Need for Speed Underground Hands-On Impressions

We check out the latest game in EA's driving series.


We were able to try out the next Need for Speed game at the recent Camp EA press event. In terms of its concept, Need for Speed Underground is quite a bit different from the previous games in the series. Instead of putting the focus on high-performance cars such as Ferraris and Lamborghinis, the development team has decided to base the game on street racing and enhanced versions of everyday cars, like the Ford Focus. One of the most interesting aspects of the game in its current state is the level of customization available in the cars.

There are literally hundreds of different ways to modify your vehicle to make it look unique among a pack of street racers. You can add decals; create and layer vinyl schemes; change the front and rear bumper; add skirts, spoilers, and scoops; choose between a regular hood and a carbon-fiber hood; and even change the color of the neon underneath the car. You can also make various performance adjustments to your car by changing the engine, nitrous, tires, brakes, and more. There's an insane level of customization in the game, but Electronic Arts wanted to make sure that the vehicles were actually representative of the kind of cars that modern street racers use.

At the moment, there are three different gameplay modes in Need for Speed Underground: drag race, career, circuit race. The PlayStation 2 version of the game also features four-player online multiplayer support. The game will feature one more additional mode, but EA has chosen not to reveal it at this time. The demo we were given focused mainly on the drag race mode, which is pretty self-explanatory--you'll have to drive your car at incredibly high speeds down a straightaway while avoiding various types of obstacles and making jumps off strategically placed ramps. In this type of race, it's crucial to shift properly, since it gives you a slight boost in speed, and, of course, using your nitrous when there aren't any obstacles in sight can also be beneficial.

The most impressive aspect of Need for Speed Underground is undoubtedly its visuals. The development team brought in a visual-effects supervisor from Industrial Light and Magic who worked on the pod race sequence in Star Wars: Episode I and special-effects sequences in other films. The result is an impressive array of effects that help convey a great sense of speed. One of the most noteworthy effects we've seen in the game is the way it presents wet pavement--the lighting and reflections look so realistic in some cases that it almost resembles full-motion video. The car models are also quite impressive, but the development team still needs to smooth out some issues with the frame rate and some odd color-banding effects. There will also be two levels of damage in the game--one that creates scratches and another that causes dents in the sides of the car.

Need for Speed Underground is scheduled for release this fall on the PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, and PC. A Game Boy Advance version of the game is also in development.

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