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Review: Need For Speed: Undercover

Spanner | 22 Jan 2009 21:00
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These are the highlights of Undercover, just as they were with Most Wanted and its kin. Luring cop cars into underpasses or bridges, then swerving to block the road is pretty damned entertaining, as is trying to outrun a helicopter or simply losing a tail. More importantly, they also serve to break up the tediously effortless remainder of the game.

Lots of open-world driving games are guilty of pandering to the lead-footed racer (Burnout Paradise, I'm looking at you), but NFS: Undercover is by far the most simpering, poncey and forgiving racer I've ever been violated by. Drive headlong into a corner, and your car miraculously bounces into the right direction without losing any revs. Pointing the car in the general direction of the finish line and staying on the accelerator pretty much ensures success - be it a time challenge or a high-speed escape. With little reason to ever let up on the Go Faster pedal, the game becomes an exercise in winning without trying.

After more hours than a gamer should have to endure to mine their way to the essential core of a game, Undercover finally (and reluctantly) reveals its qualities. The A.I. eventually decides to compete, and the time limits drop to a level where skillful cornering actually matters. But we're talking eight to ten hours here, and considering the pitifully easy difficulty curve up to that point, your interest will likely have waned to terminal levels by this point.

The ingredients are all there for a decent, if superficial, driving game. Unfortunately, there are also technical issues conspiring against Undercover that are difficult to forgive on the current generation of consoles. The game sheds frames to the point of severe screen tearing, and its feeble particle effects would have looked bad on the PS2.

Perhaps kids who are progressing from Spyro and other cutesy platformers would enjoy Undercover, a long and flashy game they can coast through without frustration or effort. But anyone who's ever owned a wheel peripheral will find it too low brow to tolerate.

Bottom line: Need For Speed: Undercover contains all the components to make the next installment of the Fast and the Furious franchise. Unfortunately, that doesn't make for a decent game.

Recommendation: Leave it. Unless you're looking for a stepping stone between cutesy platformers and real racing games, the only challenge this game offers is perseverance.

Although Spanner's not very good, he's quite fast, and that's generally enough to save him from having to do any real work.

This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.

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