EA's Need for Speed series has always been a popular racing title, it has managed to stay afloat in one of the most competitive genres in gaming. Most of the well established EA franchises offer exciting eye candy and simplified gameplay, that recipe has however been accused of draining the excitement out of the games allowing owners to grow tired of the titles very quickly. It was always certain that some change would have to be introduced with NFS Underground and in the same way Pro Evolution Soccer forced EA to review their FIFA strategy, games like Midnight Club 2, Project Gotham and Burnout have brought about changes in NFSU.
Need for Speed games have never really had a clear place in some racing game sub-category, are they illegal street racers, straight-forward racing games, sport racing, what? You'll be glad to hear that NFSU not only fails to solve that question but will probably leave you more confused than you were before.
Underground will introduce numerous changes to the series, placing emphasis on car customization and unlocking a wide variety of official parts as you progress in the game. Another change will be the variety of racing events which will include Drift, Drag and Circuit.
This time round EA understood the need to acquire a 3rd party developer and make them the backbone of the Need for Speed franchise. Blackbox games (now EA Blackbox) was the team that developed the award winning PS2 version of Hot Pursuit 2, so it made the most sense to develop all of the games there.
Need for Speed : Underground launches on 28, November and will be available for PC, GC, PS2, XBox and GBA.
Follow the link below and to the right to find out more about NFSU.
Visually NFSU is one of the most impressive racers. A high level of detail is not exhausted on the cars, instead the developers have also focused on the environment.
This may seem disappointing at first, when the flashy surroundings will make your car look basic but as you upgrade your vehicle it will eventually catch-up, giving an all round stunning visual appeal to the game. The detail of the environment is also apparent in the traffic you eventually encounter and a cinematic camera, which takes over when you cause a spectacular crash, is impressive, even though you will soon grow tired of it. In keeping with the developers desire to recreate a realistic high-speed feel, you do get warping effects at the top end of your speed range, effects which will remind you of Midnight Club II.
This time around NFS will move away from the exotic and extremely expensive supercars and will focus on the tuner culture. EA have always been good at getting official names for their games and NFSU is no exception, for this title the company managed to secure car manufacturers such as Honda, Acura, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Mazda, Subaru, Ford, Volkswagen, Hyundai, and Dodge. Having official manufacturer support means that every detail of each car has been brought on to the game and that includes the large selection of parts and power-ups which will also be available. The sheer volume of parts available will allow gamers the freedom to completely transform the car they choose into their unique creation, the technology behind this is impressive and the visual quality of the cars is maintained perfectly. This freedom, according to executive producer Chuck Osieja, will mean that players can have the exact same model of car but they will look unique based on how they choose to build and modify them. Black Box claim that The visual customization pushes the edge of believability and allows
for an unheard of number of possibilities - 72 BILLION per car
Customization will be the first big innovation introduced to NFS but another, which had been kept under wraps for a long time is drifting. A lot of effort has gone into
researching real drift racing, NFSU Producer Greg Uhler says We held back showing Drift mode for quite a while, as it's the newest mode in NFSU...A large portion of our research actually came from the Internet - articles & videos. The articles covered where Drifting started, where it takes place now, which cars are best for drifting, how to set up the mechanics of your car for better drifting, and how drift events are judged. The videos were instrumental in seeing the dynamics of the cars while they drifted (the body roll, angle of the car, how much counter steering was needed), as well as showing in-car footage of how the drivers set up corners, maintained long drifts, and exit from a drifts. Several of us on the development team also have quite a bit of experience with performance driving, so we were able to tune the physics of the game to mirror what happens in real life and what the driver feels.
Underground will also differ to previous NFS games by the introduction of realistic city settings as a backdrop to the racing. The developers used research again as a means to add realism, Art Director Rick Stringfellow Research consists of a good deal of driving and walking around the city at night - taking photos, or getting reference off the Internet. What also helps is watching racing on TV or going to drag races. You generally want to absorb as much as you can of the real world that is related to this type game. According to the people that worked on recreating the feel of a city during the races the hardest part was putting together the, many, night-time sequences in the game. Initial attempts to remain faithful to real world driving conditions i.e. light and visibility, led to the creation of almost unplayable parts in the game. A balance was therefore struck in order to maintain the realistic feel of the setting while allowing for playability.
Follow the link below and to the right to read about the gameplay changes introduced by NFSU.
In the past gameplay has been the Achille's heel of the flagship EA franchises, it seems that finally developers have recognised the issue and decided to address the problem. Strangely enough gameplay sums up the strong and weak points of NFSU. While tackling a game with a Street Racing theme is new for the series it would, initially, seem that they have borrowed freely from other similar games. Playing the game will give you a Midnight Club II feel and the experienced gamer will soon recognise other aspects, including some Project Gotham and some Burnout. While it would seem that such similarities might have a detrimental effect it turns out that they enhance the NFSU experience simply because they are supported by the depth of gameplay the title offers.
According to Chuck Osieja another important aim of the development team was to achieve emotional participation from the player, the development team has taken it as a personal challenge to create an unparalleled experience that causes the player to have real emotional reactions to the speed they are experiencing in game. The sensation of speed in Underground is amazing and borders on scary. Watching someone play the game and physically jerk in their seat or see their face twisted from the intensity of the driving is really cool.
The emotional response of the players was also a top-of-the-list priority for the team working on the tracks. According to Scott Probin, Associate Producer and part of the track design team, the first thing that is done is to decide upon the level of difficulty and the emotions that the track should provoke in the player when they drive the track. For example, should the track be easy or hard? Should the player feel like they're racing on a knifes edge, or should they feel claustrophobic, or perhaps even relaxed? Although realism was the main objective of the game's developers and tracks are placed within cities, real world locations were not copied, instead many of the tracks are reminiscent of the city used as a reference for their creation.
