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TVG gets into its Chav-mobile and drools at the prospect of driving a suped-up NfSU2 motor...
Illegal street racing â?“ fast, furious and competitive to the point that youâ??ll feel like a complete outsider if you donâ??t have the latest in window tinting technology presented on your Vauxhall Nova with the badges taken off.
Yup, while racers Stateside drive hell for leather at breakneck speed down the streets of Detroit in their hyper-customised â??67 Ford Mustangs with the flames of hellfire emblazoned on the wings, UK wannabe racers for the most part have to be content with dropping the suspension, tinting the windows, and adding a spoiler to the type of cars that are generally aimed towards the female market (you know the sort, donâ??t pretend that you donâ??t; weâ??re talking Vauxhall Novas the Ford Ka, the Peugeot 205, the Citroen Saxo, and the good old MG Maestro), so they can drive the high-ways and by-ways of Basingstoke.
In the past five years, we in the UK have become increasingly aware of Street Racing, through films such as Fast and the Furious, and the magazine DUB, which has of course joined forces with RockStar to produce the forthcoming Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition. Between those media influences and the general rise of the boy racer across most of the country, a British sub-class of racers are starting to emergeâ?¦
Need for Speed Underground 2 is the obvious sequel to last yearâ??s stupendously successful Need for Speed Underground, which peaked at the number one spot going into 2004. The Need for Speed franchise dates back to the days of the 3DO, but it was really the release of NfSU1 that propelled the series into the heady heights of Triple A-dom; whilst the earlier titles of the NfS franchise had tried to convey the feeling of out and out speed, they failed to successfully capture the imagination of gamers. Oh, how things changed last year with the release of Need for Speed Underground...
The exposition at the beginning of the game, just after advice from Brooke Burke, (who plays Rachel in the title) encouraging people to drive sensibly and leave the Street Racing to the virtual world, explains that your character has moved to pastures new, namely the fictitious city of Bayview, after experiencing a phenomenal crash â?“ now itâ??s time to pick up the pieces.
Your first experience of high-octane racing comes in the form of Rachelâ??s own vehicle, which is most definitely the sort of thing that youâ??d imagine tearing up Interstate 66 on a Saturday night; this is the modern day equivalent of American Graffiti after all. It's at this stage that players are introduced to SMS communication within the game, which provides game tips, unlocked items and various other details. Youâ??ll also receive mobile phone calls (remember your hands-free kit, kids) from various individuals who will advise you as to what races are about to happen. Once you take Rachelâ??s car back to the Car Pool (testing out the Nitro Boost along the way â?“ we love that Motion Blur!), gamers then have to choose which car suits them the best. A word of warning however, the options are wholly chav in natureâ?¦
Your car is essentially the stock, commercial version, and letâ??s face it, you wonâ??t find many boy racers driving through the streets of Stoke-on-Trent in their non-customised Vauxhall Corsas; so itâ??s up to you to cruise the roads of Bayview in an attempt to seek out the Performance Garages (which deal with the under the bonnet stuff), the Graphics Garages (which deal with the overall visual detail of the car â?“ in other words, the paint job), and the Body Shops (which allow you to kit out your car with the latest in bumpers, window tints, headlamps, and the like.) Weâ??ll go into a little more detail about the sheer depth that these Garages and Body Shops have to offer the discerning boy racer wannabe later on, but first, letâ??s talk about the general gameplay.
The game has been developed with an open-ended structure in mind, and as a result, EA have created a city with over 125 miles of road, ready for you to take full advantage of. Itâ??s a city that you can quite happily just drive around in, until you find the right sort of race to suit you. The city includes fly-overâ??s, underpasses, bridges, freeways, back and side streets, as well as the main roads, so you can expect there to be quite a few occasions where youâ??ll find the air between the carâ??s tyres and the tarmac.
NfSU2 includes 8 different race modes, all of which are there to exhilarate you. Whilst some are the standard fare of Circuit tracks and Sprint Challenges, the developers have also included a few that fully take advantage of the gameâ??s open-ended structure. The best example of this, are the Outrun races. The mini-map of the city, as well as showing you the locations of races and garages that you have found, also includes orange arrows that represent Street Racers who are cruising through the various neighbourhoods. If you so wish, and we would heartily recommend that you do, you can drive up to one of these cars and challenge the occupant to an Outrun.
The rules of the Outrun Challenges are simple enough. If you are in the lead, you can decide on the route that you take in a bid to create a gap of 1000 feet between you and your competitor. If however you find yourself in second place, itâ??s your job to hunt down the lead car and overtake them, thus allowing you to make the navigational decisions, before they make it to 1000 feet.
These challenges are immense fun, and can sometimes be quite challenging, especially when you find yourself having to keep on glancing away from the road to the mini-map in a bid to plot the most effective course at 160mph. The game also features an element of Xboxâ??s Project Gotham Racing series, namely the Drift Races. These races will be familiar to fans of the PGR franchise, and itâ??s up to gamers to gain as much â??kudosâ?? as they can through their skills of drift driving.
For us here in TVG Towers, the most addictive of the various modes has to be the Drag Racing. In this option, the gameplay changes considerably, with the emphasis being placed on the playerâ??s ability to get a good start, and time the shift changes well. The AI controls the general direction that the car is travelling in, so you wonâ??t have to worry about turning corners, but it is your responsibility to change lanes when traffic threatens to interfere with your perfect line. Addictive would be too weak a word to describe this mode, suffice to say that as we progressed through the game successfully enough to attract a sponsor, we jumped into a deal that required us to race more of the Drag Races.
