Need for Speed Undercover Hands-on Preview

Written by Joe Martin

October 15, 2008 | 07:44

Tags: #hands-on #need-for-speed #need-for-speed-undercover

Companies: #ea


The unfortunate reality though is that there’s a bit of a disconnect here between how the game sounds and how the game plays, though neither is really bad.

The game is getting back to what it was always supposed to be and that’s good. It’s taking itself more seriously and giving players a storyline which at least has the visual polish of a Hollywood blockbuster even if it doesn’t have the top-quality plotline.

Gameplay-wise it’s giving players a bigger, more open environment to play in and an interface which doesn’t have any pauses. The car customisation options have been made more sensible, focusing on the gentle, sensual beauty of the cars themselves and not the fact that someone’s modded a microwave oven into the rear-view mirror.

When you actually play it though, that return to form comes across slightly differently. The game should feel like playing an old friend who you’ve not seen in a while and has got himself a new suit and exercise regime in the meantime.

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And it does – but the problem is that the game actually isn’t the old friend you expect it to be. It isn’t Most Wanted, it’s Burnout Paradise. It’s always embarrassing when you greet someone with the wrong name; when you realise that that’s Jenny, not Kevin – and that’s kind of what happened when we played NFS: Undercover.

Need for Speed: Undercover is a game about evasion, speed and beautiful environments...or it’s supposed to be. When we played it though we quickly found that we were falling into old habits and playing it as if it were Burnout Paradise. It’s pretty hard to avoid the police helicopters and so on if you’re more focused on getting the maximum on-coming bonus.

It takes a while to shift yourself out of the mindset and at points Need for Speed: Undercover doesn’t seem to be doing a lot to help. It gives you free rein to drive into the traffic, which is one of the best ways to escape pursuing cops, and it often encourages you to drive as recklessly and aggressively as possible, even giving you a few power-ups to help you out.

There are plenty of different mission types to keep you entertained of course and all sorts of parameters on how to succeed. One level we got to play for example had players stealing a cop car and then having to get it to a safehouse without causing too much damage. The reality is though that all the game modes are essentially races; against cops, rivals, or the clock it doesn’t matter; you’re essentially always racing. The problem is though that the racing never feels really unique – it feels like a clone.

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There’s nothing wrong with that of course – and the game is still incredibly fun judging from the small section that we got to play. The cars still handle great and you can still easily bust out some stunning moves and stunts; 180 spins, hairpins, wheel revs – the whole kit and caboodle of street stunts are there to play with if you want...not that they are all that useful.

Need for Speed: Undercover feels like a great and fun game already, though we do get the feeling that a large amount of that appeal is going to rely on how interesting the open world is. The fact that it feels and looks like playing another EA game isn’t a huge problem.

What is a potential problem though is that the game may have lost its feeling of being a street racer and unknowingly replaced it with a more comic, crash-based mechanic. That isn’t all that bad in itself but which may disappoint fans who come to Need for Speed: Undercover expecting one thing only to find another.

There’s still time left before Need for Speed: Undercover releases though and no matter how you look at it it’s still shaping up to be one hell of a game. With a few more tweaks and an open world that’s interesting enough, it’s possible that Undercover could be our new most wanted.

Need for Speed: Undercover is currently set for release in Europe at the end of November on every single platform available. We’ll have a full review and graphical analysis closer to the time, but until then you can let us know what you think of the previous games in the forums.
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