Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Need for Speed - Underground

A near perfect racing game that makes you swear a lot!

Yo dawgs I give you the welcomez to da toughest racer in da hood homie! NFSU iz were it's at! Y'all should be jumping on this boat and be rocking hard cuz, cuz, it's never bein this tight racing in da street befar!!! Ok... enough with the lingo, you'll get more than enough of it in NFSU, on to the facts. NFSU is the - I-lost-count-at-5 - continuation of the successful Need for Speed series. The NFS series, for the 4 of you out there who've either been dug out of a giant icicle or have lived in a crater for your whole life, is one of the most well know arcade racing series out there. NFS used to mean fast, out of this world cars and lots of open picturesque highways to bust out your wheels on. Now, that's all over.

NFSU is EA's entry in the "new and exciting" genre of street racing. Ever since REAL street racing simulators came out the world has been craving more. NFSU delivers that "more" people have been craving for and does so in style... well, if you can ignore all the abundant lingo.

GRAPHICS: For a PC game NFSU looks barely above average. The textures are pretty poor and the surroundings could have been much better done. Much of what you see is washed out or fogged out. Buildings really lack sharpness and detail and the rest of the environment could be both more destructible and livelier. That being said, NFSU does benefit from some pretty neat racing effects. The speed blur is an awesome effect that gives you a greater feel of speed. Lighting is also pretty good, with taillights dissipating in the distance and neon's giving out a satisfying glow.

As far as the resolution goes, this too is serviceable. A maximum of 1280x1024 pixels can fit on screen at one time. This is much more than what the weak hardware found in consoles can produce, and it shows. NFSU on the PC is much clearer and better looking than it's console counterparts. Hell, in fact I would even warn against downloading the demo (or the game) to try it out, or whatever on the PC and then switching to a console because the graphics will make your eyes bleed.

None of the effects are really over done, with the exception of one: Wetness. The pavement is always giving out this horrendous shine that looks like it just rained 5 minutes ago. Along with the "all night party" this is the most annoying effect found in NFSU. Finally, the PC version has the least slowdown of all of the version. The console versions suffer from monster slowdown while the PC keeps it at a minimum.

SOUND: The sound in NFSU is so good that it's in a league of it's own... shared by only one other racer. Thanks to EA Trax, NFSU has some of the best music you can find in a game to date. Lil John, Asian Dub Foundation, Static X, and more composed the tracks you'll find in NFSU. Let's just say that it's amazing how well all of these tracks fit the mood of the game. Whether you like or hate them it's readily obvious that the developers spent a great deal of time selecting these tracks and making sure they fit perfectly with the atmosphere.

The sound effects are even better than the music. The voice acting, while overly street is pretty decent... but it's NOTHING compared to the actual sound effects. I've yet to hear better engine sounds or more ambient noise than in NFSU. The sound component monitors engine modifications so well that's it's actually possible that there are hundreds of different engine sounds in the game. Every time you change a part of your engine or even your car, the sound of the whole thing changes. Together with the wind blowing, gear's changing and tires squealing the sound effects in NFSU make for some of the most enjoyable audio experiences ever.

GAMEPLAY: NFSU is an arcade racer. As such, you shouldn't expect an overly realistic racing experience, but whatever little realism there is really adds to the feel of the game and helps to further enhance a pretty solid arcade racing experience. Need for Speed features a sizeable amount of cars from a not-so-sizeable amount of manufacturers, the parts to go along with those cars, and about 100 races which you must win in order to both own and upgrade those cars.

There are quite a few racing types in NFSU. Circuit is just like what it sounds, a series of closed race tracks made up of the sections of the city in which you must out-drive your opponents while dodging traffic and finding the best route possible to the finish line. Sprint races are point A to B type races where there is only one sizeable lap that must be completed either in a limited amount of time or against serious competition from your not-so-smart rivals. Drift and Drag racing are both relatively new additions to the genre and pretty interesting, but ultimately end up being pretty boring.

Drift is inspired by the real life thing in where you attempt to take turns at absurd speeds all the while smoking your tires and posing in cool ways. The way to win this mode is for you to get more points than your opponents. Every time you meet a certain point amount, it gets multiplied by a number (2, 3, 4, 8, etc.). The more crazy drifts your able to put together the higher the requirement and the higher the multiplier. Drift is actually the game's easiest mode, and it ends up being made even easier by the looseness of the "Space" key, which is the handbrake default.