Sponsorship, like the car modifications, forms an integral part of the game and if you want to build the ultimate in uniquely customised vehicles (and letâ??s face it, you wouldnâ??t own the game unless that was your objective), then obtaining sponsorship from a multitude of sources is vital to gain the capital required to spend on your beloved car. In order to get this valued cash injection, it is imperative that you complete the various races in an attempt to woe possible companies. Once you do sign on the dotted line though, donâ??t expect a free hand-out because youâ??ll have to toe the line and give them what they want, whether thatâ??s a specific number of wins in a certain type of race, or give them a photo worthy of a magazine cover.
Yup, in this game, youâ??ll also get to try your hand at a little photography to show off your car. You get to choose the location, one of the selected angles, and get the opportunity to â??show-offâ?? â?“ that is, to open the doors, bonnet, and boot of the vehicle. When you think youâ??ve found that perfect moment, press the shutter release and presto â?“ you feature on the front of a chav mag. These shots are then stored in your profile so you can revisit them and take pride in your successful career as Street Racing god.
The amount of depth that this game features is amazing, and when you bare in mind that itâ??s essentially an Arcade Racing title, the feat is even more unbelievable. Pretty much every car detail can be modified, and when you start to replace the stock parts of the cars with the new components you can really begin to understand why the scene is becoming increasingly popular. The car goes from being the average Joe standard release to being YOUR car that is set up to YOUR specifications.
It must be noted that not everything can be modded from the outset, and it will take sometime before you can buy you carbon fibre body kits. In order to buy these higher level components, youâ??ll first have to get a reasonable looking car and a healthy supply of wins under your belt first. As you begin to configure your vehicle, a meter rises with every mod, so when you fill it, you can upgrade to a higher level, which in turn will open new doors for you to develop your career.
The game also includes a Customisation mode on the Main Menu, which allows you to upgrade a car to the level that you have unlocked. Even though you wonâ??t be able to race your new car in the Career mode, it will at least give you a chance to experiment without spending all your hard-raced cash first.
Once you have chosen the various upgrades to fit to your road demon, the game allows you the chance to test and fine-tune the setup. This takes the form of telemetry readouts and track tests, which can help to decide on whether the car really gains from having that engine overhaul or not â?“ fine tuning in an arcade racer? Surely thatâ??s that domain of a certain driving sim from Polyphony?!?
It really is quite incredible how much depth there is in this game, and at a time when there is such a wide variety of racing titles about that seem to touch every base imaginable from the out and out arcade Burnout series to Project Gotham, right up to the overly detailed simulator that is Gran Turismo series, the fact that Electronic Arts have discovered a niche sub-genre that takes bits from each of those franchises and manages to create itâ??s own neat package.
Being an Arcade racer though does mean that advanced details such as weight distribution doesnâ??t feature in the game, whilst the handling is very much skewed towards light and twitchy; the carâ??s feel surprisingly light compared to other racers, but that only adds to the fun of being able to swing the car through a corner at high speed. NfSU2 doesnâ??t feature damage models either, but this would only detract from the raw racing emphasis that has been placed on the game.
Graphically, the game is one of the nicest arcade racers that we have seen. The city looks beautiful, and the buildings do look very familiar, as if key locations from a range of famous cities have been relocated to Bayview by their very foundations. The city is very much American, and the fact that the racing always takes place during the night means that the lighting on the buildings always looks impressive. It also adds to the brilliant Motion Blur effect when the Nitro Boosts are activated. Much in the same way that Burnout 3 managed to create an unbelievable sense of travelling at stupidly high speeds, NfSU2 pushed further, and with the action taking place in a city filled with traffic, crashes can take place quite often only for the view to change to that of a witness as the cars smash into each other.
The vehicle models are as youâ??d expect from the current generation console titles, awesome, and the fact that you start off driving in what can be considered the normal chav standard of automobile adds certain level of believability to the career mode â?“ you wonâ??t start off in a high end beast just drooling in anticipation at the prospect of being kitted out in the latest and best that money can buy and garages can offer.
Once you get used to the controls of the game, which are in a standard configuration, and you gain a little bit of experience of the city and the vehicles, the handling is very straightforward and quite intuitive. The change in controls for the Drag Racing Modes is a coup for the developers and introduces a sense of variety that gamers should really enjoy. The fact that players have to concentrate on shift changes and lanes changes means that that their driving skill has to change, and on some of the races, youâ??ll have to have a good grasp of the controls and the reflexes to really push for the chequered flag.
Since this is an EA game, Need for Speed: Underground 2 has a selection of tunes all from the EA Trax label, and the game also features an exclusive track that sees Snoop Dog covering the legendary Doors track, Riders on the Storm. Aside from the selection of music that fits the bill perfectly, the game includes all of the sound effects that youâ??d expect from a high-octane racer from the revving engines to the aural warping effect of the Nitro Boost.
As is almost commonplace with releases these days, NfSU2 features a Multiplayer Online mode, which allows gamers to meet up in the city and race through the rough streets in a never-ending night. Choosing between any of the game modes available in the main game, the online features should act as a playground of Nitro and Mods for gamers, especially those who have had their driving licenses revoked for Illegal Street Racing in the real world.