Publisher: EA Games
Developer: EA Canada
N Amer - 11/15/2004
Intl - 11/15/2004
Need for Speed Underground 2 Review
The street lamps light up the dark, winding streets like beacons beckoning you to follow it into the empty districts where nothing but the swaying trees are stirring. You feel the vibrating rumbling of your engine, gripping the steering wheel until your knuckles turn white and from out of nowhere a pretty girl steps out into the street with her arm outstretched. Next to you is a series of cars, sleek machines that shine with the reflections of the street lamps and moonlight. Then the girl drops her arm and your foot hits the accelerator and off you go to become a street legend or the promise of something that could have been a legend. Welcome to Bayview, illegal-racing capital of the world. Welcome to Need for Speed Underground 2.
Need for Speed Underground placed you in some unknown city racing for fame, fortune and the beautiful girl that haunts the scene like an urban ghost. Now, having received a sponsorship and a reputation among the followers of this illegal sport, you’ve come to the city of Bayview (which smacks of Los Angeles down to its Hollywood sign) where you seek even more fame. You’re introduced to Rachel Taylor (who is modeled and voiced by E! television “Wild On” hostess Brooke Burke) who becomes your contact while in the city. After meeting her, you’re off to make a name for yourself and that’s not going to be easy seeing as the city is filled with skilled racers.
You’ll start your illegal race car driving career by finding Rachel’s beautifully modified car in the parking lot of the airport and then instructed, via a PDA/Instant Messenger communication device known as SMS (Short Message System), to head out to her garage somewhere in town. From there, you’re free to roam the massive city that is Bayview. How big a city are we talking about? Big enough to house five districts (Beacon Hill, Coal Harbor, Jackson Heights, City Core and the Airport district). It’s so big that you’ll be using your World Map frequently so you won’t get lost along the way to garages or the next race. You’re free to explore the city to your heart’s content but seeing as there’s nothing out there but near empty streets (you’ll encounter light traffic but no pedestrians taking a stroll). You’ll pretty much skip the exploration phase of the game’s Explore mode altogether because, baby, it’s all about the racing . . . and because there’s nothing out there to see in the first place.
Rachel will quickly point out that the World Map will fill up with colored circular icons that offer various racing options such as Drag, Drift, Circuit, Sprint and two new ones like Street X and Downhill Drift. You’ll find some icons that will point you in the right direction in terms of garages specializing in car modification or shops that specialize in just making your car look awesome. Either way, you’ll come to learn about and eventually come to really love import tuning. Nothing is cooler than outfitting your car with the latest decals, tears and changing everything from the front bumper to the spoilers. You can even change the tires and rims and design a really outrageous ride. Be creative as you want with your car’s design (you earn points for visual presentation) but since winning races is what you want to be doing you’ll have to modify some parts and add a nitrous system.
See, winning races means gaining Reputation Points that will eventually lead to earning sponsorships, your car featured in magazines or the cover of a DVD. The more races you win the more money you win and more money means a faster and more visually presentable car. Speaking of which, there’s a great variety of them to choose from and they’ve even added this year’s ultra sleek new models like the Nissan 240SX and--wait for it--trucks and SUVs like the Cadillac Escalade (huh?). You’ll even find a Pontiac GTO and my personal favorite the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. The majority of the vehicles handle beautifully (the SUVs are just too bulky to race) and even more so when you customize engine parts, tires and Nitrous. This is especially great considering the road conditions change with the weather or the type of streets.
The races themselves are scattered throughout the map so one race might take you from the Airport district to Coal Harbor and then back to the City Core. Each section of the city offers different types of streets, for example, the City Core has freeways that many of the race types use. A Circuit Race will take you from the streets and directly into the freeway at a moments notice. The Drag races come straight from the first game and they’ll have you push your car at top speeds while attempting to make good shifts at the right moment. Sprint has you racing from one point in the map to another while you’re being timed. Drift, a returning favorite, has you pulling off stylish drifts around a circular track. Street X is a no-holds barred race similar that has you doing anything it takes to win the race--while it gets nowhere near as nasty as the Takedown mode in Burnout 3, this is one fast and furious race.
