There’s a lot to be said for a game that understands what it is and doesn’t try to hide it; games which don’t try to over-reach themselves or are content to refine a specific formula without ever trying to push the boundaries of game design.
Despite how much we love innovation at bit-tech, some of our favourite games are the ones that follow this creed – games like Serious Sam, Painkiller or any of the Zeldas.
Need for Speed Undercover isn’t one of our favourite games, but it definitely fits this description. Undercover knows that it’s a racer and knows that it relies more on style and brevity than a heavyweight story or Hollywood acting talent, so it sticks to what it’s good at and that’s a good thing for the franchise.
The best of the Need for Speed games have always been about speeding through urban environments, dodging traffic and slamming into relentless hairpins with reckless abandon. Sure, the series may have lost touch with this idea with Pro Street, but now it’s back on the streets.
Style and brevity; these are the keywords for the entire game and pretty accurately sum up the entire game experience from the get-go. There are no boring cutscenes to skip through at the start of the game, no story that’s been awkwardly shoved in like an oversized suppository. There’s ten seconds of fast paced music and then – Quick! Run from the cops!
There is a story underneath (undercover, one might say), but it only really opens up to you when you want to tackle it by taking on certain races in the open, urbanised world of the Tri-Cities.
Even then, when you do get stuck into the story then it’s the same keywords that sum it all up. The story is predictable and to-the-point, but shot more stylishly than a team of murdered supermodels.
Undercover casts players quite simply as an undercover cop who must pose as a street racer and wheelman to insinuate himself as member of the criminal fraternity. You’re so far undercover though that the everyday cops don’t know who you really are and your only contact is the distractingly gorgeous Maggie Q who describes herself only as an ambiguous federal agent whose bureau isn’t interested in drugs and murder. Only stolen cars.
While there are truckfuls of races and events for you to get involved with, useful mainly for earning cash and distracting yourself from whichever impossible story-race is currently blocking your progress, you’ll get specific missions from Maggie to help move the plot along. As you work yourself deeper into the criminal underworld you’ll also start taking jobs from the very people you want to investigate – making it harder and harder to come out clean on the other side.
Each of the story missions is accompanied by a quick intro, and sometimes an outro, cutscene which is presented as a full motion video akin to Red Alert 3. Unlike Red Alert 3 though, which favours the camp and colourful, Need for Speed Undercover puts everything across in a slick mix of shadows and half-twilight which makes a lot of the game look as if it were being viewed through a mouldy bottle of Lilt.
Wait, can Lilt even go mouldy? I hope not. It’d be a totally tropical waste.