Need for Speed: Undercover Review - January 22

The NFS franchise seems to have lost its way recently with the so-so NFS Carbon, and the disaster that was Pro Street. The developers have pegged Undercover as a return to form, following in the steps of fan favourite Most Wanted. Is this true or are they just blowing smoke?

NFS Undercover utilises the parts of Most Wanted that were so loved by fans of the series and as a result catapults itself to the forefront as the best NFS game in a while. Returning to the street (rather than the competitions in ProStreet) Undercover sees you take the role of an unnamed undercover cop who is set up to infiltrate the street racing gangs in Tri City Bay (the fictional city where the game is based) in the hope of locating who is operating a smuggling ring out of the port area. The game’s cutscenes contain real actors which helps immerse the player into the world of Undercover. Although the story is a bit weak it helps the game along and entices the player to continue racing to see what happens next. The story is reminiscent of that of the first The Fast & The Furious movie so will please fans of street racing culture. As you delve deeper into the gangs who have a hold of Tri City Bay you meet new characters that will offer you jobs to complete so that you can prove yourself and gain their respect. You start off infiltrating Hector’s gang (played by Kurt Caceres from “Prison Break”) and move up the ladder gaining the gang's respect and new cars (you win pink slips for completing certain races) until you find yourself in the position to take them down. After dealing with Hector and his crew your focus moves to GMAC, a former cop who has changed sides (played by David Rees Snell from “The Shield”) and the same move up the ranks commences. Your undercover effort is co-ordinated by Chase Linh (played by Maggie Q) who gives you the low down on all the gang members and tells you where to go next.

The cutscenes and story however are just to link together the main appeal of Undercover which is the racing. The gameplay is fast paced and in depth, the cars all handling differently and thus gaining their own identity. Types of races available to compete in include the staples from previous NFS games, Sprint and Circuit, with new additions including Highway Battle (which sees you and one opponent try to get the best of each other on a traffic packed highway, whoever leads at the end of the time limit wins) and Outrun (again you compete with one opponent and try to stay ahead till time elapses, but this time you have the whole city to drive through). Although these new race types are fun, it’s a shame that the old favourites, Drag and Drift haven’t made an appearance this time around. In between the races mentioned you can take on challenges like evading the cops, causing as much damage to the state as possible, or taking out as many police units as possible all in a limited time frame. You can access the races from the GPS map or simply tapping (TAB) will take you to the nearest race to you. Unfortunately you can't access the races from the open world which is a strange choice made by the developers.

The cars are amazingly detailed, they really look the part.

You will have guessed by now that the police do make a welcome return in Undercover. Back to NFS roots, the cops used to be a staple of the series, and fans will be happy to see them back. You may not notice them early on but as you get through the game they will come out in full force, and the higher your wanted level, the more they will do to try and stop you. This includes mobilising more units of a different type (there are standard police vehicles, faster ones like the Nissan GT-R 35, FBI cars which are Porches and SUVs), sending out helicopters to hunt you down, and deploying spike strips as well as the usual boxing and ramming manoeuvres. There are many speedbreaker points placed throughout Tri City Bay and you can utilise these to evade the boys in blue, unleashing numerous logs from a trailer to get in their way, or crashing through and destroying a petrol station, watching while they are stuck underneath the rubble as you drive away with a smile on your face.

The driving is very well implemented with cars moving at breakneck speeds (especially when you are driving the likes of a Bugatti Veyron with nitrous injection down a highway). As previously mentioned all the cars handle differently but can be tuned to a style of your liking. Crashes are meaty and graphically satisfying. The numerous cars on show in the game will cater to anyone’s tastes with your pick of Japanese, European or American cars available. The tuning in the game is also in depth, both performance wise and visually, however some areas are lacking. You can visually enhance your motor in any way you please, changing the colour, rims, bodykit and adding vinyls. Under the hood you can opt for the quick option and upgrade at the click of the button or you can install all the parts yourself and then tune them to perfection. Undercover also sports the ‘bullet time’ option where you can slow down time and gain better handling of your car, great for those moments when you need to dodge highway traffic or make a u-turn on the fly.

It's almost as fun as Most Wanted to play.

Graphically the game can be amazingly beautiful with the car models represented down to a tee and Tri City Bay looks amazingly realistic. However this all depends on the power of your computer. The minimum requirements are labelled as: Windows XP or Vista with latest service pack installed, Intel Pentium 4 (or equivalent),CPU running at 2.8GHz or higher (3.0GHz if running Windows Vista), 1GB RAM, 5.5 GB of HD space required to install game. However don’t be disheartened if your laptop or computer is not up to the task as I played the game on my laptop with these specifications: Windows Vista (service pack 1), Intel Core 2 Duo processor (2.0 GHz), 4GB RAM, Nvidia GeForce 8400m GS (256 MB) Graphics card. I had hardly any trouble at all, the graphics weren’t up to perfect standards but definitely reasonable (and for example, better quality than PS2 graphics), and I only experienced some slow down when the screen was full of police (during an intense chase) or traffic. However I’d say that anything less than a 2.0 GHz processor may encounter problems.

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