Control-wise, the GameCube does a decent job of making things like power slides and nitrous boosts fun yet what really pushes the game back a little is the Nintendo GameCube controller. That’s not to say that the game will feel awkward, we would just like the control scheme a bit simpler to handle since Underground 2 showcases smarter AI racers. They’ll make fewer mistakes than the first game and they’ll know exactly where the coolest shortcuts are (all of which make a lot of sense since you’re the outsider and they’re the locals). And you don’t even want to know what I think about the GameCube’s inability to go online (although the split-screen multiplayer mode is fun enough to go up against a friend).
Visually, Underground 2 is both spectacular and just a tad disappointing, well, for the GameCube version anyway. The streets are detailed down to the swaying trees and the flashing lights of some shop sign. You’ll love how rain pelts the windshield and how the drops dramatically shift to one side when you speed up. The licensed vehicles are gorgeous and sleek and reflect the lamplights perfectly. Yet you’ll find some nasty PS2 jaggies and that’s not cool at all. Lastly, the cut scenes are shown comic book-style and thus making each one long and uninteresting. Rachel Taylor looks like Brooke Burke so if you were expecting full-motion video of her you’ll be somewhat disappointed.
As for the sound, the soundtrack is all right but nothing really special. You’ll find hard hitting tunes from bands like Unwritten Law and some hip-hop by artists like Capone. It’s not bad, really, but I like my underground racing games to have a soundtrack that fits the illegal racing culture much like Midnight Club II does (trance, hip-hop, etc.). The voice acting is the weak spot in the sound department because there’s no way on Earth street racers sound like Snoop Dogg has raised them. The real underground racing lingo isn’t anywhere near this (trust me; I’ve been around more than a few of them to know). Thankfully the sound effects are excellently done.
Need for Speed Underground 2 is a great sequel and still one of the most addictive racing games true to the underground racing culture. With so many fun racing modes and huge section of city to race through, you’ll easily spend lots of time burning rubber in the streets of Bayview. If you love racing and customizing your car anyway you see fit, then this is the game GameCube owners will definitely want to buy.
#Review Scoring Details for Need for Speed Underground 2
As far as racing games are concerned, the Need for Speed games has always given us an arcade-styled control but with Underground there’s a bit of simulator tossed in for good measure. The result is a too-fun-to-put-down racing game with vehicles that handle like a dream (well, except for the SUVs). The variety of street types keeps the game fresh although the exploration bits grow old quickly.
The cars look amazing both during the races, during replays of the races and while you’re modifying your car with all kinds of designs and customizable parts. The environments are also gorgeous even with the lonely streets with no pedestrians in sight. Here’s the bad news: there’s some jaggies and the cut scenes are just flat out boring.
The soundtrack is a mix of okay tunes by recognizable talents like Queens of the Stone Age and Mudvayne. There’s even a Snoop Dogg version of “Riders on the Storm” but it’s not good at all. The voice acting is decent but the dialogue just tries too hard to sound street. Brooke Burns is the only character that doesn’t sound like a skater gone gangsta.
The challenge is on thanks to improved AI and that’s just the way we like it. Long gone are the computer-controlled cars that suddenly accelerate and drive ten times better than when the race started when you near the last lap or the feeling that you’re the only one that makes mistakes out there. You’ll be seriously watching your rivals in this one.
The huge city that is Bayview makes us feel that you’ll be doing some pretty interesting things while not racing but nothing is further from the truth. Still, it’s a lot better than automatically jumping from race to race like in the first game and you can pick the races that interest you the most. Modding opens up dozens of possibilities and you’ll have fun tuning your street racer too boot.
No online mode is starting to make me weepy but the two-player multiplayer split-screen racing is still perfect enough to want to share this with a friend seeing as you have many race types available.
Illegal street racing has never looked and felt so right and with Need for Speed Underground 2 you’ll find it hard not to fall in love with this fun racing game. Whether you’re cruising the streets for races or hitting the shop to customize your car, GameCube gamers and racing fans will definitely enjoy this sequel.
GameZone Review Detail
Need for Speed Underground 2 is a great sequel and still one of the most addictive racing games true to the underground racing culture.
Reviewer: Natalie Romano
Review Date: 11/29/2004