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Original Xbox Download  Need For Speed: Underground Preview Original Xbox Downloads

Need For Speed: Underground Preview


Xbox General
You’ve seen the surprise blockbuster, “The Fast and The Furious”, and its sequel, now comes the chance to dabble in the world of car-modifications and drag racing, virtual world, that is.

Need For Speed: Underground (NFSU) does away with the exotic cars and natural scenery found in NFS: Hot Pursuit 2 (NFSHP2). Now you take on the lean, mean heavily mod urban cars races in the slick night city streets.

I was already in awe when I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the early prototype at E3 2003 in May. Hence I wasted no time in volunteering to preview the game, immediately taking the Quick Race option to ‘burn some rubber’!

With a wave of a flag, the race was afoot. I chose the more realistic in-car view, where the screen was nicely uncluttered as the HUD is placed less obstructively at the bottom right of the screen unlike in NFS:HP2.

My first drive was smooth considering the distraction of the highly detailed city scene - bright neon lights, beautifully lit buildings, and reflection of colourful lights on wet ground. The feel of the drive is beyond excellent. The drifts round the corners made steering challenging but fun. Get those drifts in and narrowly miss traffic to score more points. There are shortcuts to be discovered, which can be used to gain advantage.

After whetting my appetite, I went straight into a career game proper. You are given a certain amount of money to purchase a car from a limited range at the start, as usual, more cars are unlocked with more accomplishments.

There are several kinds of competitions. There’s the usual circuit race (against time) and elimination race (last driver each lap gets eliminated) and new features like drag and drift races.

There are options to participate in various competitions, presented as challenges from other Non-playing characters, with prize money thrown in.

After racing the circuit three times (yes, if you don’t win, you can keep trying till you do), I finally got a taste of victory, and couldn’t wait to try my hand at some serious auto-modification! Alas, I was only restricted to some cosmetic modifications as I haven’t played sufficiently to unlock the real kick-ass performance boosting stuff! Nonetheless, I added a side skirting for the fun of it.

The elimination races are similar to that found in NFSHP2, last car in each lap gets eliminated until the one remains. At this early stage, these races are still fairly easy, the opponent cars are still easy to keep ahead of once you edge into the lead.

The drag races are quite easy to master as well, the objective being not only to out-drag your opponent, but also to keep an eye on the meter in your HUD in anticipation as to when to up-shift. I do believe the drag race will provide more kicks after car-modifications like engine-performance enhancements and nitrous are unlocked.

The drift races are a whole different ball game altogether. The idea is to score points by drifting (ala Initial D) and not simply just steering round the corners. A marked zone, about the 1/½ times the width of a car, fully lines both sides of the whole track. Swing your tyres into this zone while drifting and you will score heavily. I had difficulty bringing up the speed fast enough to drift effectively using the Manual shift.

In the automatic shift, I drove a tad better, but my drift isn’t anywhere near acceptable yet. The little video provided on introducing drift could perhaps provide a little more into the basic techniques of drift. Nonetheless, nothing a few more hours practicing couldn’t resolve.

Players who liked NFSHP2 will absolutely love NFSU. A lot of work has been put into sprucing up the graphics. The night city-racing environment is well recreated in this game with lots of emphasis on scenery details. I saw a MacDonald’s French Fries advertisement on the billboard, and I swear I could see a bridegroom’s suit and a wedding dress in one of the shop windows! Even the night sky has been nicely toned with grey clouds. Light trails from the cars and ambience lighting cast on the buildings emphasize outstanding lighting details.

The only visual ‘defect’ is that the road is a little difficult to see or differentiate, given the lights and reflective patches on the road surface. Perhaps it’s because it’s a night scene or perhaps I was testing the game on a small 14” TV? Nevertheless, it’s an easily forgivable issue.

Real driving physics probably wasn’t a high priority in the design for the game, thus resulting in a more arcade feel to the driving. One gripe I have is that when playing with the Manual gearshift option, I had to switch to my least favourite, the external view, because with the in-car view, the engine roar sort of sounded unpredictably dampened, thus making it harder to know when to up-shift.

On the whole, I definitely loved NSFU, it provided me a few hours non-stop racing fun. For a game in beta, I only have one complaint, HOW LONG MORE DO I HAVE TO WAIT BEFORE IT’S RELEASED???
"
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