Need For Speed: Underground for Windows

Need For Speed: Underground for Windows

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Need for Speed: Underground ... takes on Midnight Club 2

Jan 6, 2004 (Updated Nov 30, 2004)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Excellent lighting, detailed textures, good career mode, licensed cars and tuning components, online play

Cons:Compatibility issues, online doesn't work behind firewall, no LAN play, no damage model

The Bottom Line: NfSU is one of the best street racing games in the market. Best graphics and customizing stand out from the crowd.

Though the hype for everything 'fast and furious' seems to wear out a little, EAGames threw in a new contender for the crown of street racing games on PC and consoles right before the holiday season. As part of the established Need for Speed line, the latest edition puts you into the Underground.

Need for Speed: Underground (NfSU) is EAGames' 7th installment in the Need For Speed series and comes somewhat late in the game and has to measure up against Midnight Club 2 (MC2). Building on a long history of well respected racing games, NfSU's pedigree is obvious. However, it's not your ol' Porsche Unleashed which got good reviews but never got me convinced. Now, NfSU starts against MC2. May the better one win. (Or will they tie?)

Click here! If you're looking for additional information regarding Need For Speed Underground 2.

Main features

EAGames licensed 20 elite tuner cars from Mitsubishi, Toyota, Nissan, Subaru, Mazda, Honda, VW, Hyundai and more. One has to unlock cars in order to know what's available. The developer is also not listing all models. (It takes all the way to track #68 to unlock a Honda S2000 and somewhere in the 80s to unlock the Nissan 350Z. In other words, it takes a while to have access to the fun cars.)

Each car can be fully customized with hundreds of aftermarket parts from top-name manufacturers. Change your car's appearance to fit your personality, change its performance to fit your driving style.

Huge, highly detailed environments require capable gaming hardware but reward with the best graphics in arcade racing any PC or console has seen to date.

Tournament mode not only allows to unlock (win) new cars but also gives access to upgrades, including weight reduction kits, turbo, suspension kits, tires, wheels, and nitrous. Not to mention the pain jobs and vinyl graphics.

Build your ideal car during the single player mode and then take it for a spin -- online -- against other gamers.

Criteria Roundup

Graphics: The best in computer racing so far! NfSU takes realism to the extreme and especially the lighting and textures are superb. Given the proper equipment, the virtual city and environmental effects look stunning and help to forget that it's not real (until the next crash and the pleasant respawn without a scratch). Not only is the environment extremely detailed but also the cars show excellent quality.

Physics: Driving physics are well designed and the feeling of too fast is well defined. However, the absence of any damage model makes it a little bit into a go-cart race. On the other hand, traction and speed are the closest I have come so far to reality in the virtual world (not counting actual driving simulations like F1 and Colin McRae Racing). NfSU is mostly arcade and very little simulation.

Variety: Career mode (a.k.a. Underground) requires mastering a mostly streamlined order of events in order to advance. These events consist of Circuit, Sprint, Drag, Drift, Lap Knockout and Free Run. Only in the Underground mode one can do mini-tournaments of multi-race events and the winner is determined by the total accumulated points. Outside the Underground mode one can freely choose the type of race.

Tracks: All events take place in one virtual city that looks a lot like London or New York City. In fact, street signs are even a mix of European and American. Races are routed in different ways thru the city and sections are used in different combinations for different tracks. This in itself feels a little bit repetitive but allows also to study the layout very well. The overall size of the city plan is impressive and some races are quite long. The only tracks that I would not miss if they were not implemented are the drift races which require lots (!) of practice to succeed in the advanced levels.

Opponent's AI: Unlike Midnight Club 2, NfSU doesn't promote actual characters very well. So the race is pretty much against other cars and somewhat impersonal. However those other cars have fairly decent (artificial) drivers and winning is by no means easy. From aggressive driving to realistic reactions to situation changes, it feels very real.

Difficulty: Before each race one can choose between Easy, Medium and Hard and prize money is according to the difficulty. Progress can be saved between races, unless in a tournament which needs to be completed (or aborted) for saving. Overall, difficulty in Medium feels both rewarding and challenging. Some courses are harder and others can be won in the first attempt, but the sum of it appears very balanced and motivating. However, a level must be completed in order to access new ones.

Equipment: Not only can one unlock up to 20 licensed cars but also plenty equipment to customize your dream ride to your likings. Licensed after-market tuner material is listed and one can choose between different manufacturers. However, the latter is pure cosmetics since there is no performance difference between kits within one level. Nor does it get too technical about real tuning parameters. just think of it as relatively broad upgrades in order to keep up with increasingly tough opponents ... or another way of product placement. ;-)

Sound: Great! Nothing to complain about. The score is fitting and of good quality. Not only are the cars licensed but also the songs. Great tune and not too repetitive. Voice acting is minimal (since the songs have lyrics) and limited to a few cut scenes before certain races.

Controls: NfSU does very well and one will need a game pad in order to stand a chance. Don't even try to make this work with keyboard and mouse (which is possible -- in theory). However, sensitivity of the analog joysticks cannot be adjusted in the game and I ran into a few problems where the accelleration via analog joystick seemed limited. Recalibrating the gamepad took care of that. Not affected was the steering responsiveness at high speed, which sometimes feels like a Greyhound bus to be honest and avoing oncoming traffic on short notice becomes half chance.

Online Play: One of the most promising features for long lasting gaming is the new online mode, where one can take one of the unlocked cars from the single player mode and race against other players over the internet. Sounds good in theory but after having difficulty in finding a free user name it prooves hard to find somebody to race against. I am not sure about the reasons but it's either declined or no connection can be made. I will update ....

