With Need for Speed made EA a video game series that went through both highs and lows. Almost every player has probably had a part of the racing game series in their fingers and connects their very own memories and experiences with the racers. So it is not surprising that opinions on the subject of "the best need for speed" sometimes drift apart. EA Canada developed the first part of the series in 1994 together with the US car magazine "Road & Track". EA's editorial team provided EA with the data of real cars for their virtual copies and thus laid the foundation for the new racing game series, which played like a simulation in the first part.
From the second title onwards, EA decided to focus more on Arcade gameplay, which is why Need for Speed is hardly known as a realistic racing simulation today. The more obvious associations with the hit streak are illegal car racing, car chases, and car tuning. On the one hand, that wasn't always the case, and on the other, it also varies from title to title. It was only Need for Speed: Underground from 2003 that introduced extensive tuning as the seventh part of the series (which until then had been reserved for the NFS Porsche offshoot), but completely dispensed with police operations.
With Underground EA wanted to swim along on the wave of success of The Fast and the Furious and borrowed a lot of playful ideas from there. The car line-up therefore mainly consists of Asian racing cars, drift and drag races join the usual racing modes, pretty, lightly clad women stand at the starting lines and a groovy soundtrack ensures constant sound. Together, that makes a wonderfully illegal racing scene. But underground is still not considered the most popular need for speed. It was only Underground 2 in 2004 that won the majority of players' hearts and is still widely regarded as the highlight of the entire series. But is it really still the arcade revelation that many fans have saved it as in their memories?
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Source: PC Games
As in all other car racing games, you drive in Need for Speed Underground 2 (buy now) Race with the stipulation that you should be the first to cross the finish line. The plot, told via comic panels, takes place six months after the first part, in which the protagonist was last rammed by a Hummer H2 (a really fat car). This type of presentation is definitely a matter of taste, even after 16 years the good setting of the fun racer is definitely surprising. In a new, again fictional town called Bayview you will now meet Caleb Reece, the driver of the said bad luck charm. He wants to bring the local racing scene under his control by manipulating sponsorship contracts. In the course of the game you will compete against several members of his gang "The Wraiths", including Nikki Morris, who will switch to your side after losing several times to you.
In the end, you can even measure yourself against Caleb Reese personally to make it clear once and for all who the best driver is. At the beginning of the game you don't know anything about it, you are greeted by an open game world. For the first time you don't start any races from your garage, but move freely in the city of Bayview. You cannot take leisurely walks like in GTA, because you are permanently at the steering wheel of your car. However, you do not have your own car at first, because it was wrecked in the last part and obviously the protagonist has not bought a new one until the beginning of the game. Fortunately, you get a car loaned from the mysterious Rachel to get you started and can take it to the nearest car dealer, where you can buy a new one. Incidentally, with Rachel's souped-up tuning box – a poison green Nissan 350Z – you can optionally drive three races before saying goodbye to the car forever and buying a monochrome, untuned production car off the shelf
Source: PC Games
You can choose from several cars between Toyota, Nissan, Mazda and many other manufacturers. The selection at the beginning is limited to rather poor companions, but these do their job for the beginning. Since nothing can be done without money anyway, you have to start the next best race in the open city and can bag your first victory after a few attempts at the latest. Unfortunately, your driving skills are not always decisive for success. The races are held in the middle of the city and the corresponding city traffic. Since some paths are not visible in advance, occasional traffic accidents are an integral part of the game experience.
Source: PC Games
The lack of a damage model is an advantage here, otherwise the paint would be permanently scratched. If you don't manage a race at the first attempt, that's not a problem. You can restart all races as often as you want – without any consequences, you can easily keep the 100 percent win rate and always collect the maximum amount of winnings. The hard-earned money goes into various engine updates, which are urgently needed in view of the increasing competition and the requirements of the various types of competitions. In drift races you slide for victory, Street X (Street Cross) requires the player to take very tight turns and in off-road vehicle races SUVs do not roll particularly agile, but they roll quickly through the streets of Bayview. Circuits, sprints and tournaments also join the racing repertoire. Outruns are particularly challenging. During the free ride you can overtake tuned vehicles and challenge them. The man in front indicates the way through the city, but has only won if he leaves his opponent a full 300 meters behind. In contrast to official races, you cannot restart here if you crash into a tree, which requires absolute concentration.