Turn it on
When first loading NFSU the player is faced by three options, underground, quick race, and split-screen. Each option has further variations. Guess what? You're going underground.
The main part of the game is the Underground mode which is basically the career mode. In order to start you will have to select one of the 5, initially, available cars.
At first you will have to win a few races to win cash prizes, which increase depending on the level of difficulty selected, upgrades or even new cars.You are given a rest and kept informed of your progress with cut-scenes which appear between races, MC II anyone? If you are worried that you may be stuck in rookie mode for long don't worry, the first few races in the game are extremely easy to win, in fact annoyingly so.
The competitions include circuit, sprint, drag, drift, lap knockout, and tournament variations of the races. Circuit races are your run-of-the-mill lap-based competitions
that rely on your ability to find a faster route through town. Drag races concentrate on raw power and will utilise your customization abilities. Sprint races involve high speed competition between two specific points. Drift races are the most skill-intensive part of the game where you rely on points won rather than speed. Lap knockouts are elimination races, the car that places last on every lap completed is eliminated until one remains. Each of the race types mentioned above also have a tournament variation, You get three heats out of which you have to win as many as you can in order to finish in, overall, first place.
Once you complete the first few races and you gain some insight into your vehicles handling and feel, the real fun begins. Here lies NFSU's biggest attraction and it's
best quality. Black Box have managed to add an aspect to the franchise which wasn't there before, they made it immersive. The ability to customize your car immediately affects gameplay. First there are visual enhancements, spoilers, grills and alloys and then there are performance upgrades, suspension, turbo, engines and many more. All of these changes impact the game and your performance in it greatly and therefore require your in-depth participation in order to prove successful.
The importance of customization doesn't end there however, careful selection of parts will gain you reputation points which together with style points help you progress in the game and to unlock various tracks, parts and cars. Style points are awarded throughout a race and depend on the moves you pull, such as power-slides or for well-timed gear changes and big jumps.
Quick-Race is the arcade version of NFSU where all forms of in-depth pretension are shed and pure unadulterated speed rules supreme. You select one of the circuit, sprint, drag, drift, lap knockout, and free run modes, the track you wish (out of the ones you have unlocked), the AI skill and catch-up levels, the amount of traffic and the car you want and off you go.
The Split-screen option is a multiplayer mode where you can take on a friend in circuit, sprint, drag, and drift races. The PC and PlayStation 2 versions of the game will also offer the ability to play online with up to four players joining in cross-platform competition. Unfortunately XBox owners will not get the chance to enjoy that particular option due to the ongoing Microsoft, EA disagreement on the console's online business model.
Details of the online modes were kept a secret for a long while but we now have some information straight from the developer, according to Justin Wiebe who worked on the online modes Well we've designed online to be intensely competitive, basically we have every track unlocked straight out of the box, so players can go online and enjoy all the other game tracks without having to unlock them in Underground mode. We've also included 3 sponsor cars which are fully tuned level 2 cars, pretty darn fast! This should help new players that want to be competitive without having to play through Underground Mode. However, sponsor cars can only be used in unranked games, so they won't be able to pad their stats with them. Other than that we have the top ten lap times boards, this is going to be really interesting to watch, I've seen the testers battle for the top times these past few weeks, and let me tell you they are getting down to beating times by a hundredth of a second now. My personal favorite is still just using the view player car feature in the lobby rooms to see what kind of cars everyone has built, and of course to show mine off as well.
Read on to see if you should or shouldn't invest in NFSU.
[[An Underground Experience?]]
The new title in the Need for Speed series is certainly not Underground, it has all the tell-tale signs of a big production, impressive visuals, exhaustive detail and excellent presentation and sound. What we have all come to fear from such games however, is the usual lack of immersive, engaging gameplay.
NFSU attempts to fix that by introducing some changes. The first such change is the introduction of drift racing, the computer gaming fad for drift races comes from Japan where a multitude of arcade games feature that mode and reward skillful gamers by adding points to their arcade cards.
In a way most of the innovations brought on-board the new NFS game are hardly original but are various features of other games put together by Black Box. This may make the game unpopular with hardcore racing game fans who will be able to recognise each of these features. Judging the game on this alone however will not do it justice since the skill of he developers lies in the way they have introduced these features in a cohesive way promoting gameplay and creating an all round rewarding experience. The combinations of tracks race types and modes will keep you going for a long time, while the possibility of online play will add some more staying power to the title.
Having mentioned online play it is about time EA and Microsoft execs got their asses of their plush leather chairs, got together and attempted to reach some form of compromise about online functionality on the XBox. Achieving that may not improve the view from their corner offices but will give gamers a further incentive to invest in both Microsoft and EA products.
One minor flaw in the game is the choice of hip-hop tracks to accompany gameplay. They fail to create the right atmosphere for the race, achieving a poor MC II copycat feel, while they also cover the very good sound effects which the game has to offer.
If you are a fan of racing games you are already determined to buy NFSU since it is a strong franchise in the genre. Those of you who are not certain need to base your decision on whether you have the time, money and will to become involved in a racing game. NFSU does allow for a pure arcade experience but its full enjoyment relies heavily on your ability to get to grips with its customization and upgrade features. Overall the game is worthy of its NFS heritage as far as the presentation, graphics and shine are concerned but does also manage to go a step further and creates a fulfilling gaming experience. It manages to avoid being compared to other similar titles by the sheer volume of features but will leave fervent gamers with an odd deja-vu feeling.
Follow the download tab above to find links to some NFSU videos.