Hardware Requirements

NfSU uses and requires Microsoft DX9 and that seems to dictate the compatible versions of Windows, which are 98, 98 SE, Millennium, 2000 Prof. (Workstation)and Windows XP (Home and Professional). Excluded are Windows 95 and NT (any version).

The required minimum cpu is an Intel PIII (or compatible) running at 700Mhz or higher with 128MB of RAM (256 MB for Windows 2000 or XP or to play Online). Realistically one should plan on more than 2GHz P4 with about 512MB RAM for smooth game play.

NfSU takes up 2 GB of HD space and requires an 8X CD-ROM to actually play the game. Even though the game comes with an individual code to unlock, the CD is still required (as a dongle) to start the game.

With all the games recently released (Midnight Club 2,Call of Duty, Enter The Matrix, Tron2.0 and Halo) that require at least a DirectX 9 compatible video card with T&L and at least 32MB video RAM, it should not surprise anybody anymore that NfSU falls into the same category. The officially supported chipsets are the usual ATI Radeon (7500 and higher), Nvidia Nforce, Nvidia GeForce2 (and higher), and Matrox Parhelia. Some others may (should) work but no official support is provided.

A gamepad is supported by the PC version but configuration is limited to the 'key' assignment. Sensibility and 'dead zone' of the analog joystick(s) cannot be adjusted within the game.

My system (2.4G P4, 1G DDR333 RAM, Radeon 9700 Pro) runs NfSU with good speed in 1280x1040 (32bits) and only very sporadic moments when the graphics seems to hold for a split second. However, it certainly feels like walking along the edge to barely having enough power to run this game (in maximum settings) at very good speed. Forcing hardware 4xAA will make it a bit sluggish.

I ran into what I consider a compatibility issue. Despite the latest video driver (Catalyst 3.10) the nitro mode would actually turn the screen very dark instead of the supposed blur effect. I inquired with EA online support 3 days ago and so far no answer ... I will update.

NfSU supports a number of audio chipsets using DirectSound: Aopen (AW200, AW540, AW744 Pro, AW 840, AW 850), Creative Labs SoundBlaster (16 ISA, AWE 32 PnP, AWE 64 PnP, 16 ISA, PCI 64, PCI 128, PCI 512, Live series, Audigy, Audigy II, Extigy), Hercules Digifire 7.1, Games Theater XP, GameSurround (Muse XL, Muse 5.1 DVD, Forttisimo II), AC'97 and similar devices.

NfSU does not support LAN play, but does allow for online play for the PlayStation2 and PC system. (Currently not available for XBox) However, having to turn the firewall off during online play doesn't exactly make me feel safe. (The consequential crash and burn may harm more than just pride in a game.)

The only way to update (patch) the game is automatically from within the game's online mode. Make sure to turn off the firewall or else it will not succeed. The latest release (tested) is v1.3.0 as of January, 7th 2003.

NfSU vs. MC2

In the race for the crown in (virtual) street racing NfSU certainly shows amazing qualities in the graphics department and rich detailed environments. Most amazing speed experience is provided by the camera view that suggests a mounting point somewhere close to the front bumper and the reflective pavement that suggests standing water from a recent rain. Scrap the views from behind, this is the way to go. (Thanks for not obstructing the view with the cockpit clutter a la Nascar 2004.) NfSU wins the crown in the graphics department, but MC2 still has the coolest detail of glowing rotors when hitting the breaks hard and making a u-turn.

NfSU shows the competition how to make tuning cars fun and put variety into an otherwise single-minded race. Best marks for that. Though I have not been able to drive a full race in online mode yet, this has potentially the most punch NfSU can bring to the table in the race for best in class.

And NfSU would easily take the overall crown for the best (fun) racer if MC2 didn't have other qualities like the greater variety in environments and more catchy thrash talk during (!) the races. MC2 at least has a rudimentary damage model with visible damage as well as a number-of-hits based counter until total crash. (The damage, however, does not influence driving performance.)

So overall I think EAGames certainly released a great game and it may even be the best the industry has seen yet. However, MC2 is not too far behind and depending on personal preferences may even tie NfSU. In fact, MC2 allows more freedom in choosing a race in career mode and doesn't miss the 'mandatory' police chase either. (The latter NfSU apparently left out due to the similarity with other NfS games.)

Either game is an exhilarating way to break the law and cars safely without the monetary, legal or health implications of the real world.

Official Website

Update (8-Jan-2004):

EA Support just responded regarding the blur issue (see hardware section for details): "Motion blur should work correctly when the light trails option is turned off. We apologise for the inconvience, hopefully this issue will be addressed in a future patch."

This little tweak actually seems to do 2 things. First, it fixes the display problem and the motion blur looks simply great. Second, the light trails seem to be GPU intense and disabling it improved the games speed significantly. Too bad the cool trail effect had to be sacrificed! Now I am hoping for a patch to be available very soon.

Update (4-Feb-2004):

Today patch 4.0 became available. It updates the program to version 1.4.0 and mainly adresses the described issue between the motion blur and trailing lights. It works like a charm on my system and the combination of both effects is absolutely stunning.

Speed seems to have increased as well, so the little hick-ups are greatly reduced and the game appears quite playable at maximum settings. Note: I also upgraded to ATI's Catalyst 4.1 which might be part of the performance boost.

Recommend this product? Yes

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