Need for Speed Undercover may have lingered a little too long in development to have a truly revolutionary impact on the platform, but it's still a wicked ride.
Need for Speed Undercover is a lightning-fast arcade racer that doesn't stray far from its console heritage. But fortunately, the gameplay has been adjusted for the more-casual nature of the iPhone platform. You simply tilt to steer, tilt more to drift, touch the screen to brake, and do nothing to accelerate (it's automatic). Simple touch gestures handle nitro boost and "speedbreaker," the game's slow-motion mode.
This simplicity isn't necessarily a bad thing--it's a breeze to learn how to play, and the controls never stand in the way of enjoying the high-octane gameplay--but it might turn off those looking for a more-technical racing experience. Also, you can't adjust the sensitivity of the controls or use an alternate touch layout. You might find the default tuning to be a little stiff.
Unlike many other racing games, Need for Speed Undercover is purely a single-player experience. You're playing through the Story mode whether you like it or not. This isn't a problem as far as gameplay is concerned because there are a lot of different kinds of races and missions to savor. These include two-car duels, four-car elimination races, cop chases, and combat missions, among others. It's a sizable scenario that stretches across three cities, and there's a definite increase in difficulty as you go along. It'll keep most players busy for three to five hours.
Unfortunately, the story is something most players can do without. Yes, full-motion video is cool, but watching C-list actors struggle to hold a fake conversation with the camera is pretty goofy, especially when they're spouting nonsense about crooked cops and chop-shop gangs.
The game's stable of licensed cars is the real story here. In addition to looking really good, these cars are a lot of fun to tune up and customize using cash earned on missions. You can add useful stuff, such as nitro capacity and handling packages, or you can waste money painting your ride hot pink and jacking it up on hydraulics. It won't intimidate the locals, but it's pretty hilarious.
Need for Speed Undercover handily outruns most of the competition in terms of presentation. The car models look very smooth compared to other racing games, and there's a lot of detail in the blighted urban landscapes you're powering through, right down to the individual fronds on the palm trees lining the roads.
The game cleverly uses speed lines and camera-tilting help to impart a blistering sense of velocity and knife-edge handling, especially when engaging nitro boost. There's a bit of a frame rate chug when a bunch of vehicles hit the screen at once or a new song loads up, but it doesn't last long.
The graphics are much closer to fully mature, console-quality work than those of many other iPhone racers. The sound's not quite as impressive, but it's still good. The handful of rock tunes fit the subject nicely; the tire squeals and crashes sound a little anemic, but they're serviceable.
Need for Speed Undercover starts out really good and gets better as you go. This game blurs the already faltering line between iPhone gaming and the portable consoles, rendering the difference as indistinguishable as a road sign seen at 200mph.
This review was provided by GameSpot mobile content partner SlideToPlay.com.