Need for Speed Underground 2 – Review
I would like to start this review with a disclaimer: I am not a chav. I do not like Burberry baseball caps, or Kappa trousers. I also find chav-mobiles, in their native urban wasteland setting, to be ridiculous. But provide me with flashing lights and shiny graphics, and I plunge headlong into Self Loathing City, otherwise known as Bayview, EA’s fictitious chav-ville extraordinaire and the setting for its latest game – Need For Speed Underground 2.
The first thing that strikes you about NFSU 2 is that EA have shamelessly ripped off Grand Theft Auto. No, actually the first thing is that the “story” is pointless, and the cartoon style cut-scenes seem out of place next to the rest of the game’s visuals. That is of only peripheral importance however. It appears that EA have taken GTA’s free roaming city setting, pumped up the shininess, and removed the violence – in other words, NFSU 2 is what GTA would be if it was a racing game. Or rather it wants to be.
You cruise around the city, looking for races or shops to tune your ‘ride’. These appear on a world map, which is supplemented by another familiar GTA-style feature – a smaller map of your immediate surroundings. Races come in a number of flavours: Sprint, Circuit, Drag and Drift all featured in the original NFSU, with new modes Street-X – a tight, drift-style race where accurate cornering is everything, Underground Race League – 6-way racing on proper circuits, and my personal favourite, Outrun. Outrun races are entered into if you meet a fellow racer while cruising the streets between races, and challenge them. The aim is then to get 1000 yards ahead of your opponent. This gives you a chance to race freely – to pick whatever route you wish – and is immensely enjoyable.
As well as racing you can change the features of your car, both enhancing performance through a number of upgrades and improving its look through new bodywork, paint, vinyl stickers, neon lights and so forth. It’s enough to make any chav wet him or herself with glee, and yet the cars look neither out of place, nor ludicrously silly. This is obviously due to the lack of realism – if NFSU 2 was set in a disused multi-story car park, normality would be restored. That is to EA’s credit – they have created a world which is shiny and colourful enough to force either suspension of disbelief, or brain damage.
Of course, this comes with a price – namely the need for a powerful graphics card to be able to get the best out of the game. Without one, you will either have to cope with some nasty texture issues and a large helping of jagged edges, or suffer from lag, both when using the mouse in menus and while driving.
NFSU 2 allows you to drive more than 30 cars from a range of manufacturers, all of which look – until you start modding at least – like the real things. As you would expect, each car’s performance is different, although many handle like monster trucks in disguise. Still, it’s worth having more than one fully souped up to provide the best choice for each race. The main problem however is that you can start with one of the best cars – namely the Mazda MX-5 – which makes bothering anything else rather pointless for most of the game.
Overall, NFSU 2 is an empty but strangely compelling racing game – good for pick-up-and-play value, but lacking any real substance. I just pray for a Project Gotham PC conversion, so I don’t have to feel this dirty every time I play a racing game.