GC 2008: Need for Speed Undercover First Look

The venerable arcade racing series is going semi-old-school and we've got a hands-on look.

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After the blip on the conceptual radar that was Need for Speed ProStreet, the developers at EA Black Box are taking things old-school with the upcoming Need for Speed Undercover. EA unveiled the game last week in San Francisco, and practically everything about the game--the return of police chases, the campy cinematics, the casting of screen siren Maggie Q--hearkens back to slightly older entries in the NFS series such as Carbon and Most Wanted.

The demo on hand at the game's debut featured two event types: the highway battle, and a more traditional mission that had you trying to get your car to a chop shop while avoiding the swarming police. The highway battles are new to Undercover and take place on the long highway that connects the three main areas that compose the Tri-City Bay Area: Palm Harbor, Port Crescent, and Sunset Hills, each of which will have its own distinct look and feel. The highway-battle challenge that we played pitted us against an opponent car, with the goal being to get ahead of your opponent and stay there until time runs out. What makes the highway battle challenging is the traffic that you have to avoid along the way. The controls are responsive enough to let you slip in and out of tight spots easily, but if you make the slightest mistake, you'll bash into the back of some Sunday driver and will most likely be passed by your nemesis.

Although the highway battles look set to offer plenty of high-speed fun, the other event on hand at the Undercover debut had us strap ourselves into a Porsche and try to make it to a chop shop while a host of overcaffeinated cops tried to take us down at every turn. The driving here felt more like the action in Most Wanted, right down to the slowdown mechanic that let us briefly slow down time to pull off tricky maneuvers with the press of a button. It wasn't that difficult to lose the cops after a few quick turns, and we enjoyed the return to those tense moments of Most Wanted as we hid from a nearby police car, just waiting for him to spot us and the cycle to start again. Once the heat was off, we made it to the chop shop (indicated by an icon on our minimap) and that was the end of the mission.

With a mixture of over-the-top seriousness and just a bit of camp, the storyline in Undercover looks like another in a long line of Need for Speed narrative guilty pleasures. You'll play as a cop who goes undercover to take down a crime syndicate in the only way a crime syndicate in a video game based on racing knows how to be taken down...by being beaten in races. Or something like that. Your main point of contact will be federal agent Chase Linh, played by actress Maggie Q (Live Free or Die Hard, Hainan Ji Fan, Balls of Fury), who, as it was described to us, "will get you into--and out of--trouble." Along the way, you can expect to meet a bunch of shady characters (many of whom will sport five o'clock shadows and bandanas) who will be primed to take you down as you make your way deeper into the game.

As with Most Wanted and Carbon, Undercover will be an open world that lets you travel anywhere you want in the Tri-City Bay Area, taking on challenges as you go. Beyond the highway challenge, we don't know much about the new mission types in the game, and EA wasn't willing to spill the beans on the multiplayer modes in the game. However, it won't be long before we have all of these answers, given that Need for Speed Undercover is due for release on November 18 in the US, and a couple of days later in Europe. Stay tuned for more on the game in the coming months.

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