Drag, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of drift. Breaking is a forgotten concept, coolness is the least of your concerns, and difficulty can be quite a... well, you know. Drag racing is actually just a straightforward race in which you must perfectly time your shifts and your Nitrous use in order to get in front and stay there. Dodging the traffic and taking the turns at some 150-odd miles isn't easy though. Drag is by far the most annoying and difficult race type in NFSU. Your opponents always seem to time everything perfectly and it seems that no matter how good your car is, there's are always better. This can make for some 2-3 dozen tires per race.

All of these race types can be either played individually or part of the 100+ race career mode. Career mode is, obviously, the meat of the game. Here you start from nobody and you go up to pro. Take your pick from one of the cars in the beginning and then keep on going. As you advance you can unlock more cars, parts and visual modifications. Too bad that it all seems very "canned". Career mode is hardly "career", it's just a string of races, which must all be completed in order to advance, a bunch of money and a lot of bad lingo put together. As if all of that isn't enough to give the impression of a "canned" mode, the time between the unlockables is so huge that you'll end up with 10s of thousands of dollars in your bank account by the time you reach the 50th, 60th race. This could've easily been solved if you had to buy your car, but you don't. Just trade in your old car for a new one. All the upgrades get transferred and so does all your street cred.

Canned or not, the career mode is worth at least a try... mostly because of the ungodly amount of upgrades and visual tuning your car can go through. It's quite amazing to start from scrap and go to a total street animal in the course of a game. Thanks to real life manufactures such as Apex and HKS everything feels even MORE authentic than it looks. Upgrades range from on-board computer chips, to suspensions, to vinyl, to spoilers, and even PAINT. Hell, the amount of care that went in the paint system alone is amazing. Throw in a whole slew of unique hoods and a good deal of cars and you have what is possibly one of the deepest tuners around.

The actual racing is fun too, thanks, in no small part, to the huge selection of cars available. Everything from Honda Civic, Fiat Punto, to Toyota Supra and Nissan Skyline is included. The cars all have different stats and feel slightly different, but they're not exactly GT differences. Driving is a lot of fun, waving through traffic while holding down the NOS button cannot be any less fun even if they tried, but thanks to a very good feel of speed and pretty well designed tracks they made the racing REALLY fun, as compared to the much lesser "fun".

Too bad for the AI and the actual tracks though. NFSU suffers from dumb AI. Usually the AI doesn't take shortcuts and does a lot of stupid mistakes. Not to mention that once you got in front of the AI they have a real hard time catching up (unless your drag racing). The tracks themselves, while well designed get repetitive fast. There mustn't be more than 15 of them and racing 100 times with 15 tracks, 7 of which are reserved for Drag and Drift, races can get quite repetitive. This wouldn't be so bad if the AI was smarter but as soon as you catch on to the tracks and discover the shortcuts you'll easily pass the AI by and keep the lead.

The monotony of racing against the AI is broken up every now and then by some timed races. Most of the time these races are easy but some can get quite frustrating, usually later in the game when you can't upgrade and your forced to finish the race to move on. NFSU also seems to control quite well with a keyboard and mouse, hell, I even found drag racing and drifting much easier with the keyboard than with the controller. On the other hand, there is one very annoying bug that appears in the first few moments of a race (maybe the first 30 seconds) and it can become quite damaging to your race: Short 1 or 2 second bursts of slowdown. It seems like the machine is just locking up (I'd assume the game is still loading the track). If NFSU has one problem with presentation it would have to be the time of day. Trust me when I say this: By the time you will finish this game you will get sick and tired of driving at night. After a while it just gets annoying to know where traffic is only by looking at their headlights/taillights and night driving just gets trying when you realize there are 10 more racers coming out for the PC with the same "specs".

MULTIPLAYER: It's as standard as standard gets. The actual multiplayer features Split-Screen, and online/LAN play for up to 6 players. Everything in the single player game can be played online. You can also take your tuned up cars and race them online against other racers. It's not bad per se, but it's just not much to brag about.

OVERALL: Hood or not NFSU was pretty revolutionary for it's time. Not only did this game introduce real cars to the underground racing scene but it allowed you to modify and do as you pleased with them. Even now, about 8 years after this game came out, it's hard to find anything better... even it's own sequel doesn't rise to the challenge.

SYSTEM: PC, Game Cube, Play Station 2, XBOX, Game Boy Advance



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