TGS 2008: Need for Speed Undercover Updated Hands-On

Amid the talking animals and maid outfits of TGS, we spend a few moments of respite with EA's upcoming high-speed action game.

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TOKYO--Among all the obscure role-playing games and horse-racing sims that can easily be found on the show floor of the 2008 Tokyo Game Show, it's a refreshing change of pace to find Need for Speed: Undercover at the EA booth. Here's a game that doesn't feature angel-winged schoolchildren armed with swords the size of cellular signal towers, and there's not a talking anthropomorphisized bat anywhere to be found (at least that we know of). We spent some time with an updated build of Need for Speed Undercover to see how it's coming along ahead of its November release.

You've probably heard by now that Undercover will take place in the fictional Tri-City Bay, with several distinct districts to drive in, covering everything from tight inner-city urban environments to twisting mountain runs. The game will have more than 80 miles of drivable road to it, including a massive highway that encircles the entire playable area. EA reps told us that if you're driving the fastest car in the game, it will take you eight minutes to do a full lap of the highway system in Undercover. Add to that tons of streets and shortcuts, and you've got a lot of asphalt to explore in the game.

We tried two events in this updated build of the game: a standard highway battle that we've seen several times before and a much more interesting delivery challenge, driving one of the hottest cars in the game, the McLaren F1. Apart from the fun of trying to come to grips with the McLaren's ludicrous amount of power, the mission--which required us to try to get the car from one side of Tri-City to the other--was made all the more intense by the absolutely insane police presence.

As we found out, this particular mission is one of the final missions in the game, which explains the psychotic police behavior--running into us at full speed, setting up police barriers to try to spin us around and break up our momentum, and doing everything (except perhaps the logical thing of trying to shoot out our tires) they could to put a damper on our delivery.

A minimap in the corner of the screen shows a dynamic path to get to your destination, and if you miss a turn (as we did several times), the map will automatically adjust itself to find a new route. One weapon we had in our arsenal was a pursuit breaker--a set location near an overhang on the highway that, when struck, would bring down a massive block of cement, blocking the course of the pursuing police. Despite nailing the pursuit breaker and losing the fuzz, we weren't able to deliver the car in time. Nonetheless, we had a good time in our abject failure.

By the end of our mission attempt, the McLaren we drove was reduced to jalopy status by our sloppy driving, and though EA said it will be impossible to "kill" your car in Underground, certain missions will take damage more seriously than others. For example, in a variation on the delivery challenge, you'll be asked to bring a car to a client in pristine condition--and any scratches you put on that coat of paint will cost you.

Though EA reps made a big deal out of the so-called Heroic Driving engine that looks to power Undercover, it doesn't seem to be much more than a fixed camera in third-person view. For example, when you pull the hand brake at high speeds and pull off a 180-degree turn, the camera will stay fixed in position, not swing around to follow you. It's not clear if there are other opportunities in Undercover to make the Heroic Driving engine more...well, heroic, but we're eager to learn more. One other tidbit about the game camera: As it stands now, the game will automatically default to a first-person view during the highway challenges, though you will be able to switch back out to third-person view if you prefer to do so.

In all, Undercover looks like it's coming along fine, and we enjoyed taking it for a spin before heading back into the TGS world of booth babes dressed like Victorian maids and game mascots that, when observed more closely, were people dressed as huge human thumbs wearing cowboy hats.

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