Need for Speed: Underground 2
NFS:U didn’t make its one year birthday without the next installment lurking around the corner. Need for Speed: Underground 2 is the suspected consequence of a successful arcade racer which introduced tuners with the idea of gaming. Back when NFS:U was fresh and new I was pretty impressed with what EA offered me, but where did all my praise go?
Well, it ain’t here, that’s for sure. When I first heard of the news that NFS:U2 would be set in one huge world, I immediately got cold sweat. It’s a trend that’s been popping up in numerous games since GTA III and it feels like a desperate attempt to give the game an innovative touch. But one way or another, it doesn’t give me that “innovative touch”. By just pressing one button you get a map with the most important races and tuning shops and when you select a race, a big arrow will lead way. This system works pretty well but the game world doesn’t have much to offer. You’ll find some secret races scattered around here and there and you’ll bump in to other cars which you can challenge for a short race, but other than that, there’s not much to see or do.
The numerous menus in which you had to find your way last year (and that didn’t bother me one bit) have been replaced by a shit load of loading screens. Every time you start a new race and every time you enter or exit a shop, your eyes will be treated with some lovely loading. Everyone who hasn’t played GTA: SA yet, won’t bother, but everyone else will understand my grievances. The logic is pretty far fetched too, a game with a much larger world has less loading screens than a game with a smaller world. Think about it, doesn’t make much sense now, does it?
Another minus of last year’s installment was the lack of variation in the tracks, especially because of the fact that they were all set at night. Street racing may be forbidden, making that tough guys will only come out at night to race with their toy cars, but that doesn’t mean EA can’t stray off this thought. They put a limit on their own creativity and you’ll immediately notice this in the different areas that are thrown at you. A suburban area for the lower class, a city centre for the wealthier folks and a higher part up in the hills for the richest among us, all separated by a high way. It’s nicely segmented and it feels natural but overall you’ll find yourself racing the identical looking tracks over and over again; the variation is still a bit lacking. EA tries to bring in some changes with the Underground Racing League (more on this, later on). But, as I said before, NFS:U2 has the same problem as its predecessor; a little to less variation in the tracks raising the annoying level up one bit.
This doesn’t have to be a disaster if the races are still fun. But, sadly, they aren’t that great either. They offer the same race modes as last time with the addition of a few new ones. You can challenge other cars during your drive around the city. You’ll have to make a 200 meter gap in order to win the race. Aside from the little money you can gain, it’s also possible to win some new and exclusive parts for your car. The drift races have also got a new variation called down hill drifting. The name already gives you an indication in which way it’s going, indeed down it is! When you thought the normal drift races were easy, this new addition will probably cost you even less effort; it’s like taking candy from a baby! The most interesting addition to this year’s version is the Underground Racing League (URL). The races take place on a closed track, similar to races in Gran Turismo or Pro Race Driver. The difficulty level is again rather low, making it way to easy to win. The Street X races however are so difficult they will frustrate you. They take place on a small and bendy track where it’s your task to take the corners as short as possible. You can tell that the balance in the gameplay isn’t that good. The big mistake EA makes is the slighting of the fun factor. I only raced to be able to buy new parts, the racing itself was of minor interest. Add to this the fact that it can take some time to unlock a new spoiler, bumper or rim and you’ll see that NFS:U2′s fun factor has strangely disappeared.
Maybe I’m a bit too negative about NFS:U2, but the truth should be told. Aside from the tuning, this new arcade racer hasn’t got a lot to offer. EA has brought in some necessary changes in the tuning department with the addition of new parts like: lamborghini doors, hydraulics and spinning rims. But overall these newcomers don’t really enlighten your gaming experience. The special doors and the “low-rider” suspension can only come in handy at photo shoots. Here you can place your car just the way you like it on the cover of a magazine. Of course “it’s all good” but you won’t hear me scream like a twelve year old desperate girl in the front line of a N*SYNC concert. To put it differently: I’m not really impressed with what EA delivers. Don’t get me wrong, tuning your car can still be rather satisfying, especially when you unlock the special car kits. So there’s no doubt about it: NFSU:2 is the best tuning game out there.
The graphics have largely stayed the same, which is good because they were gorgeous last time around. But I still have some complaining to do. You see, they were able to hire some famous babes for the cutscenes or should I say “comic book scenes”. Indeed, Brooke “mee-auch” Burke is transformed in lovely pastel colours. What’s that all about? I mean, it’s pathetic enough that we, gamers, drool on the polygons of miss Lara Croft, but a drawn picture that’s as unanimated as the Mona Lisa is just too much. How pathetic can one be? Why don’t they give us some full motion videos or perhaps pictures or rendered footage? No, EA doesn’t bother giving the desperate gamers what they won’t and they deliver us a drawing of a babe! It’s sad, really sad!
Is NFS:U2 a bad game then? Well actually, no, it isn’t. The steering is nice, the feeling of speed is, although it can’t compete with Burnout 3, rather satisfying and the tuning possibilities are richly at hand. But the most important part of a racing game is of course the racing itself and this may get a little boring from time to time. Luckily part two has also a good online mode which makes up for it. You can choose from all the races in the career mode and race against anyone, anywhere.
Need for Speed: Underground 2 isn’t the sequel I dreamed of. The big game world doesn’t make the game any better. Look at it like this: would you rather be looking at loading screens all the time instead of making your way through some menu’s? The new race modes are also a bit disappointing and because of the fact that everything takes place at night, it will bore you pretty soon. The lasting appeal however is a lot longer than the previous installment and the tuning part of the game is even more fun. So if you’re looking for the best tuning game out there, NFS:U2 is really your bag. If you, however, are looking for the best arcade racing game, you might want to check out Burnout 3 because it’s because it’s just better no matter how you look at it.