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Friday, December 05, 2008

Game Review: Need for Speed Undercover

Made for the trash can.



The Good:
Huge variety of race modes * Great selection of cars * Tight and responsive handling * Relatively deep tweaking options * Ad-hoc and online multiplayer extend replayability

The Bad:
Lack of open-world racing element although it can be accomplished * Story lacks any any form of cohesion * Lack of sense of speed * Cheating, yet dumb A.I. * City is too small that it barely qualifies this game as a street racer (smaller than DS version) * No hidden routes and shortcuts * Horrid framerate

The recent Midnight Club: L.A. Remix worked its magic on the system with great panache, circumventing the technical limitations of the PSP and playing to the strengths of it to bring us an incredibly competent and tremendously fun street racer. L.A. Remix is a consummate example of how to accomplish an enjoyable street racing game for the PSP so much so that it has set the benchmark for future street racers. Not to be outdone by L.A. Remix, EA has given Need for Speed Undercover a run on the PSP, but it does nothing right even from the beginning, eventually stumbling, limping and crumbling to the ground in the most spectacular fashion imaginable.

Unlike the console editions, Undercover for PSP does away with the open-world racing element – as with any other iteration of Need for Speed for the portable. What remains is a basic event-based gameplay – complete a certain number of events and more events get unlocked. However, for certain race types like Cost to State, Escape, Hot Car and Be the Cop, there are no barriers and you are allowed to drive around the city freely. There’s nothing really wrong with the lack of an open-world racing element, but the inability to implement the aforementioned is questionable – especially after putting into consideration what L.A. Remix has accomplished.

Fortunately, the full motion cut-scenes from the console editions get ported over, but the story is void of any form of cohesion. You would be partaking in more than a dozen checkpoint-based events, circuit races and sprint races in between cut-scenes, but more often than not, the reason why you are required to participate in these events goes unmentioned. These periodically long stretches of events in between each cut-scene relegates Undercover to nothing more than a bland racing experience with a lack of story focus that Undercover is supposedly infused with. In fact, I don’t think the cut-scenes, or rather, the plot, has ever been necessary here.

Speaking of being necessary, there’s really nothing that warrants Undercover for PSP to be necessary. Being a street racer, the gameplay here is of utmost significance, but apparently, Piranha Games (the same guys who did Medal of Honor Heroes 2 for the PSP) doesn’t understand that – for the gameplay is easily one of the most flawed components of the game. Any notion of realism or even believability is hurled out of the window the moment you start the game.

Right off the bat, you will notice that the cars here lack any real sense of speed – it isn’t until I get into higher-end cars that I start to realize that this is a racer. The entire process of driving a lower-end car like the Mazda 3 MPS and Nissan 240SX (S13) or even slightly higher-end cars like the Ford Mustang GT and Chrysler Hemi 300C SRT8 through the streets of Undercover feels like I am playing a slideshow. To be sure, I booted up a copy of the brilliant L.A. Remix and compared the sense of speed in both games. The conclusion: Driving at full speed in a Mazda 3 MPS in Undercover gives me about the same sense of speed as activating slow-mo for a Mitsubishi Eclipse in L.A. Remix. That’s embarrassing.

Like the DS version of Undercover, a cheating A.I. is part of the package. During a few instances, I discovered that a rival can actually overtake me in a similar-powered car even when I am pumping the nitrous to pull away from it. The fact that my rival is not even using nitrous merely confirms the fact that the gameplay doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s also unjustified that cops will only come after you and not your rivals in a circuit race or sprint race. As if to compensate for this shortcoming, Piranha Games has made the A.I. as dumb as it is cheap. The cops here are pathetic, constantly driving like blind fools and knocking into barriers or getting themselves stuck in one particular location. Civilian vehicles like to pull over, park themselves horizontally on the roads and block your way in a race or when you are attempting to escape from the cops, but aren’t intelligent enough to know that the developers have programmed them to be brushed away like cardboard cut-outs whenever you ram into them. In fact, knocking into civilian vehicles doesn’t even slow you down. All the said do nothing but to detract an overwhelming amount of fun out from the game such that you would be compelled to extricate the crap that is the Undercover UMD residing in your PSP and dump it into the trash can: It feels so much better and more polite to end its misery than to put it through its motions and let it suffer.

Undercover is an embarrassing attempt to get the latest Need for Speed game out on time for the PSP, but it’s humiliating that the city featured here is SMALLER than that present in the DS version. The city consists of 3 mini-towns linked by bridges and each town has a different theme to it, but each town is so small it barely qualifies the whole game to be called a street racer. Unlike the DS edition, there’re no hidden routes nor are there shortcuts, which makes the city one boring nonsense. What this translates into is that race types which feature the open-world racing element are less enjoyable because you cannot sneak away from the cops nor explore other strategic means to evade the authorities. Given that the PSP has more power under its hood than the DS, and yet not accomplish what the DS version has, this shortcoming is all the more unforgivable.

Undercover’s killer blow comes in the form of the horrid framerate – one which consistently shudders and sputters like blood spurting out from a Locust when Marcus Fenix chainsaws it in Gears of War. When you are driving a lower-end car at the start of the game, the game gives a great performance in the technical department. But when you get into a higher-end car, the framerate starts to dip. The flaw is made more drastic when there are more rivals and the cops start chasing you – all the on-screen action just halts the game to a crawl – so much so I thought I was playing Need for Speed Undercover Slideshow Edition. The poor framerate is so evident throughout almost the entire game that it destroys the street racing experience thoroughly.

There’s very little that can redeem Undercover for PSP. There’s a huge variety of race modes and a great selection of cars. But one minor gripe: Why can’t I sell my cars? Handling is tight and responsive, and unique to each car. Tweaking options are on the side of more and there’s ad-hoc and online multiplayer to extend the replayability of the game. But these are just minor triumphs – the ones which should be expected in any PSP street racer today. However, I do dig the EA Media Center option, which allows me to listen to individual tracks present in the game. You’re allowed to add in your own tracks in EA Media Center, but the inability for the game to play your tracks during gameplay defeats the purpose the feature.

Final Comments
It’s hard to recommend Undercover for PSP to anyone. It’s white-washed with so many overwhelming flaws that it’s virtually unplayable. It is a result of an unpolished game that can’t even get the basics right. If you are looking to play a good street racer on the portable, I’d suggest getting Midnight Club: L.A. Remix instead. Undercover is a game that’s made for the trash can, period.


Anonymous Master said...

Need for Speed Undercover is a awesome game. I play all the games of need for speed.

9:13 PM


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