Need for Speed: Undercover

Need for Speed: Undercover Preview for PS2

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Undercover will likely be EA's biggest title this Christmas, and it's shaping up well.
Undercover will likely be EA's biggest title this Christmas, and it's shaping up well.

Undercover will likely be EA's biggest title this Christmas, and it's shaping up well.

It's a sobering thought that when the original The Need For Speed came out in 1994 - on the ill-fated 3DO, no less - the original PlayStation wasn't even on shop shelves. The series is now over 14 years old, which makes it one of the oldest racing franchises that's still active today; Only Mario Kart and Ridge Racer are longer in the tooth.

Over the course of the past decade the Need For Speeds have adopted several different styles and forms, but they reached a new level of popularity after the release of Need For Speed Underground. The sequel introduced a free-roaming element and the series never looked back, making its debut on the current crop of consoles with Most Wanted. It is to these instalments, prior to the disappointing ProStreet, that Undercover harks back, with a strong emphasis on criminal goings-on and baiting the police in the manner of the borderline motor-porn that is The Fast and the Furious.

As it goes, this latest Demand For Velocity outing will feel closer than ever before to the petrol-soaked antics of Vin Diesel and chums. While we were only shown a brief cut scene during our recent rendezvous with EA, it's clear that the devs at Black Box have stepped up their efforts when it comes to the game's back story. Unless you've been avoiding Undercover news like the plague, you'll know that Hollywood actress Maggie Q is taking a starring role in the title's supporting narrative. The delectable Ms Q plays the federal agent who asks you to infiltrate a naughty troupe of car smugglers - so she'll be the one dishing out advice as you work your way up the network of bad guys. The developers promise that plenty of other decent actors have been enlisted for the FMV, so expect something a cut above the ham n' cheese of Most Wanted.

To be fair, we really haven't watched enough footage to pass judgement on this claim - but what is immediately apparent is that the cut scenes themselves will be as polished as Mr Sheen's privates: Film sequences combine real footage with pre-rendered backgrounds, creating a seamless transition into the main gameplay. In both cases, the action will be glossed with an aesthetic EA is calling the Magic Hour effect - an attempt to recreate the golden quality of light during the first and last hours of sunlight. This look will be familiar to you if you're into photography, or more likely if you saw the stab-happy action film 300. At any rate, it looks lovely.

'... you'll have 160km of the Tri-City Bay area to explore, encompassing three cities and a large expanse of surrounding highway; it'll take you eight minutes to do a lap of the area at top speed...'

We could prattle on more about Underground's production values, but we suspect that some of you would like to know how it plays. The first thing to note is that EA has returned to the open world structure of the games pre-ProStreet, so you'll have 160km of the Tri-City Bay area to explore, encompassing three cities and a large expanse of surrounding highway; it'll take you eight minutes to do a lap of the area at top speed, apparently. A handy little pop-up GPS system will guide you to assignments around the game world, or you can warp straight there - but if you're like us, your first instinct will be to simply go for a spin. Between missions you're free to drive where you like, and getting into impromptu car chases is always an option.

As soon as you wind up the boys in blue, you'll realise that they're a lot smarter than in previous Need For Speeds. They'll ram you, head you off at a junction up ahead, set up road blocks - in fact, they'll generally do anything they can to make life hard for you. This means that losing the cops can be quite challenging, but it's also that much more satisfying when you pull it off. EA Blackbox has kindly blessed the map with several 'chasebreaker' sites, where scenery can be used to take out pursuing vehicles: it's highly amusing to ram through a set of scaffolding, triggering a cut scene that shows your opponent being crushed under a tonne of debris. Realistic damage modelling is now in place, so you'll be able to fully enjoy the fruits of your destructive labours.

