The street lamps light up
the dark, winding streets like beacons beckoning you to follow it into the empty
districts where nothing but the swaying trees are stirring. You feel the
vibrating rumbling of your engine, gripping the steering wheel until your
knuckles turn white and from out of nowhere a pretty girl steps out into the
street with her arm outstretched. Next to you is a series of cars, sleek
machines that shine with the reflections of the street lamps and moonlight.
Then the girl drops her arm and your foot hits the accelerator and off you go to
become a street legend or the promise of something that could have been a
legend. Welcome to Bayview, illegal-racing capital of the world. Welcome to
Need for Speed Underground 2.
Need for Speed
Underground placed you in some
unknown city racing for fame, fortune and the beautiful girl that haunts the
scene like an urban ghost. Now, having received a sponsorship and a reputation
among the followers of this illegal sport, you’ve come to the city of Bayview
(which smacks of Los Angeles down to its Hollywood sign) where you seek even
more fame. You’re introduced to Rachel Taylor (who is modeled and voiced by E!
television “Wild On” hostess Brooke Burke) who becomes your contact while in the
city. After meeting her, you’re off to make a name for yourself and that’s not
going to be easy seeing as the city is filled with skilled racers.
You’ll start your illegal
race car driving career by finding Rachel’s beautifully modified car in the
parking lot of the airport and then instructed, via a PDA/Instant Messenger
communication device known as SMS (Short Message System), to head out to her
garage somewhere in town. From there, you’re free to roam the massive city that
is Bayview. How big a city are we talking about? Big enough to house five
districts (Beacon Hill, Coal Harbor, Jackson Heights, City Core and the Airport
district). It’s so big that you’ll be using your World Map frequently so you
won’t get lost along the way to garages or the next race. You’re free to
explore the city to your heart’s content but seeing as there’s nothing out there
but near empty streets (you’ll encounter light traffic but no pedestrians taking
a stroll). You’ll pretty much skip the exploration phase of the game’s Explore
mode altogether because, baby, it’s all about the racing . . . and because
there’s nothing out there to see in the first place.
Rachel will quickly point
out that the World Map will fill up with colored circular icons that offer
various racing options such as Drag, Drift, Circuit, Sprint and two new ones
like Street X and Downhill Drift. You’ll find some icons that will point you in
the right direction in terms of garages specializing in car modification or
shops that specialize in just making your car look awesome. Either way, you’ll
come to learn about and eventually come to really love import tuning. Nothing
is cooler than outfitting your car with the latest decals, tears and changing
everything from the front bumper to the spoilers. You can even change the tires
and rims and design a really outrageous ride. Be creative as you want with your
car’s design (you earn points for visual presentation) but since winning races
is what you want to be doing you’ll have to modify some parts and add a nitrous
See, winning races means
gaining Reputation Points that will eventually lead to earning sponsorships,
your car featured in magazines or the cover of a DVD. The more races you win
the more money you win and more money means a faster and more visually
presentable car. Speaking of which, there’s a great variety of them to choose
from and they’ve even added this year’s ultra sleek new models like the Nissan
240SX and–wait for it–trucks and SUVs like the Cadillac Escalade (huh?).
You’ll even find a Pontiac GTO and my personal favorite the Mitsubishi Lancer
Evolution. The majority of the vehicles handle beautifully (the SUVs are just
too bulky to race) and even more so when you customize engine parts, tires and
Nitrous. This is especially great considering the road conditions change with
the weather or the type of streets.
The races themselves are
scattered throughout the map so one race might take you from the Airport
district to Coal Harbor and then back to the City Core. Each section of the
city offers different types of streets, for example, the City Core has freeways
that many of the race types use. A Circuit Race will take you from the streets
and directly into the freeway at a moments notice. The Drag races come straight
from the first game and they’ll have you push your car at top speeds while
attempting to make good shifts at the right moment. Sprint has you racing from
one point in the map to another while you’re being timed. Drift, a returning
favorite, has you pulling off stylish drifts around a circular track. Street X
is a no-holds barred race similar that has you doing anything it takes to win
the race–while it gets nowhere near as nasty as the Takedown mode in Burnout
3, this is one fast and furious race.
