Need for Speed Underground is easily one of the most promising entries in Electronic Arts' long-running franchise. While the previous installments in the series have been pretty similar in terms of setting, Need for Speed Underground puts a new spin on the franchise and focuses on the colorful world of street racing. The new approach is complemented by a slick new look that blends functionality with style. We took a closer look at the upcoming game, which is poised to set a new high point for the series.
The most striking aspect of Need for Speed Underground is its graphics, which seem to feature an impressive combination of style and substance. In terms of style, Need for Speed Underground is likely to be the toast of the racing scene this fall. While the game's graphics engine certainly pulls its fair share of performance out of the PlayStation 2, the visuals have been given an extra layer of polish courtesy of Hollywood. Two-time Academy Award nominee for visual effects Habib Zargarpour worked closely with the development team, sharing various techniques he'd learned in the film industry. The resulting lighting effects complement the graphics engine and achieve a stunning sense of photo-realism that might just set the next big trend in video game special effects. However, the most commendable aspect of the game's graphics is the fact that they don't negatively impact the gameplay. For all of Need for Speed Underground's panache, the team's focus has remained on ensuring that the game plays well. In many cases, the impressive visuals even offer you some useful information, whether to show you the damage on your car or to indicate a shortcut just off to one side.
The final component of the game's stylish approach is its audio, which seems to effectively pull you into the game. Roaring engines and squealing tires are complemented by the cries of bystanders and a strong soundtrack. The end result is an audio package that seems pretty impressive so far.
While Need for Speed Underground has nailed down its style, the game is shaping up to offer players a well-rounded experience by featuring some depth as well. The various races we detailed in our previous coverage of the game offered just a taste of what Need for Speed Underground will offer. The actual game will include an underground mode that will form the single-player core of the game experience. This story-driven mode will offer an unusual take on the standard career mode you find in most racing games--one that focuses on street racing. You'll face off against different racers in various locales and participate in more than 100 unique events. As you win the competitions, you'll earn money and parts for your car, which you can use to customize your car to your liking. Need for Speed Underground will include 20 licensed cars from such well-known manufacturers as Mitsubishi Motors, Subaru, and Toyota, and you can tinker with the cars as you please. While earning cash and parts is cool, what's likely to be the most important bonus to winning races is increasing your reputation, which will open up new opportunities for developing your career.
As you work to boost your reputation in the game, you can perfect your skills in four racing disciplines: circuit, sprint, drag, and drifting. Circuit races are standard lap-based competitions that challenge you to find the best route through open city courses. Sprint races are high-speed runs between specific points. Drag races are all about harnessing the raw power of your car to blow away the competition. Finally, drift races are perhaps the most technical of the races you'll engage in; you'll have to exert some serious control as you powerslide through painfully sharp turns on various tracks.
In addition to the offline modes, Need for Speed Underground will offer support for online play on the PC and PlayStation 2. While specifics have yet to be revealed, we do know that the PlayStation 2 version will support online races between PS2s and PCs. You'll be able to test your racing and car-tweaking skills by taking your prized set of wheels from an offline game and mixing it up with players online. A ranking system will track the top 100 online players and various stats to show off the most-skilled racers. The only catch to the online action is that the PlayStation 2 game only supports broadband.
Based on what we've seen so far, Need for Speed Underground is set to deliver a fast-paced ride loaded with options, which should prove to be very appealing to racing fans. The game is currently scheduled to ship this fall across all major platforms. Look for more on the game soon.