NFS: Undercover

Navneet Prakash

There are a few series that need no introduction and Need for Speed is one of them. The legendary franchise has sold more than a gazillion copies and is often considered among the best racing games in the history of gaming. But to be honest, I am rather disappointed with the last few games in the series as they lacked innovation.

I had high hopes from Undercover, as it seemed to be a revised version of NFS: Most Wanted, the recent best in the series, and although it does go back to its "Most Wanted Roots", it still is disappointing from a technical point of view.

The concept behind the game is simple, you play an undercover cop in a fictional city called Tri-city and your job is to go up the criminal ranks in Tri-city. You have to take up petty crimes like stealing cars to infiltrate a group of car thieves, who are being controlled by a much bigger gang.

The car thieves enjoy street racing and you gain their respect by competing against them - a plot and idea similar to Most Wanted. The game has been presented like a movie, with drama driven plot and established actors (Not) like Maggie Q. The concept is great but the execution is mediocre at best, but I will come to the presentation a little later. First let's look at the core gameplay, the racing controls and the open world environment.

Unlike the last game, Undercover is an open-world game like EA's own Burnout Paradise, which gives the player more freedom. The entire Tri-City area is split into different zones and stretches over 100 miles, making it the biggest NFS city ever. These are basically three cities linked together by highways, hence the name Tri-City.  Although the city size is commendable and really impressive, the gameplay isn't as liberating as Burnout Paradise. Let me elaborate on the not-so- burnout-like agenda. You see Burnout is an open world game, which means you can choose your own route in the city.

So when the object is to reach from point A to point B, choosing your own route in a huge city gives you freedom and the win is more satisfying. NFS Undercover has a weird system, as once you start racing, all the other routes are blocked and you have linear track to race on rendering the open-world environment useless. There are traditional race modes in the game, as well as some that are inspired from other games like Outrun and Cops and Robbers. The objective in Outrun is to basically maintain a certain distance between you and your opponent for a brief period of time, do so and you win the race. Cops and Robbers is an online mode, more about that later in the review.

There is a huge selection of cars in the game, including some unreleased cars like the Nissan 370z, making the cars roster highly impressive. The cars look great as the engine has been tweaked up a lot, making the game look really good (but trust me the performance is just as bad). Winning races will make you money, which in turn can be used to get better parts and customize your car to look unique. There are a decent number of customization options, so you can spend a lot of time fine tuning the looks of the car. There is a really odd system that lets you transfer real world money from your PSN or XBLA account in the game, so if you have more cash than you need, go ahead and burn some of it.

The single player is quiet easy, even new comers will be able to finish the game quickly, so jump in if you're new to the series. The real challenge is online, and lets all thank EA for that. The single player includes a lot of cop chases, in a system that is fairly similar to Most Wanted. As you race, the cops take notice and keep track of your activities and over a period of time more and more cops take a keen interest in bringing you down. With every passing chase the number of cops increases and so does the difficulty. However, what makes evading the cops easy are the relatively empty and wide open roads. There are times when the cops will block the road but you can use the Speed-Breaker system to pass through them and continue racing. The pursuit breaker system makes a comeback here and can be used to evade a large number of cops. Once you gather enough heat, you will be required to dump your upgraded car to lower the heat level, which I think is rather unfair. The single player is mediocre at best, redemption lies in the multiplayer.

The game has a decent multiplayer package, which consists of an online eight player multiplayer mode. Online play is good fun, and depending on your connection, quite stable. There is a cops and robbers mode, which basically splits the players into two teams. One team has to steal and transfer some cash, while the cops try to stop them (Midtown Madness anyone?). The online play is good fun and saves the game from total disaster.

Graphics and Presentation
The game is a technical loser, I was playing the game on a decent gaming rig but the poorly optimized engine made my system shed tears. The game freezes quiet often; there is noticeable lag throughout the single player. The following are my rig details:

E8400 Core 2 Duo( 3.0 GHz)
4GB Ram
ATI" 4850
I used the same system to play Crysis Warhead and it worked like charm, not the same with NFS Undercover. The FMV sequences are boring and poorly acted, making the already boring and dramatic plot even more boring. I am and always will be a big NFS fan, but this one has left me a little disappointed.