After the Pro Street fiasco, EA promised gamers a return to the roots of the NFS franchise. There was a longer than usual nail biting wait for the new release, with the usual buzz in the air. The twelfth installment in the series, Undercover, but the game is as forgettable as Pro Street.
There is an initial rush of the game, with an opening sequence that smoothly puts you behind the wheels a la Most Wanted. Although you know you are driving around like a puppet, a pre-screened part of the storyline, you get that rush of adrenaline. From there, the game goes downhill. The physics are horrible; you can hit a car head on and still keep going like you hardly hit a speed breaker. The acceleration is unreal; all the cars handle too well, with no learning curve to talk of. You hit something, great; you get money for damaging state property, or evading the law. You don’t hit something, great again; you get nitro points for a narrow miss or a clean section. There are only rewards, and no punishment. The game is just too easy, making sure you mechanically follow the story line.
The game plays out like a movie, with a very linear approach. You are hardly given a choice of races to choose from, and you can maintain just one save game per profile. This means that you cannot experiment with cars or tuning. All the decisions you make are final, and you are hardly given any. The game is rudely interrupted by amateurish cut scenes, with sloppy acting and done to death characters. Maggie Q is used like a heroine in an Indian B grade film, with the camera zooming in and focusing on her hips, legs, bosom or belly every time she comes on screen. The “plot” of the game is that you are an undercover cop busting a gang of car thieves by a) running away from cops to prove that you are not a cop and b) killing the bad guys for a bunch of really lame reasons.
All the favorite modes have disappeared. You can drift only as a means to earn nitro. The drag is replaced by something called the highway battle, and the AI is easily fooled in this mode if you handle the race like a cop chase, and roam the city at random. This is because the car follows wherever you go, and the whole city is open. There are cop chases, but navigate to a circuit breaker, and you win. The helicopter is a docile little thing that goes in the air without fuel every single time, and does not dive in towards you at any point. There are no rhino units, and the cop cars are easily fooled. A new mode involves taking down cars, by ramming into them repeatedly, but somehow, the game drains the fun out of this as well.
There are a bunch of American, European and Japanese cars to choose from. The customization of your ride is very constricted because it kicks in well into the game, and everything is very costly. There is a large gallery of decals available, and all of them look great as long as they are not actually put on the car. The tuning is great actually, probably the only saving grace the game has. However, this is a wasted feature, as tuning a car for a particular mode or a particular race is a laborious process.
There is however a photo mode you can bring up at any time of the game, change a bunch of cameras and take a shot of your car. We just wish they would have thought of this back in the days of Underground, or before. There is also some damage elements… the surroundings can be demolished. Be warned though, flimsy looking wire mesh fences will refuse to budge, while stockpiles of industrial metal will litter the highway if you brush against it. Damage to the car itself is hardly visible, with the exception of the bonnet flying off somewhere in the middle of every race.
The worst part of the game are the glitches in the graphics. Shadows move unrealistically, artifacts follow the car, and the roads disappear at some point. Many of the elements barely manage to stay ahead of the car.
It hurts. Seems like the good old days are gone, and NFS is history, in the bad sense of the word. We just wish that EA would go deeper down into their roots. The word on the street is that EA is calling its losses and discontinuing the franchise. Nothing saddens a gamer more than watching a legendry series exiting on such a sour note.
Score : 5/10
Developer: EA Black Box
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Web site: http://www.needforspeed.com
Recomended Config: Core 2 Duo/ AMD Phenom (or higher), 2 GB Ram, ATI X1900/NVIDIA 8600 GTS (or higher)