Control-wise, the GameCube
does a decent job of making things like power slides and nitrous boosts fun yet
what really pushes the game back a little is the Nintendo GameCube controller.
That’s not to say that the game will feel awkward, we would just like the
control scheme a bit simpler to handle since Underground 2 showcases
smarter AI racers. They’ll make fewer mistakes than the first game and they’ll
know exactly where the coolest shortcuts are (all of which make a lot of sense
since you’re the outsider and they’re the locals). And you don’t even want to
know what I think about the GameCube’s inability to go online (although the
split-screen multiplayer mode is fun enough to go up against a friend).
Visually, Underground 2
is both spectacular and just a tad disappointing, well, for the GameCube
version anyway. The streets are detailed down to the swaying trees and the
flashing lights of some shop sign. You’ll love how rain pelts the windshield
and how the drops dramatically shift to one side when you speed up. The
licensed vehicles are gorgeous and sleek and reflect the lamplights perfectly.
Yet you’ll find some nasty PS2 jaggies and that’s not cool at all. Lastly, the
cut scenes are shown comic book-style and thus making each one long and
uninteresting. Rachel Taylor looks like Brooke Burke so if you were expecting
full-motion video of her you’ll be somewhat disappointed.
As for the sound, the
soundtrack is all right but nothing really special. You’ll find hard hitting
tunes from bands like Unwritten Law and some hip-hop by artists like Capone.
It’s not bad, really, but I like my underground racing games to have a
soundtrack that fits the illegal racing culture much like Midnight Club II
does (trance, hip-hop, etc.). The voice acting is the weak spot in the sound
department because there’s no way on Earth street racers sound like Snoop Dogg
has raised them. The real underground racing lingo isn’t anywhere near this
(trust me; I’ve been around more than a few of them to know). Thankfully the
sound effects are excellently done.
Need for Speed
Underground 2 is a great sequel and
still one of the most addictive racing games true to the underground racing
culture. With so many fun racing modes and huge section of city to race
through, you’ll easily spend lots of time burning rubber in the streets of
Bayview. If you love racing and customizing your car anyway you see fit, then
this is the game GameCube owners will definitely want to buy.
As far as racing games are
concerned, the Need for Speed games has always given us an arcade-styled
control but with Underground there’s a bit of simulator tossed in for
good measure. The result is a too-fun-to-put-down racing game with vehicles
that handle like a dream (well, except for the SUVs). The variety of street
types keeps the game fresh although the exploration bits grow old quickly.
The cars look amazing both during
the races, during replays of the races and while you’re modifying your car with
all kinds of designs and customizable parts. The environments are also gorgeous
even with the lonely streets with no pedestrians in sight. Here’s the bad news:
there’s some jaggies and the cut scenes are just flat out boring.
The soundtrack is a mix of okay
tunes by recognizable talents like Queens of the Stone Age and Mudvayne.
There’s even a Snoop Dogg version of “Riders on the Storm” but it’s not good at
all. The voice acting is decent but the dialogue just tries too hard to sound
street. Brooke Burns is the only character that doesn’t sound like a skater
The challenge is on thanks to
improved AI and that’s just the way we like it. Long gone are the
computer-controlled cars that suddenly accelerate and drive ten times better
than when the race started when you near the last lap or the feeling that you’re
the only one that makes mistakes out there. You’ll be seriously watching your
rivals in this one.
The huge city that is Bayview makes
us feel that you’ll be doing some pretty interesting things while not racing but
nothing is further from the truth. Still, it’s a lot better than automatically
jumping from race to race like in the first game and you can pick the races that
interest you the most. Modding opens up dozens of possibilities and you’ll have
fun tuning your street racer too boot.
No online mode is starting to make
me weepy but the two-player multiplayer split-screen racing is still perfect
enough to want to share this with a friend seeing as you have many race types
Illegal street racing has never
looked and felt so right and with Need for Speed Underground 2 you’ll
find it hard not to fall in love with this fun racing game. Whether you’re
cruising the streets for races or hitting the shop to customize your car,
GameCube gamers and racing fans will definitely enjoy this sequel.