Need For Speed Undercover

Need For Speed Undercover is the latest in the long running Need For Speed franchise, which meant I came to it expecting thrills, spills, police chases and cars with spoilers the size of hang gliders.

So it’s a game about driving as fast as you can in a car with an exhaust pipe the size of a dustbin – but what about the story?

The game introduces you to the story by showing an FBI agent (who is female, fit and wearing a short skirt – after all, this is NFS) telling your character (an ugly looking man) to infiltrate a gang of street racers by racing, winning their respect and generally getting in with them. That, as far as I can tell, is the story in all of it’s (pointless) glory.

Then the game starts, leaving you blinking and bewildered like a fish that has been teleported into the middle of the Mojave Desert in August. There are no indicators explaining to you what exactly it is you need to do, but there you are, in a car sitting in the middle of a sizeable city, and you can go where you want. This game offers up a free-roaming city to cause chaos in in the same way that Burnout Paradise does, and in a similar way to Burnout, you drive around the city and find races to perform in. You use the standard L2/R2 buttons to brake and accelerate like most driving games, but to use nitrous is Circle, and not X as expected. I found out all of this by myself because the game didn’t bother to tell me… anything.

The game looks very nice, the city is detailed and interesting, and your car and other cars on the road all shine and reflect nicely. There are some nice lighting effects, glinting into your eyes and casting dark shadows on the track in places that are no doubt the bane of any poor sap who tries to play this on a non-HD TV. It sounds good too, with bassy exhaust tones filling the room with surround sound. So, the story’s a bit of a non-starter, but let’s face it, it looks and sounds good and this is a game about driving like a mental so who really cares about the story? Not me, so I ploughed on with a few races.

And this is where it all went wrong. 

To divert from the review for a second – several years ago I decided that despite having a degree in Computer Science, I wasn’t really all that interested in PCs. In the same way that taxi drivers probably don’t want to finish their day at work, and then go and drive their family around, I was fed up with the hassle of looking after and updating a PC in my spare time. I wanted to just have a computer that I could use for the internet and storing music and pictures on, and no messing. So I bought a Mac. Naturally, this meant the end of my PC gaming career, but I didn’t really care as I’m a console man, with a PS3 and an Xbox 360 gracing/disgracing my living room. One of the reasons I love consoles so very much is that I can put a game in the drive and it will work (well, not always on the 360 but that’s a different story) – I don’t need to consider if I have the right graphics card, a compatible version of Direct X and all that crap – it just works. So I laugh at people complaining that they can’t play Game X on PC Y because the frame rate is so appalling. I laugh. Frame rate? What is this PC talk – us console folk have no need for such lingo!

Now we do. Need for Speed’s frame rate is ridiculous. Turn a 90 degree corner and it judders and shudders along – it’s like watching a Powerpoint slideshow given by someone who’s eaten 12 Pro Plus – it’s fast, but not as fast as real life. I’ve read reviews before criticising the frame rate of popular games (Colin McRae’s DiRT was criticised for this on 360) and when I played them, I had no problems, and didn’t know what the reviewer was going on about. Trust me on this one – you WILL notice. I thought I was being picky, called over my fianceé to look at it, and without me even saying why I’d asked her to, she said “Ewww, that’s really juddery, isn’t it?”

Sad as it is to say it, that was basically it for me with Undercover. Drifting insanely round a corner just isn’t fun when you’re doing it in slow-motion, and you lose the feel for a drift, often causing crashes. I found myself reminiscing about Need for Speed: Most Wanted, one of the first games I ever had on my Xbox 360, and how much I enjoyed it. I was sure that that title didn’t have the frame rate problems of the new incarnation, even though it was three years ago that it came out. And as I never trade anything in, I still have Most Wanted, and put it on. It is a better game than Undercover. Undercover looks nicer (at least in screenshots) but Most Wanted is almost exactly the same game, plus it’s actually more fun and doesn’t stutter like Michael Palin in A Fish Called Wanda.







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