Need for Speed Undercover Q&A: Return of the Fuzz

We chat with EA's Steve Barcia about the role of police in the latest Need for Speed game.


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Last year's Need for Speed ProStreet marked a change in direction for the long-running Need for Speed series. With a focus on race weekends and slightly more realistic driving mechanics, the game had some long-time NFS fans scratching their heads. Those fans are likely feeling much more comfortable with the upcoming game in the series: Need for Speed Undercover, which will feature a dramatic, cutscene-driven storyline and, perhaps more importantly, the return of the cops. Downplayed to a large extent in Need for Speed Carbon, the fuzz return with a vengeance in Undercover, hearkening back to cop-tastic Need for Speed Most Wanted. To learn more about how police will affect your undercover work, we hit up Undercover producer Steve Barcia.

GameSpot: First things first: How far along is the game, and what's been the biggest development surprise so far?

Steve Barcia: The game is complete, and we are weeks away from submitting the game to first party.

People throughout the studio have fallen in love with Highway Battle. From the start of development, we wanted to re-create the excitement of a Hollywood car chase on the freeway. It was then clear, as we were creating the Highway Battle experience, that we had something really special on our hands, capturing the hair-raising excitement of chasing an opponent through heavy highway traffic at 150 mph. To succeed, players will have to pick their holes, slide through traffic, and even create a traffic pileup in your wake to stop your opponent. And to cap it off, you're going to have to do all this while fleeing from the cops.

Need for Speed Undercover marks the return of police chases.
Need for Speed Undercover marks the return of police chases.

GS: NFS Undercover feels like a reaction of sorts from the previous game in the series, NFS Pro Street, with greater emphasis on story, the return of police, et cetera. That said, what gameplay aspects and/or lessons learned have carried over from ProStreet into Undercover?

SB: Not at all, Undercover was well into development while ProStreet was still being finished. The idea for Undercover was born from a desire to marry action racing found in Need for Speed with the overall energy of an epic action movie.

ProStreet drove our physics in a whole new direction for the franchise. In fact, the key learnings we gleaned from crafting realistic physics for ProStreet was used to help develop our Heroic Driving Engine. This revolutionary HDE technology allows the player to race with unprecedented control while being able to pull off heroic driving moves with ease--J-turns, 180s, 360s, et cetera.

GS: We've seen glimpses of the story in teaser videos. Care to shed any more light on what's happening in Tri City in Undercover?

SB: Undercover takes place in the southern Tri-City Bay area, which is comprised of three major cities: the metropolis city of Palm Harbor, the eastern rural town of Sunset Hills, and the main port city of Port Crescent.

Crime in Tri-City has gotten out of control, and you were sent in as a new-to-the-force undercover cop posing as a wheelman to infiltrate the local street gangs. Just as you are breaking into the scene, an FBI agent, Chase Linh, arrives to take charge and become your handler, sending you on a more important assignment. Your new job: go deep undercover to take down an international smuggling ring who have recently become involved with the street-racing scene.

GS: This game will mark the proper return of police cars into the series. How have police changed since NFS Most Wanted?

SB: Cops are back and they are smarter, more aggressive, and more realistic than ever--as a result, players will have to be on guard and ready to use their heroic driving moves to avoid the cops.

The new AI and realistic physics helped us escalate the cop's abilities to make them more of a threat than ever before. In fact, the cops are using actual high-pursuit techniques such as PIT maneuvers and blocking tactics to take the player out.

GS: If Undercover is introducing smarter, more aggressive cops, what tricks will you have in your arsenal to avoid them? Does the player's "role" as an undercover cop help him or hurt him in this respect?

SB: As a deep-undercover cop, your identity has been kept a total secret. Lt. Keller and Inspector Chase Linh are the only two in the whole police departments who know who you are and what your mission is. To the police force, you are just a criminal and will be treated like one.

GS: How finicky are the cops when it comes to engaging pursuit? Are they sticklers for the finer points of traffic safety, or will they let you get away with nearly anything?

The cops will ignore you as long as you haven't done anything wrong; however, committing an infraction in front of them such as speeding or striking a traffic car will immediately have the cops on you. Likewise, if you are wanted by the cops (high heat level) because of all of the cost of state damage you have done, they will pursue you on sight. If you want to avoid having them recognize you, change out your car or visually customize it so the cops won't identify your ride.

Running from the police is only a good idea in video games.
Running from the police is only a good idea in video games.

GS: Tell us about the race events in Undercover. How much time is spent breaking the law (such as stealing police vehicles) versus more traditional race events? Are the goals fairly linear in order to progress the story, or do you have some choice in how you play your character?

SB: Your goal is to build your reputation as a wheelman to infiltrate the local street gangs. So, first you have to make a name for yourself on the street by challenging the locals to circuit, sprint, checkpoint, highway battle, and outrun races. In addition, you can mess with the cops with cost to state, escape, and cop take-down missions that will build you up as a more notorious criminal on the street. Once you have been introduced to the gangs, you can then do jobs for them to get in deeper, such as stealing cars and delivering packages. Ultimately, the player can choose how they build their wheelman reputation up, whether through street racing, doing jobs, or messing with the cops, and there is always a large selection of each for them to choose from.

GS: How are you dividing difficulty in Undercover? What will define a higher level of difficulty in this game: more aggressive AI, less forgiving controls, more challenging goals, et cetera?

SB: Difficulty in races comes down to the skill of your opponents and the power of the cars they drive. As with most games, the further into the career you go, the more challenging your adversaries; but something unique to Undercover for the NFS franchise are the Master Race events this year, events which are very challenging for their level. In addition, we have domination record times for each race, which if you can beat, will reward you with special driver skills that allow you to tune you car to even higher levels of performance.

For the cop challenges, the difficulty comes from the threat level of cops you will face, all the way from street civic cops up to the powerful Rhino SUVs. Each cop type has unique moves they pull off as well as control over how aggressive their tactics will be, and at the highest level of cop threat, the police force will even send out the police helicopters to hunt you down.

GS: Thanks for your time.

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