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Need for Speed Undercover
PC Games, XBox 360, Playstation 3

Reviewed on: XBox 360

EA Black Box
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Rated: "T" for Teen

CHEATfactor Game Review
by Joe Sinicki

Audio/Visual: 6
Gameplay: 5
Lasting Appeal: 5
Overall: 6
CHEATfactor: 6
In recent years, the Need For Speed series has been going through what you could call an identity crisis. The last few titles have been a mix of track style and open world gameplay, incredibly cheesy cut scenes and action sequences that would even make the Die Hard movies blush. Need for Speed Undercover plays as if someone took all of these ingredients and smashed them together into one game. What results is a fun and entertaining title that get's it fair share right, but strangely manages to fail, miserably even --  at the fundamentals.

Undercover offers players the freedom to cruise around the game's world -- the fictional city of Palm Harbor freely. In theory, the sandbox style gameplay should be a welcome change from the tried and true, point A to point B track race formula, but the developers seem to have missed the point entirely. Other than driving from mission to mission, there doesn't seem to be much of incentive to explore the city. There are no hidden missions, no way to hunt down opponents -- everything happens in a very linear fashion in Undercover. A number of the missions almost scrap the open-gameplay entirely by sectioning off an area of the map you're allowed to go. The true allure of these open world games is to explore, and sadly, it seems like Undercover is more interested in a leisurely drive. Palm harbor is a truly immersive setting, it’s just a shame that the developers at Blackbox didn't go the extra mile and take advantage of the setting -- especially when Burnout Paradise did just that in amazing fashion earlier this year.

"...this Need For Speed title was aimed at the casual market."

That's not to say that Palm Harbor is completely void of all life. Yes, the cops are back in Undercover -- and yes they're pissed. While the AI starts off easy going and fun, that quickly changes, and it becomes incredibly aggressive and frustrating. In fact, about halfway through, the AI becomes so obnoxiously aggressive that players, especially those new to the series may be tempted to put down the controller. It's not like the game is hard either. Apart from the enemy AI, it's a safe bet to assume that this Need For Speed title was aimed at the casual market. It's not unusual to beat a slew of high performance cars, with a much lower rated car. It's understandable that with the success of movies like the Fast and The Furious and the incredibly hot street racing scene, the developers would want to open their game up to a wider audience, but the uneven difficulty levels distract from the overall experience.


It would be nice to say that using the game's new RPG like leveling system helps deal with the horrid AI and uneven gameplay, but in reality, it manages to do the exact opposite.  This new system, which borrows heavily from games like World of Warcraft, rewards players for completing missions and races with stat points which can in turn be used to better your driving skills. These stats are also used almost as a rep system; the higher your stats, the more cars and missions are available to you. While upgrading your "driver level" seems like a logical way to get on an even field with your opponents, the game's AI seems to ramp as your stats do the same. This tactic of games adapting to the level of players has been done successfully in games like Zelda: The WindWaker, Resident Evil 4 and even this year's Madden; Undercover's system comes off as unfair and frustrating.

The leveling system itself is hit or miss. While it does add depth and something else for achievement point hounds to stress over, do we really need it? Plus, it's a clearly faulty system --  the game rewards players for winning races and missions, while it also rewards for doing stunts or beating record times. Experienced players will continue to rack up more points, allowing themselves to progress through the game quicker, while those new to the game may get stuck at a certain level.

"...the city looks amazing"

You know that feeling that something is so corny it's cool? Like you just have to watch it just to see how bad it gets? You'll feel right at home with the game's cut scenes and story. In Undercover you play as an undercover detective armed with the cause of taking down a group of street racers believed to be involved in an illegal smuggling ring. The story is moved along with full live action cut scenes  -- and yes they are as cheesy as they sound.  Some of these scenes make made for TV movies seem like Oscar winning works of drama. What's worse -- they often don't make sense with the gameplay. Say your partner (played by Maggie Q) tells you to gather intelligence on a member of the street racers in question. Nine times out of ten you'll be racing or trying to knock them off the road. Did I miss something? How do we get information if they're lying in a heap on the side of the road?  The story of Need For Speed Undercover is predictable and acted incredibly cheesy, but it's like a trainwreck -- you just have to watch them.


Standing still, Undercover is a treat -- the city looks amazing (the day and night time effects, like the sun setting on the city are downright amazing), and the cars realistic and downright gorgeous. However, it's a completely different story when things start picking up -- a huge problem for a game dealing predominately with racing. There's really no other way to say it --  the framerate on Need For Speed: Undercover sucks. In some missions, when there is an incredible amount taking place on the screen at one time, the framerate begins to crawl (especially online). There are many larger, and busier games than this that don't suffer from nearly as many lag problems. Undercover does a great job of recreating that sense of speed, but the framerate issues make these efforts seem wasted.

Need For Speed Undercover was a hefty project, and it seems like the developers tried to take on too much at once. Fans of the series should find much to like here, but major gameplay, presentation and functionality issues will turn targeted casual gamers and newcomers to the series away in a hurry. If you don't have a soft spot for the Need For Speed series, you'd do best to stick to games like Burnout: Paradise, Midnight Club or even GTA IV, who accomplish everything Undercover attempts to and more.


CHEATS USED: Add $10.000 Cash, Add Four New Bonus Cars

In most racing games, a code for a quick $10,000 would be an amazing boost, but Undercover uses a new leveling system similar to that found in RPGs. If you aren't leveled up enough, you can't use the money to purchase upgrades, skills or even new cars like in previous games. This begs the question, if you're doing all the work to level up enough, shouldn't you be acquiring enough money to buy what you need at the same time? The quick boost of money is useful for those who have spent some time with the game, but newbies looking for a quick route to the best ride will be incredibly disappointed.

The new leveling system makes an impact on Undercover's unlockable car cheats as well. Sure it's novel to have these great new cars with shiny new paint jobs -- but if you're entering in a cheat, don't you want your new car to be able to outperform those available the first time you play? Each car has a bit of a boost, but honestly -- you won't be able to tell much of a difference, especially after extended play.

Need For Speed Undercover's cheats are a bit like the game itself -- while they have their place, you just know there is so much more possible. While the new leveling system may add a bit of depth to the single player title, it merely hinders the ability to use cheats, and makes them almost useless.


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