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Need for Speed Underground 2 Review

Developer: EA Publisher: EA
Release Date: November 23, 2004 Also On: GCN, PC, PS2 and Xbox

In my review of Need for Speed: Underground I had recommended this game to anyone that thought going out to Chino, CA to watch races was a good time. Well, EA took those races and moved them into Los Angeles and it’s immediate suburbs. Need for Speed Underground 2 takes place in “Bayview� City and changes almost everything about its predecessor in some ways. The races are longer, there are more car modifications and there’s an open city just like in Midnight Club.

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The biggest difference between NFS:U and Underground 2 is the open-ended city. Bayview is huge; it is mostly modeled after Los Angeles, after all. There are hidden shops, races and rival racers littered throughout the literally hundreds of miles of drivable roads. If you grow tired of driving from one end of the city to the other you can just go into the menu and select “World Map� which will provide you with instant access to races. It’s a great feature that could have ruined the game if it had not been included.

There are seven different types of races in this game including circuit, drag and outrun. Each race type, save for circuit and sprint, feels completely different. There are straight races through the city, drag races down mile long stretches, drifting tracks for extremely long power slides and closed off tracks for racing in the Underground Racing League. Personally, though, the outrun races are where the majority of the fun is. They may not progress the story or provide with much bank, but they are a good source of entertainment for a few minutes. Online play can also be found on Xbox, PS2 and PC. All of the play modes are included and everything runs without a hitch.

The artificial intelligence is also much improved over last year’s version. Before the four cars would always stay in a pack and hardly pay attention to you. Now the cars will nudge you out of the way, draft off of you and spin your car around at the end of a race. It may be annoying, but it’s realistic.

The cars handle even better than in the first game. They feel heavier and don’t slide around as easily. Electronic Arts took the dozen or so cars from the first game and included about 20 more. New additions include the Infiniti G35, Ford GT Mustang 2005 and a Lexus IS 300. These are welcome and all but the biggest (pun intended) addition would have to be the SUVs. A Lincoln Navigator, Hummer H2 and Cadillac Escalade are all included to be pimped out by you.

While driving may be what progresses the game, customizing is why you do it. There are millions of combinations of parts that you could put on your vehicle. The seemingly endless combinations are comprised of front bumpers, rear bumpers, skirts, wings, roof scoops, hoods, neon, audio systems, exhaust tips and more. The cars are measured on a 10-star visual rating system and the more mods on your ride the more stars you get which allows for more sponsors which pays more money which enables more parts to be bought. Ingenious little cycle, if you ask me.

Also new to the game is the addition of several fun little diversions in the form of car mods. Hydraulics can be purchased for the vehicle and upgraded until eventually you’ll be “hoppin’ and raisin’ it up� like a ‘62 Chevy Impala. Full audio systems can also be installed in the trunk of your vehicle and I’m not talking about a simple system with two subs and an amp, I’m talking systems that even the rich kid up the street would be envious of; four 15 inch subs, two 500 watt amps, a crossover, a couple LCD displays, even a few nitrous-oxide bottles can be added for good measure. Split hoods, suicide doors and custom gauges can be added and almost anything can be converted to carbon-fiber.

Everything visually has been stepped up for the sequel. The city is massive, the lighting is wonderful and the texture work is great. One of the most impressive visual feats pulled off by Underground 2 is the sense of scale. You can be high in the rich suburbs looking down at the skyline and drive straight to the middle of it all, miles away. It’s definitely impressive. Another nice little addition is the lighting and reflections of the car. Your headlights will light up the reflectors on the road and signs from far away just as in real life and your windows and mirrors will correctly reflect the environment around the vehicle.

It seems as if the only visual downsides are the sense of speed doesn’t live up to Burnout 3, or NFS:U for that matter, and the car models before modifications are pretty ugly. The tearing and blurring seen in NFS:U has been toned down quite a bit Both of those issues are solved towards the end of the game when you’re running your ridiculously modded car down a freeway at 200 miles per hour, but until then, you’re out of luck.

The sound effects in the game are excellent. The more engine modifications purchased for the car, the more annoyingly whiny and realistic it’ll sound. The sound of wind passing by the car when in the first person view is great too; it’s the best I’ve heard since Gran Turismo 3. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the soundtrack. The first game had a dozen or so original songs, but this one doesn’t even have one. EA Games Trax doesn’t normally make me wish that custom soundtracks was supported but I think that’s the only thing that can save the music in Underground 2.

Overall, this game is great. Everything from the first game has been improved and more importantly everything is more fun to play. The city may be a little too large for it’s own good, but using the “World Map� feature can solve even that problem. Improved AI makes almost every race exciting and there’s enough modifications available to keep you busy for months. If you’re into cars at all, this is a must buy.

Graphics: 9
Sound: 7.5
Gameplay: 8.5
Creativity: 8.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 9.5
Final: 9
Written by Chris Review Guide