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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Game Review: Need for Speed Undercover

Need for a hammer to smash this up.



The Good:
All Points, Scramble, Hot Car and Getaway are genuiely fun race modes * Suitable music * Local wireless play and online multiplayer extend replayability

The Bad:
Straightforward and predictable story * Poor vehicle physics * Short draw distance * City seems too empty * Car models look terrible (square wheels included!) * Cheating A.I.

Firebrand Games seems to be the go-to developer for DS racing games, having already accomplished Cartoon Network Racing, Race Driver: Create and Race, Ferrari Challenge, Race Driver: GRID and TrackMania DS. Its latest project is Need for Speed Undercover, the most recent in EA’s long-running franchise.

It remains a mystery, however, why a developer with such vast experience in producing DS racing games has works with varying (often questionable) degrees of quality. Race Driver: Create and Race was a great racer – if you can forgive the slightly undesirable visuals, but Race Driver: GRID was an absolute nightmare to play, partly due to its virtually non-existent vehicle physics. TrackMania DS, one of the more recent Firebrand titles, was ridiculed with draw distances so short that it’s practically impossible to win on more winding tracks later in the game. This is a developer which produces a good game one moment, yet produces a pile of nonsense the next. Where does Need for Speed Undercover stand then?

While Undercover certainly has its share of positives, its shortcomings more than overwhelm any glimmer of hope that the few fun parts of this game present. The previous Need for Speed game for DS, Pro Street, was an achievement to behold: Excellent visuals, realistic simulation-like handling and an impressive variety of modes. Undercover throws out those achievements (though it retains the wide array of race modes) and adds in a few additional rotten tomatoes of its own and the result is a game that stinks more than it smells.

Unlike the console editions, Undercover for DS doesn’t feature an entirely open-world racing element. What you have here is a basic event-based gameplay – complete a certain number of events and more events get unlocked. But for certain race types like Hot car or Getaway (where you need to evade the police) and All Points and Scramble (where you are the cop and need to nab criminals), there are no barriers and you are allowed to drive around the city freely. That’s fine – especially after putting into consideration the limited technical power of the DS. It’s also perfectly alright that the cut-scenes from all the other versions of the game (including the PSP edition of Undercover) get translated to a load of strategically-taken still shots and text since the story still gets conveyed across really well. Speaking of the story, it’s a pretty straightforward and predictable one – save for a wicked twist towards the end, but otherwise, it’s merely a bland excuse to get you moving from event to event.

What’s not fine, however, are the poor vehicle physics. It’s not as bad as the one present (or absent from) Race Driver: GRID for DS, but the fact that each of the vehicles doesn’t really have any ‘weight’ is unforgivable. The handling of each car feels very loose and that contributes to the difficulty of taking turns. In fact, every car handles pretty much the same; the sole difference between lower-end cars and higher-end cars is that the former can take turns easier as they are less quickly than the later and hence, require a shorter braking distance. This brings me to the next severe issue I have with this game.

The draw distance is so short that it’s really hard to anticipate a turn. The short draw distance wouldn’t pose a problem if you are driving a lower-end car because by the time you spot a turn, there’s still much time to brake and take a turn smoothly, but for most parts of the game, you would be in a higher-end car and instances where a turn appears out of nowhere while you are speeding are frequent. Unlike TrackMania DS, there’s a mini-map on the bottom screen so you would be aware when there’s a turn approaching, but you know there’s something seriously wrong when a game constantly forces you to take your eyes away from the action to glance at the position of a turn on the lower screen.

The short draw distance isn’t the only technical issue, though. The city is populated with quite an impressive number of buildings, but the moment you start getting into a ‘Cost to State’ race mode (where you need to destroy property by ramming into objects with your car), you will notice how pathetic this game is – there’s barely anything to ram your car into (note that the buildings are barricaded away from the main roads and they cannot be damaged). In fact, the city seems so empty that it almost represents a ghost town.

On the graphical front, the game is acceptable at best – especially since last year’s Pro Street’s ground-breaking visual achievement. Note that I used the word ‘ground-breaking’ because Pro Street for DS really does feature one of the most impressive visuals on DS, an achievement that is only bettered by Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword. If you still have a copy of Need for Speed Pro Street for DS, boot it up and see the stark difference. The buildings here are incredibly detailed, but this comes at the compromise of the car models. Square wheels, anyone?

The poor vehicle physics and the load of technical issues have already detracted a lot from the experience, but in order to bring you this review, I have to suffer more than the aforementioned. This game cheats, period. It’s a problem that’s so frustrating that it would probably cause you to throw the DS game card into an incinerator before you have even completed the game. It’s atrocious that a slower car can suddenly speed past you when you are already driving the fastest car in the game. And just when you thought that you have caught up with a rival, consistently inching towards the competitor during the last few seconds, it suddenly zooms away from your sight when you are just one inch away from it – something that’s absolutely ridiculous. Civilian vehicles that ram into you (ala Midnight Club: L.A. Remix for the PSP)? Check. Taking turns at full speed? Check. Perhaps the A.I. here possesses cheat codes.

Undercover’s saving grace comes in the form of the wide variety of race modes. While circuit and sprint race modes can be quite boring (too many laps), the game gets genuinely enjoyable when you become the cop in All Points and Scramble race modes. Hot Car and Getaway are also equally, if not more, fun as the game constantly forces you to outwit the cops by exploring alternative routes to your target. At the same time, you are also obliged to drive slowly when the cops are approaching your vehicle in order to stay low and avoid detection, adding a much welcomed layer of strategic driving into the gameplay.

There’s a huge variety of vehicles to select from and the available tweaking options are rather sound for a portable racer (though they don’t matter since the handling is the same for each car and the A.I. cheats). The track list, while significantly shortened from the console editions, provides a suitable atmosphere for the entire game. Local wireless play and online multiplayer do well to extend the replayability of the game. These points pretty much round up the very few positives this game has. With the exception of the more creative race modes like All Points, Scramble, Hot Car and Getaway, there’s very little here that can compensate for the gapping flaws.

Final Comments
Poor vehicle physics. Tons of technical issues. A cheating A.I. These are 3 major reasons why you wouldn’t want to play this game. A great variety of race modes, among which are some that are genuinely fun – a reason why you would want to play this game. But before you even get the opportunity to enjoy this game, its severe shortcomings would have already caused you to take a hammer and smash the game card. What does this mean? This game is hopelessly bad.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


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What do you come up with roughly it ?

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11:36 AM


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