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PLATFORM: Xbox 360, PS3, PC, PS2, Wii, DS

ESRB RATING: Teen
DEVELOPER: Black Box

PUBLISHER: EA

Need for Speed Undercover is a weird game for me. I attended a community day
for it barely even knowing what game it was for, and saw a very early
version of it that actually managed to impress me. See, I’m not a big fan of
the series and especially where it’s gone in the last few iterations. I
can care less about more realistic racing… fuck picking what spoilers
you can buy for the car or how much you can tweak the shocks. If I play
a racer I want two things- an insane sense of speed and the ability to
smash my opponents off the road. Burnout Paradise fulfilled this for me in spades, but when I saw that Need for Speed Undercover
was heading to an open world format filled with the cop chases that
were so much fun in the old games… I had faith that this could be a
contender.

I was wrong.
 
THE PITCH

You
play as a nameless undercover cop who’s trying to take down a gang of
car thieves. If it weren’t for some terrible FMV you wouldn’t know any
of this, because all you’re doing is racing. Racing, and running from
the cops, and racing some more.

The story is told in some
incredibly overacted full motion video scenes where actors are looking
at the camera screaming at “you”, trying to act badass. But really,
these are some of the most laughable bad guys ever. The main bad guy in
the game is probably the lamest villain since that dude in Bad Boys 2. The game’s got some “star power” with Maggie Q (most people know her as the girl in MI:3, I guess) who plays your connection to the police and Christina Milian who stars as your hot yet very dumb love interest.
 


CHUDTIP- She only wanted to love you, you rat.


But
the worst part about all of the FMV sequences is that they feel
completely removed from the gameplay. You never feel like you’re
actually playing out the story, or even racing against the same people from the
videos. They pop up seemingly at random and never connect to each
other, adding nothing to the gameplay with the most
standard undercover cop plot around. These were supposed to be created
with a Hollywood crew, and this is what they came up with? It’d be
embarrassing if it weren’t so laughable. The story also probably has
the
most obvious twist in videogamedom… no easy feat.
 
THE PLAY
 

The
best part of the game is undoubtedly how the cars control. It’s not
realistic (thankfully), but it’s an arcade-y style that allows you to
easily pull off burnouts, 360s, spins, and all sorts of fun moves. It’s
fun to dance your car around and quickly reverse, but you really won’t
get to play with it as much as you’d like.

The game shuns the last iteration (Prostreet)
and its reliance on just standard, realistic racing, going back to an open world
environment. You can drive around a bit but every race that’s available will
be selectable at any time from your map. Many people have slammed Burnout Paradise for
one reason in particular, and that is because it’s impossible to just
jump into a race, or easily retry one. In that game you have to drive around the world to each event. Playing this game realizes that
Criterion had it right after all. By allowing us to instantly jump into
a mission it has made the open world absolutely meaningless. There is
absolutely no reason to drive around the place and start to learn the
terrain, especially since every mission automatically blocks off your
route for you. The game could have allowed you to pick your races from
a menu and you’d be getting the exact same experience.

The
absolute best part of the game is the return of cops. Some of the races
you can choose have you racing from the pigs, trying to get away and
hide down sidestreets from them till they give up on you. There are
also modes where you have to knock out a certain amount of cop cars, or
do as much property damage to the city as possible… which just has
you knocking out cop cars since there’s nothing else besides some
street signs that you can crash into. They’re fun but get irritating for reasons we’ll get into later.

There are some other
interesting things it does, such as its RPG-style leveling system. You
can level up your skills by dominating a course (beating it under a
certain time) that’s intended to make you try your best at every little
race. But for every thing the game does right there are a ton of issues
that emerge, like how there’s hardly any traffic, or how cops stick to
your ass like glue. That last one’s one of the most infuriating. The
game gets downright cheap towards the end, and you’ll find that it’s
impossible to evade the cops no matter what you do. Even if you’re
blazing down the road during 240 with a Lamborghini they can somehow
keep up, and the only way to stop them is to knock something in their
way. You’ll run across structures piled up with pipes and logs and
other things that you can smash into to knock on any pursuers, and it
ends up being the only thing that you can use to stop anyone chasing
you. So instead of performing awesome maneuvers you’ll end up just
checking the map for the closest thing you can smash into.
 


CHUDTIP- The Highway Battles are pretty fun, but are really up to chance. Knock your opponent into traffic and gain a quick lead for domination.


You
can upgrade and tweak your car to your little heart’s content, and
thankfully they included quick upgrades for people like me who could
care less. But the microtransactions in this game are absolutely
ridiculous. For every single item in the game that you can buy for your
car, you’re offered the opportunity to use cash that you’ve won in the
game, or simply spend microsoft points (or simply your credit card if
you use PS3) to unlock it. For every. Single. Thing.



Sure, it’s entirely optional, but it’s annoying to have it constantly hanging in front of your face like that.


CHUDTIP- Upgrade your car with Nitro ASAP. It regenerates if you leave it a few seconds and is essential to blaze past your opponents on straightaways.


THE PRESENTATION
 
Due
to a weird stylistic choice, they chose to set this game entirely
during Magic Hour. For those that don’t know the term, it’s the time of
day right near sunrise or sunset when you get those beautiful colors in
the sky- and tons of films have used it for powerful scenes. It
definitely makes the game look good but a racing game that alternates
between bright light in your eyes and long shadows obscuring everything
was perhaps not the best choice.

Plus, what kind of fucking
idiots conduct all their criminal activity between 5:30 and 8 in the
morning, or in the evening before it gets dark?

EA is trying to
move away from the godawful EA Trax music, which is a relief. The
musical selection was easily the worst part of many of their last
games, and usually the first thing you went to the options to turn off.
This time, the music actually ranges from average to decent. Always
good to hear some MSI (which is some of the best bangin’ music around).
Even the few stinkers in the bunch make sense in context of the game,
and there’s nothing as ear-raping as the emo (and Avril Lavigne) of
Burnout Paradise.

The sound effects are pretty phenomenal.
When you whizz by cars you can almost FEEL them brush by you…
provided you have good surround sound, of course.


CHUDTIP- You can take pictures of your car and upload them to share with everyone, for some reason.

 
THE REPLAY


I
had to struggle to get to the end of the single player campaign without
switching it off and playing something else. When you get the final
achievement (ironically titled Retired) you won’t ever feel like going
back to it, unless you’re a glutton for punishment.

The
multiplayer can keep some people going, but even that’s fairly gimped.
It’s limited to two different kinds of races, standard ones, and Cops
and Robbers. Jumping into the latter is obvious, but even it’s not
nearly as fun as it should be.  

THE VERDICT

A
great physics system can’t save numerous design flaws. You will have a
bit of fun with it but it’s impossible to recommend this game when
there’s already a superior racer out there that’s received incredible
support from its team and doesn’t try to charge you for every little
extra bit of content.

6.8 out of 10