Need for Speed: Undercover Review
Xbox 360 | PS3 | PC | Wii | PS2 | PSP | DS
Need for Speed: Undercover box art
System: X360, PS3, Wii, PS2, PC, PSP, DS Review Rating Legend
Dev: EA Black Box 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Electronic Arts 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Nov. 18, 2008 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1-4 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Teen 3.5 - 3.9 = Good

Need for Speed Undercover is the latest entry in EA's popular racing franchise. The series has taken some hits in quality lately, but that doesn't stop EA from continually publishing titles or fans from buying them like crazy. But Undercover is one of the worst Need for Speed games in recent memory, and I highly recommend staying away from it.

Need for Speed: Undercover screenshot

The first really significant problem with Need for Speed Undercover is the plot. Actually, the story itself isn't terrible. You play as an undercover street racer attempting to bust a smuggling ring. It's nothing particularly unique or interesting, but it's not really bad either. What really fails in Undercover is the primary method of storytelling. The story is told through live action scenes – movie segments with live actors. These scenes are terribly done and genuinely laughable. You get the feeling you're watching an old '80s B-movie, and I doubt that was the feel the development team was really going for.

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After a less-than-awesome venture into menu-based racing events with ProStreet, Undercover moves back into familiar ground: open-world racing. You're given three large cities linked by huge highway systems. Each metropolis is complete with lots of different environments, which largely serve to keep driving enjoyable and interesting.

Need for Speed: Undercover screenshot

However, this open-world racing approach usually fails to work. For example, there's no real benefit derived from roaming the open world. There are no secret missions, no unlockables to find, and no goals to accomplish (like breaking down gates in Burnout Paradise, for example). So, while just driving around can be pretty fun at first, it quickly wears thin because there's not much to keep you going.

While there's no material reward for exploring your surroundings, an obvious advantage to doing so would normally be your mastery of the streets and knowledge of shortcuts that can help you out in races. However, the development team foolishly decided to map out very linear courses for races, completely blocking off any streets outside the main course. As a result, you seldom get to take advantage of shortcuts you discover, which leaves the whole open-world mechanic feeling decidedly useless.

Need for Speed: Undercover screenshot

Another really strange part of the free-roaming component of this game is that you'll seldom run into other vehicles on the road. It's really strange to be speeding along the freeway and encounter just a handful of cars in a four or five-minute period. It doesn't do anything to dramatically affect gameplay, but it supplements the lack of reality that's set up by the storytelling.

Actual racing events are fairly standard fare; if you've ever played a Need for Speed title, or any racing game for that matter, you'll have a good idea of how Undercover really works. You'll participate in tons of different races against a variety of computer-controlled players. You'll have to complete a certain number of events in each area before unlocking a new one, which works to the detriment of the game. Because of this mechanic, you'll find yourself doing tons of races in one area, invariably getting really tired of your current environment, and therefore find the events significantly less fun.

Screenshots / Images
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