Out-running and out-manoeuvring the authorities is also pretty fun in its own right, thanks to the ease with which you can pull off 180 degree turns and other slick moves; your brake and accelerator triggers can now both be used simultaneously - a touch that affords you a surprisingly high level of control, given its simplicity. Vehicle handling seems to be a decent halfway house between simulation and arcade, and the cars themselves have a pleasing sense of weight - which makes smacking into things that much more enjoyable. They move at a fair old lick, too. There was quite a bit of stop-start level loading in the rough build we played, but we hardly expect this to be present in the game's final form.

The racing is fast and incredibly intense

The racing is fast and incredibly intense

If we're honest, cop-baiting was the clear highlight of our hands-on with Undercover. Spontaneous chases proved to be quite addictive, and the ante was further upped by a test mission which asked us to steal a high-speed police cruiser from right under the authorities' noses. That's not to slight the other assignments we tried, though. The drag race we sampled ticked all the right boxes, and we think there's quite a lot of potential in the new Highway Battle mode too. Here you'll have to take on a rival driver in a one-on-one race across the land - the catch is that there's no set finish line. Instead you'll have to simply get over 1000 ft ahead of your opponent, a goal that encourages you to disrupt your rival by driving like a lunatic through oncoming traffic. Like the cops, civilians have received a brain boost for Undercover: they'll drive carefully, slowing down and indicating when they switch driving lanes - and they'll also panic if you manage to freak them out. The idea, then, is to scare Johnny Straightlace so that he drives into your competitor. It's a neat idea, and though we ended up concentrating more on our own driver, we can imagine it being a useful tactic once you've become more seasoned in the game's controls.

Undercover looks to be shaping up rather nicely. It was a smart move on EA's part to listen to their fans, and while slick production values are certainly a stylish touch, it's the return to illicit motor mayhem that will grab the attention of the NFS crowd. You may be playing an undercover cop, but law-abiding driving will get you nowhere here. Somehow, we can't imagine that's going to be a problem for most of you.

Need for Speed Undercover will be out on Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PS2, Nintendo DS, PSP and PC on November 21.

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jjvpjb's Avatar
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i love it but what is the last level
Posted 06:35 on 24 January 2009
jamie's Avatar
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what is the last level becuase i have only got cost to state cop take out
Posted 21:59 on 29 December 2008
wesjey's Avatar


it looks good and the cars aint that bad
Posted 16:13 on 09 December 2008
zev08's Avatar


it was fun
Posted 02:33 on 04 December 2008
Anonymous's Avatar
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Posted 15:12 on 22 November 2008
007's Avatar
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Posted 10:12 on 08 November 2008
sampath's Avatar
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Posted 05:33 on 02 November 2008
Doc's Avatar
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Very glad that they are taking it back to the street racing scene, especially basing it on Most Wanted as that game is SERIOUSLY heavy!! I was absolutely gutted last year when i bought Pro Street, full of frame rate problems and completely boring!! Cant wait for this game, top of my christmas list with COD5!1
Posted 15:08 on 31 October 2008
Kyle's Avatar
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I have been a long time fan of need for speed. I liked how there use to be set tracks before underground 1. I miss it. However I do like the story element in the need for speeds since underground. I haven't played Carbon or pro street. I thought I would buy carbon when it came out but reviews said that it was full of glitches and that it was a difficult game so I opted for most wanted instead and enjoyed the game. I hope that they don't make the game ridiculously hard because I am a casual gamer and had a frustrating time with the cops already in most wanted as it was. I am really considering buying undercover when it comes out but I will be waiting to see what reviews say and what the difficulty level will be.
Posted 12:49 on 16 October 2008
Ginger_Jesus's Avatar


Nice hands on approach, but I'm yet to be convinced to get NFS. As of Forza 2 & Racer Driver: GRID they have pushed the boat out for racing games to a new limit. But however.... It seems there taking it back to the Most Wanted roots which people wanted like two or three years ago, so it may die out of fashion now but it has serious competition.

I may look at this when it comes down to the £15 mark.
Posted 08:33 on 16 October 2008

Game Stats

Release Date: 21/11/2008
Developer: Electronic Arts
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: Racing
Rating: PEGI 12+
Site Rank: 11,683 186
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