Need for Speed Underground 2 Updated Hands-On

We take a ride through the race modes in EA's upcoming sequel to Need for Speed Underground.

Need for Speed Underground 2 is the upcoming sequel to last year's impressive new twist on the venerable Need for Speed series. The game builds on the street racing approach that developer EA Canada took with the longtime franchise and it aims to offer an overall richer experience than its predecessor. We had the chance to get a look at an updated Xbox version of the game so we could try our hand at the various race modes. While the game wasn't 100 percent complete, what we played showed an impressive amount of polish that bodes well for the upcoming release.

Need for Speed Underground 2 is already looking quite polished.

Need for Speed Underground 2 will offer a variety of racing modes outside of its meaty and time-intensive career option. If you don't feel like clocking in a chunk of time building up your career, you can try your hand at seven other one-shot races to either hone your skills or have a bit of fun. You'll be able to choose from circuit, sprint, drag, drift, street x, underground racing league races, and outrun. Although many of those modes were in the last game, they have undergone some tweaks for NFSU2 and now with the additions of street x, underground racing league, and outrun competitions the game offers an engaging and varied experience outside of the career mode's roughly 150 different events.

The career mode will boast roughly 150 different events.

Circuit and sprint races are dashes to the finish against a selection of opponents that are pretty much par for the course for a racer. The twist to them in NFSU 2 is the presence of traffic and the layout of the courses, which add a new level of challenge. Traffic is also a factor in the drag races in which you can participate. The mode's already challenging multitasking (keeping tabs on when to shift while making sure the car stays ahead of the competition and avoids oncoming traffic) is taken up a notch by a much more demanding traffic system. Plan on some unintentionally spectacular homages to Burnout 3 during some of your races, as traffic crops up when you least want to see it during some of your runs. Drift races, loved and loathed by players of last year's game, depending on their rate of success in the mode, are back with some fresh elements. The races will now take place in stadium-style tracks as in the original NFSU, as well as on normal tracks throughout the city, which include the dreaded traffic. The stadium races will also feature opponents on the track, and you'll be required to wrap up your business before an onscreen timer counts down, which can be challenging. The street x races are tight runs against aggressive opponents on fairly short tracks that require quite a bit of skill to navigate. The underground racing league runs are more advanced competitions that are pretty demanding in terms of skill--just something to note, if you want to avoid embarrassing yourself. This isn't too surprising, as in the proper game the races are invitation-only competitions that require you to have a certain level of reputation in order to warrant an invite. Finally, the outrun races are a game of cat and mouse that you trigger by finding specific drivers to compete against in the city in free-roaming driving sequences. Once initiated, you'll be required to not only catch up to your competitor, but also get ahead of him and maintain a certain distance in order to win--quite a tall order when you're weaving through traffic.

Stuck in Traffic

While many of the race modes sound familiar, the mechanics have undergone some refinement, and for the better. The basic handling, while obviously bearing quite a bit in common with the original game, has been tweaked and complements the much more organic layout of the tracks. In fact, the core handling is as responsive as ever, but some adjustments to the physics to account for the inclusion of new weather effects have added a wrinkle to the experience that will keep you on your toes. To add to the challenge, many of the races will now include more traffic. Another key element to the gameplay is the pacing of the races, which has been changed up some. The more flexible nitrous rules let you trigger bursts of speed much more often, as you'll earn it by raking up style points. Due to the pacing, you may find yourself hitting the wall and getting stuck in some places, but practice makes perfect, especially with this game.

You'll want to take the time to create a car that's to your liking.

The graphics in the Xbox version of the game are coming together to offer an impressive virtual environment for you to explore. The game's new neighborhood structure offers several distinctly different environments that are enhanced by a robust new lighting system and weather effects. The neighborhoods are massive and offer very different geography that's more than just the expected cosmetic differences, such as buildings and roadside landmarks. The neighborhoods also contain varied road layouts, including undulating roads and a myriad of twists and turns that will ensure that you won't be bored. The vehicles in the game stand tall as the stars, and they feature a high level of detail complemented by a broad range of customizable elements to let you create a car that suits your unique tastes.

The audio in the game sounds like it has come a long way, offering a good assortment of effects that go well with a compilation of EA Trax-licensed tunes. In addition, you'll hear a good chunk of voice in the game, much like last year. Although, from what we've heard, it appears that the voice acting is less awkward than last year's game. We're hoping this holds true when we go through the rest of the game, especially in the career mode, which has a liberal use of audio during its cinematic sequences.

The new lighting and weather effects are certainly easy on the eyes.

Based on the near-final version of the game we played, Need for Speed Underground 2 is shaping up to be a worthy follow-up to last year's game. Rather than offer a cookie cutter sequel of its predecessor, Need for Speed Undergound 2 is laying out a richer experience that seems much more satisfying. If you dug the original game but were left wanting more, Need for Speed Underground 2 should be just what the doctor ordered. Improved graphics and robust gameplay make for a full-bodied experience that's worth your time. Need for Speed Underground 2 is currently slated to ship this fall for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC this fall. A Game Boy Advance version will also hit the streets at the same time. Look for more on the game soon.

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