolley. Obviously, the longer you play, the more upgrades, cars and tracks become available to you, providing the motivation to keep playing your way through the game. Being an illegal street racing game, all its circuits are based around a variety of fictitious city streets. Admittedly they are all a bit samey and it’s always night-time, but nonetheless I found them challenging enough to be fun, and the random traffic always makes for plenty of hilarity (or rage).

Races are split up into various styles — circuit, drag, drift, sprint, knockout and tournament. They’re all reasonably self-explanatory but special mention must go to drag mode. It’s a straight-line race through crammed city streets against three other racers, mostly lasting just 30 seconds. You don’t steer, as such; rather, you flick the controller left or right to change lanes. Speed is reliant on pulling off perfect gear changes and knowing just when to hit that nitro button so as not to blow the engine. Sounds simple enough — and it is — but in the latter stages of the game, when things get a little tougher, there is often only one way to win the race. You must learn (through trial and error) which lane to be in at the right time to avoid traffic and obstacles. I suffered more than one instance of virtual road rage at the hands of drag mode.

Racing with a steering wheel worked perfectly, although from all reports a game pad is just as good. A perfect blend of arcade insanity and real-life handling charac-teristics makes for some hectic, seat-of-the-pants racing. Graphically, it all looks rather nice, although the menu system suffers horribly from “I was born on a console” syndrome and the multiplayer interface is diabolical. Still, these shortcomings are easily forgiven considering the quality of racing game we’ve been presented with in Underground. Great stuff.

Visuals: Good use of lighting and shadows
Audio: Great mix of in-game SFX and soundtrack
Gameplay: Arcade-like feel
Developer: EA Black Box
Publisher: Electronic Arts
URL: www.eagames.com/official/nfs/underground/us/home.jsp

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