Best of the NFS series in my opinion.

User Rating: 8 | Need for Speed Underground 2 (Greatest Hits) PS2
For many years now, EA has brought the Need for Speed series to consoles and PC's, and each year it has been better than the last. Last year, I was a little upset when my beloved Hot Pursuit title was replaced by the Underground series. While critically acclaimed and loved by millions, I just did not "feel" the game personally. Sure, it had a wide arsenal of customizable parts, but the tracks and racing layout I felt left plenty to be desired. This year, I was a bit hesitant when the latest NFS Underground hit my desk. Only a year later, EA was already following up with a sequel? To say the least, I was not going into the game with much enthusiasm. Once I booted this bad boy up, got through the handholding tutorial of menus, race types, and messages, all I have to say is my tune has changed about this series. To put it mildly, NFS Underground feels today like a tech demo for what NFS Underground 2 brings to the table. There is depth in the cars, tracks, and race types. You have an interesting story mode that features E's Wild On former star, Brooke Burke. However, the kudos has to go to the online mode that is available for all platforms, ooops, except Game Cube owners. (Why did I buy that broadband adapter again?) If I, not being a fan of the first, am thrilled by this new offering, I can only imagine what gamers who loved the first will feel when they get behind the wheel of NFS Underground 2.

First off, the visuals get a nice overhaul. The PC version obviously looking the best, sporting high resolution textures, unlimited draw distance, and a sheer vibrancy than cannot be touched by consoles. In second place comes the Xbox version, trying to mimic the greatness of the PC version, and coming darn near close to doing so. Topped off with finally a 480p mode for hi-def owners, Xbox owners will be more than pleased with the overall visuals. A dead heat for third is the PlayStation 2 and GC versions. Take all of what I said about the first two, take out many of the reflections, blur the backdrops, and toss in jaggies galore, and you have the versions for the PS2 and GC. If you do not get a chance to see the game running on the PC or Xbox, you might not be as optimistic or displeased with what EA did with the PlayStation 2 and GameCube versions, but those who do will notice the differences at just one glance. With all that been said, here is what you can expect from all versions in some way, shape, or form. The world of NFS Underground 2 is larger and on a grander scale than before. You now have a large free roaming city to explore that intersects five distinct neighborhoods and spanning over 125 miles. This time it is not all just city districts either, as you will visit suburban hillsides as well as busy city circuits. Environments not only change, but so does the weather, as rain is added to this year's game. Sure, it still will not affect your performance, but the effect is still a welcome one.

What good is all that terrain if you do not have a sweet ride to go along with it? Don't fret gear heads, there is a suitable number of car makers, from Honda, Cadillac, Nissan, Ford, and more, each supplying their most popular cars and SUV's to tune up. Speaking of tuning, you are able to soup up your ride with a huge assortment of visual and performance upgrades. There are over 70 billion car customization combos, which is more than enough freedom to satisfy even the most fickle motor head. What bothers me is that the NFS series still does not have damage effects. It is hard going from one EA game that rips your car to shreds on impact, to a game that mirrors the same wreck, but comes out nice and shiny.

NFS Underground 2 even spices up the game with an interesting story mode. The cut scenes involved are in comic book fashion, and involves you as the awesome racer who has the skills but no street credit. With the help of Rachel (played by Brooke), and her posse of racers, mechanics, and local promoters, you take to the streets first in a mediocre car, earning that reputation you so richly deserve. Sure, the story will never be made into a movie, (oops.. forgot Fast and the Furious) but it is still entertaining nonetheless. The visual differences in NFS Underground 2 are not substantial, but they have done enough enhancements to merit an upgrade, while still keeping a consistent frame rate.

There is a lot to love about NFS's audio as well. First off, each car make has its own unique and authentic engine quality and sound. If you know your cars, you will know the difference in a Nissan's engine and a Ford's just by the sound. Each camera view also supports the actual amount of engine noise you might expect. The story mode has some voice acting; both in the cut scenes and in voice messages you get while on the streets. The effort is neither stellar nor poor, and in the end is adequate enough not to be a distraction or a bad mark on the game. Lastly, the supplied music will either be loved or hated by the masses. EA Trax is back again, but finally with a list of bands I enjoy personally. You have the talents of Helmet, Mudvayne, Queens of the Stone Age, Ministry, and even a Doors/Snoop Dogg cover of Rider's on the Storm. My punk/metal upbringing made me happy to hear these tunes since the game offers no custom soundtrack option for Xbox owners.

Game play is fast and furious. (Oh god, did I just say that?) You can expect a great sense of speed in the game, even in the early-unmodified cars. Sure, it is nothing like EA's Burnout 3, but the game is still very fast. With all this speed, you might figure the game to control sloppy, but this is not the case. Not only does NFS Underground 2 control exceptionally well, but also each vehicle handles differently from one another. The A.I. is no slouch either. While boosting your confidence early on, allowing you to get the feel of the game, race types, and vehicles, NFS Underground 2's A.I. quickly turns evil about 10% into the game. All of a sudden, the game plays dirty, relentless, without being cheap or having rubber band A.I. tendencies. Once you have mastered the story mode, you can hone your skills on even tougher opponents online. Overall, the controls are very responsive, and the feeling of weight in your cars adds to the more realistic sense of game play.

NFS Underground 2 does one more thing exceptionally well; give the gamer plenty of bang for their buck. If 8 different game play modes wasn't enough; Circuit, Drag, Drift, Sprint, Street X, Downhill Drift, Outrun, and Underground Racing League, you have a story mode that will give gamers over 40 hours of racing joy. Toss in the option to earn credit, cash, and customize your vehicle in a five car garage and you will be the busy bee in your virtual world. Oh, and did I mention the game is online too? Talk about depth, most gamers will be playing this one until the next NFS game is released.

In the end, if anyone comes away from NFS Underground 2 less than impressed, either they expect way too much from their games, or just don't have very good taste in games in general. With all the clones that have come, gone, and were cancelled, there is no reason to get any of them over the king and originator of the modified racing world. NFS Underground 2 has the goods.