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Review: Need For Speed: Undercover

Spanner | 22 Jan 2009 21:00
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Like most people, I enjoy a good veg out. I can slob, loaf and switch off with the best of them. Give me a mild hangover, a pint pot of tea and a DVD full of mindless, formulaic Hollywood guff and I'll sit there for hours without moving a brain cell.

But gaming really doesn't fit into this lethargic mindset - or at least, it probably shouldn't. I expect a game to grab me by the thumbs and eyeballs and refuse to let go - not exactly conducive to a serious bout of inactivity. Unfortunately, Need For Speed: Undercover caters firmly to the couch potato crowd: It demands little effort, expects stupidity in its audience and more or less provides an alternative to watching a Fast & the Furious movie marathon.

It may be a horribly pretentious thing to say, but this really is a game for the mindless masses. Masses don't play games - individuals do, and they're generally not mindless enough to wring much enjoyment from the flat difficulty curve and daffodil-weak storyline of NFS: Undercover. Not that the Need For Speed franchise has inspired us to expect much in the way of character development or plot depth - this is a series built on burnt rubber and a diet of thick dust - but hating yourself for partaking in such trite and macho endeavors doesn't really put you in the right frame of mind to enjoy toeing the cops and robbers party line.

Which is a shame, as fans of the series may fondly recall the police chases of previous NFS titles Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted. These were a great addition to the usual circuitous races and reminded us that driving games could provide tension as well as speed. Casting you as an undercover cop attempting to infiltrate a criminal organization by talking a bit tough, frowning a lot and driving recklessly, NFS: Undercover at least resurrects the best bits of the previous games, even if it falls on its ass when the wheels start to spin.

How you're supposed to bring this syndicate down from within is left pretty vague for most of the game - considering all the jobs, challenges and face-offs against other criminal types you're called upon to complete - but the premise is so feeble that it doesn't really matter anyway. Getting behind the wheel without having to pimp your ride three times (like so many EA racing games) is what's important, and in that respect Undercover is on the ball. All the checkpoint chases, one-on-one drag races and collateral-damage escapades are there with bells on, as is the aforementioned Pursuit mode from the earlier games.

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