Need for Speed: Undercover sorely wants to be considered as a hardcore racing simulator with its inclusion of open-world environments and car customization, but can the inclusion of these elements elevate it beyond a standard arcade racer?
Originally touted for its inclusion of cinematic storytelling, EA drastically overstated the mediocre story of an undercover wheelman agent and his FBI lead. And while I didn’t have a hard time staring at the hot Maggie Q while she blathered on about how some race would lead to the bad guys, the plot was just plain stupid and the cutscenes outright cheesy. But hopefully you didn’t come to see the bad acting; you came for the racing.
This title hearkens back to Need for Speed: Most Wanted, with the addition of police chases to the standard sets of races. You are given a pretty impressive open world to roam around in, although you there is little incentive for you to drive around as you don’t actually go to any of the races, you simply select them from the map or press down on the d-pad to choose the closest competition available. This almost seemed like a “why-bother” approach as there was absolutely no reward for roaming, no secrets, no sweet-finds, just more city.
Similarly the level up system seemed counter-intuitive; you gain money by winning races that could be applied to upgrades. By going above and beyond and dominating the matches you could gain driver skills. Here the system fell apart as the majority of the driver skills applied to cars and there was no point investing your money into upgrading a car when you could get a nicer car in a couple of races. The car customization options were nice, but ultimately had zero impact on how the car handled. It is the inconsistencies like this that drag the game down, and will have die-hard car racers cringing.
What makes this game so successful is how fun it is to play. The races are widely divergent and paced nicely enough that the replay will be significant; from the standard circuits and point A to B races you also have access to car chases that go for wow factor speed and maneuvering. The police presence is strong, and with destructible environments it never got old leading as many cop cars as I could into a falling bridge. Unfortunately for all of the races the difficulty was minimal, weak cars could easily surpass strong cars the first attempt. If the AI doesn’t do a good enough job for you, you can take the racing online with multiplayer modes including some races and the popular cops and robbers scenario, which is like a capture the flag with cars.
Need for Speed: Undercover does some things right, but it almost always has an equal amount of dropped balls and plain annoying characteristics. A hardcore racer should avoid this title at all costs. The casual gamer may find this right up his alley.
ESRB: Teen for drug references, car theft and speeding, lots and lots of speeding
Plays Like: Arcade format street racer that acts like a hardcore racer
Pros: Casual gameplay, easy to pick up with perfectly paced events
Cons: Too easy at times, underutilized customization and world