Need For Speed: Undercover

It’s fast, furious, and features the promise of high speed thrills possibly ending in you getting your face planted in the curb by a member of the SWAT… but is it any good?

Since the success of Burnout Paradise and the recent Midnight Club: Los Angeles, EA have been floundering. While Burnout Paradise is a title EA themselves published, it’s taken a serious dent in the status quo: the genre previously dominated by the Need For Speed franchise is no longer a one-horse race. So to claw back a bit of market share and to revive the 14 year old series, EA have released Need For Speed: Undercover.

Strangely enough, it seems like EA already know Need For Speed: Undercover won’t recover the franchise’s falling reputation. That’s the only reason I can think of for them sliding an advertisement for Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box in the inside cover. It’s like waving a white flag – buy this game instead! I’m better!

And their lack of faith is well placed, because everything about Undercover is completely and utterly forgettable. The production values are terrible, the recycling of the racer-infiltrating-undercover-racing-syndicates is lazy and boring, the difficulty is ridiculously low even for casual-gaming standards and the main selling point of an open-world racer is a bold-faced lie.

If you’ve watched The Fast and The Furious, you’ll know what the plot is, so let’s tackle the four selling points on the back of the box.

First of all, there’s the undercover feature. That’s been done before and this type of game isn’t driven by the story anyway. You’ll spend the majority of the time racing, so scratch Maggie Q, her rubbish acting and the pointless cut scenes that go with it.

Next there’s the “Heroic Driving Engine”. “Pull off amazing moves for the ultimate driving edge,” the blurb claims. There’s nothing actually amazing about this, because heroic moves are the standard things that have been in racing games since Need For Speed: Underground back in 2003. Simply swerve between vehicles, avoiding crashing into things and you’ll get rewarded with the biggest joke of this game: bullet-time.

Why, why, why do we need to slow down time in a racing game? It’s even more infuriating when you realise how easy Undercover is. You’ll be racing and beating cars twice as good as yours by at least six seconds or more. The AI is completely dysfunctional, which brings me to the next useless selling point.

Highway Battle – Fight off cops as you take down enemies in high-speed, multi-car chases. The objective word here is fight, except the only fighting is the AI struggling to get out of the limited traffic. In all other modes, there’s very few cars on the road, but even in Highway mode the traffic is limited to a row of four cars, all of which split up in exactly the same formation every single time.

After a while you won’t have any trouble navigating your way through (and hey, there’s always bullet-time should you get into trouble) but the moment you get ahead, the AI struggles to get close. Even on the regular races, where there’s absolutely no traffic except for the odd car here and there, the AI fails to maintain any semblance of a racing line and you’ll breeze past at the start.

Finally there’s the open-world racing concept, and this is the biggest kick in the pants of the lot. Here’s the reality: open-world racing means you spend time roaming around a city looking for things except it’s wasted in Undercover because there’s nothing to find.

Everything in Need For Speed: Undercover’s open-world is accessed through the D-Pad, which automatically takes you to where you need to be and starts up the race. You’ll find races just about everywhere, so there’s no incentive to actually go driving.

Upgrading parts is even more of a joke: you’ll just be presented with a menu screen where you can buy parts, and then teleported back to wherever your car was in the in-game world. Where’s the garage? Where’s the actual shop? It stinks of a developer rushing out a game to meet a deadline rather than any actual attempt to promote gameplay. It’s also insulting to gamers, who deserve more for their money.

What’s even more annoying is that the open-world gets cut off when you ARE racing. Instead of Burnout Paradise or Midnight Club: LA allowing you to find your own shortcuts, forcing you to educate yourself about the in-game world, Undercover only lets you race the path in front of you. This means all the traffic is pre-set for each race, which begs the question: why bother with an open-world racing concept if you’re not going to follow through on it?

The only real redeeming value here is the police chases, but you’ll got more value for your money from Midnight Club: Los Angeles. The open-world racing doesn’t hold a candle to Burnout Paradise, and even the older Need For Speed: Most Wanted is a more entertaining game than Undercover. There’s no reason to buy Need For Speed: Undercover, even for hardcore Maggie Q fetishists.

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Developer: EA Vancouver
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Classification: G
Formats: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
URL: Need For Speed: Undercover

Reviewed by Alex Walker

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