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Need for Speed Undercover Hands-on Preview

Need for Speed: Undercover Hands-on Preview

Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Wii, PSP, PS2, DS, Mobile,
Release Date: 21/11/08

I’ll get this out of the way right now and say that, no, I cannot drive a car. Or rather, I can – I just haven’t ever since I crashed my first car back when I was in my late teens. I’d be more specific with the dates, but the head injury makes that a bit difficult.

Some people would say that this makes me unsuited to looking at a game like Need for Speed, but I stand by the fact that it doesn’t matter as long as I can stay informed on the topic and know about playing games. Besides, I’m pretty sure that I know as much about outrunning the police as the next bit-tech reader, anyway.

On the other hand, Peter Molyneux would probably claim that I’m the best person in the world to preview Need for Speed.

One thing that’s obvious even to me though (and I’ve been playing since the second game) is that the Need for Speed series has changed dramatically over the years, having a kind of back-and-forth between being an arcadey, open racer and a linear, blinged-out...well, let’s just say that the PC version of ProStreet didn’t really impress me, OK?

Need for Speed Undercover Hands-on Preview

Its successor though, Undercover is mercifully taking things back a few steps, closer to the awesome gameplay that was seen in some of the better games, like Most Wanted. If ProStreet was a damaged car rolling into the pitstop then Undercover is repaired and freshly oiled car rolling back out into the race with piss and vinegar replacing the fuel. That’s a good thing.

Thus, Need for Speed: Undercover abandons the set, straight-out races and fenced in laps of ProStreet and gives players back what they really want; a huge, expansive world to play around in. It’s a massive, realistic arena dotted with plenty of shortcuts, long stretches, hairpin corners and well-hidden jumps.

This return to form is one of the most pleasing things about Undercover and seeing the fences in ProStreet broken down so utterly feels so good that we may well need a tissue. The game is still bigger than any of the previous iterations, but by virtue of following ProStreet it actually feels much, much bigger than it actually is.

Need for Speed Undercover Hands-on Preview

It’s a breath of fresh air; the difference between the closed races of Burnout: Takedown and Burnout Paradise...but we’ll get back to those comparisons later. Oh yes, we will.

Undercover is returning to its roots in other places though, not just in the layout of the levels and the general free-roaming game structure. It’s also bringing back a reinvigorated story and a more adult, sensible presentation. Gone are the neon logos, cheering crowds and ‘R3act Team Sessions’ – they’ve been replaced by an actual plot, some Hollywood actors and a perhaps too-serious approach to in-game cinematography.

To help establish the credibility of the game though, these elements are needed and fans will be happy to know that the real-live FMV story sequences are back. Players can expect several kind-of-familiar faces to make an appearance, like Maggie Q (who I’m told was in one of the Mission Impossible films).