EA takes the Need for Speed series to the underground for the second time in as many years and has produced a winner once again. Need for Speed Underground 2 isnt all that different from the first game, but it features more parts, more cars, and more stuff and is a better game overall. It isnt completely free of problems, but NFSU2 is still a great racing game and stands among the best racers available on the Xbox.
Just like Namcos recent Street Racing Syndicate, the career mode in Need for Speed Underground 2 takes place in a large open city where you are free to come and go as you please. You have to find shops for things such as body modifications, performance mods, paint and graphics, and specialized mods such as hydraulics and audio systems. Once you find a shop, it appears on your map so it is easier to find. Also on your map are the locations of races and other special events such as magazine cover shoots. Not all of the races are on your map, though, so as you drive through the city you have to keep on the lookout for hidden races as well as information icons and bank icons that give you a little extra cash when you find them. There is also a story that pops up every once in a while, but it is so unimportant to the overall scheme of things that you arent missing much if you just skip it and get to the racing. Basically, you are new in town and you start off with a stock car and you have to win races to pimp it out in order to win more races and make a name for yourself.
Lots of Variety
There are several types of races in NFSU2, and they do a good job of keeping the game feeling fresh and fun. Drag races return in a big way and require precision shifting and strategic use of your boost as you tear down a long straight while avoiding obstacles along the way. Circuit and sprint races take place out on the city streets. Street X races are on closed tracks full of hairpin turns and right angles and precision driving is the key to victory. Drift races also take place on closed courses, but the object here is to drive with style and try to get your car as sideways as possible while going through a corner. Last but not least are the URL races. The Underground Racing League is the legitimate face of street racing and these races take place on racetracks that would fit right in in the next Gran Turismo or Fortza Motorsport. All of these different race types all feel very different from one another (well, maybe not the circuit and sprint races) and give you enough variety that the game doesnt ever feel repetitive. Not all of them are super fun at the beginning, but eventually you will build a car that can easily win races and at that point everything in the game becomes a whole lot of fun.
The other huge part of the game besides the racing is tricking out your car with all of the newest and best performance and appearance parts. New parts are unlocked as you play through the game and also when you find new shops. Performance parts such as engines, transmissions, turbo, weight reduction, tires, brakes, nitrous, and computers are unlocked in stages and you can buy the entire set all at once or buy parts individually, but it is always better to upgrade everything as long as you have the bank (which is what the game calls money). The appearance parts include new body kits, paint and graphics, wheels (with spinners if you want them), hoods, roof scoops, spoilers, window tint, different doors (Lamborghini style, for example), hydraulics, and audio equipment. There are a ton of different parts and options to choose from and making a hot looking car is a lot of fun. There are a lot more parts than in the original NFSU, and that alone is enough to make Need for Speed Underground 2 a better experience. Building a super fast custom car and then dominating races is very fun and satisfying.
It Isn't Perfect ...
Need for Speed Underground 2 isnt completely without problems, however. In fact, a lot of the complaints I had with the first game are still present here. The thing that bothers me the most is that in the career mode you arent actually able to make a car look the way you want it to look. Each part has points that contribute to the overall visual score of your car. In order to proceed through the game you have to meet certain visual points milestones. That means that you have to use the newest and the best even if you dont like the way it looks. That is lame.
The other problems are mostly little nitpicky issues that are annoying, but I dont think they really detract form the overall experience. The wide open city design is a cool idea on paper, but you spend way too much time just driving back and forth to get to shops instead of racing and that gets boring fast. Also, none of the difficulty levels provide a challenge simply because you can build an awesome car and just smoke everyone. And finally, what is the deal with traffic cars? If you bump them they slam on the brakes and you cant move them so you have to usually back up in order to get around.
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