Anyone still sitting on the fence as to whether iPhone gaming requires serious consideration need only look as far as Need for Speed Undercover (NFSU), EA's latest title in its hugely popular street racing franchise.
From the moment your finger leaves the App icon you know you're playing one of the most professionally delivered iPhone titles to date. Rather than trying to crowbar in a fully open sandbox world, EA has taken a step backward and created a concentrated racing experience that's very much in the vein of the more classic Need for Speed titles. A full live action intro and a boisterous rock soundtrack throw you right into the first mission and from then on it's a non-stop action-filled affair of undercover policing and overblown gang takedowns.
While some fans are going to miss the freedom of roaming the streets looking for challenges, we found the linear mission-based races to be perfectly suitable for the nature of the game. A typical race lasts anywhere between 30 seconds and five minutes, making it an ideal compliment to a dreary morning commute.
Where Need for Speed really excels is in the nature of the touch screen controls. Rather than just sticking a whole load of context sensitive buttons on the screen EA has opted for a far more 'Apple-like' approach to the UI. Various different finger swipes and taps control nitrous boosts, braking and pausing, providing a real tactile and natural experience. Equally the accelerometer controls (that handle the steering of your souped-up speed wagon) feel perfectly native, with a little 'Scandinavian flick' of the iPhone sending your on-screen motor into a point-multiplying sideways drift.
If you've followed any of the development of NFSU you won't need to be told how beautiful this title is; what is truly impressive is how smooth the game runs. The texture of the cracked concrete and the iridescent lanterns of China Town (that have become somewhat of a trademark of the NFS series) whiz by at a clean and steady rate, with the only disruption coming from a momentary pause as the game loads new music tracks.
EA seems quite happy to keep iPhone gaming a solitary experience and, as with other releases, has steered away from offering any multiplayer elements. Unusually for a racing title NFSU doesn't suffer dramatically from being a single-player only title, with the emphasis on the cutscene driven story mode.
Need For Speed Undercover is a definite upbeat for the iPhone gaming market. A unique control set up combined with a well-executed, well-established franchise makes this a definite must-have for fans of the series and newcomers alike.