Source: PC Games
But we only get that real fast-and-the-furious feeling with drag races: on a straight and relatively short route, you have to shift at the right moment in order to leave the competition behind. It only really becomes real as soon as you use your nitro injection, a wonderful rush of speed that makes one or the other victory. Drag is not suitable as a first race, because the nitro system, like everything else, must first be installed for a lot of money. Refitting a car from scratch is quite expensive overall. Sponsorship contracts, paid car photo shoots and secret, high-value races come in very handy. The latter are not shown on the map. Instead, you are contacted during the free drive through the city: The caller gives us an area in which we must first look for the starting point of the race. Similarly, you have to find body and tuning shops using colored street lights before they are marked on the map.
Fortunately, each type of shop is available several times, always with the same range. The available map expands so much in the course of the plot that in the end you have to drive over a fairly large area, which can take some time. The varied areas always give rise to more pleasure than frustration. After all, Underground 2 has built a lot of lovely details into its game world. If we drive down the Jackson Hights, we look down from the higher residential area at the beautiful, illuminated city and in the sky every now and then an airplane flies by. In Coal Harbor we see factories and the harbor and in the city center we are surrounded by skyscrapers and hotels. One or two jerks are deliberately ignored at this point.
Source: PC Games
Source: PC Games
At this point, we refrain from writing a detailed overview of all the mobile pedestals in the game. The number of around 30 cars from Underground 2 seems ridiculously small, especially in comparison with the latest part of the series, Need for Speed: Heat. It was published in 2019 and brought with it almost 130 detailed replicas of original sports cars. At the Gamecube, the small number of cars did not matter, and after all, you can create a car according to your own ideas anyway. As already mentioned, numerous tuning options made it into the series from Undergound, the number of which doubled again in the second part. Front, rear, fenders and, and, and … If you want to change something on the car, then you do that. A decent paint job and stylish patterns should not be missing. Yes, you can even stick advertising stickers on the door.
Source: PC Games
The more showy the sled looks, the more style points the game awards. For every style star that you receive as a result of winning certain races, you can expect an appointment with a photographer who will put your car on DVD and magazine covers. A hi-fi system in the trunk and a hydraulic suspension provide the necessary fine-tuning to be able to show off properly. The functional upgrades are less noticeable, but no less important. Not only can you screw on the engine, but also tires, chassis and all sorts of other systems in the car can be upgraded to get faster, higher, further than the AI competition. To top it off, you can do your own fine-tuning for each type of race. In addition to adjusting the stabilizers, damping and suspension, you adjust the engine power at different speeds and weigh up between maximum speed and acceleration. You can test whether what you are adjusting makes sense while tuning on various test tracks. But if you want to drive another car later, you don't have to give up the car that has been lovingly adapted: the further you get in the story, the more garage parking spaces you get. The cars are also paid for by sponsors, so that the money you have saved can only be used for tuning.
From Need for Speed Underground, EA hired composer and sound designer Charles Deenen for the racing game series. After working on The Fast and the Furious, he now made sure that the cars in Need for Speed didn't sound as realistic as possible, but rather fast and powerful. Back then, not only were the original engine noises used for the right sound, but also animal roars, which were edited as a new sound track and placed over the engine howls. Bears, leopards and, in addition to the aforementioned tigers, pigs were also used. In Undergound 2, the engine doesn't just literally purr, growl and squeak. The end result can definitely be heard. A splendid soundtrack joins the engine noise. Lil John's Get Low from the first underground was topped by the Raiders-on-the-Storm version that Snoop Dogg recorded for the game. The song mix of hip-hop and rock was already tough back then and now brings back memories. Apart from that, the function of excluding individual songs from the playlist is very impressive. Because despite many fantastic songs you are never forced to endure the one, hated title.
Source: PC Games
Back then online multiplayer was still a rarely used function in console games and at least on the Gamecube this feature was missing in Underground 2. So we had to invite a limited number of passengers to our homes. In the split-screen mode, not only races were driven, but one or the other friendship was certainly ended. It was and is far too seductive to ram one's opponent off the track, who then thunders into a wall at full speed. Even if you want to play fair, the AI constantly reminds you that you are not having an afternoon wreath with Grandma. Pushing, driving up behind, ramming: All of this is part of the good tone in Need for Speed.
Source: PC Games
So how did Need for Speed Underground 2 hold up, now that we not only have access to countless subsequent Need for Speed pieces, but also great arcade racers like Forza, Burnout and Midnight Club? Surprisingly good! The controls took some getting used to, but after we had made some acquaintance with the wall and other cars, the good driving experience of yore was soon there again. We're happily looking for races on the map and suddenly we're in the middle of the well-known underground 2 vibe. A lightly clad girl waves the starting flag, tires screech on the asphalt and a rocking soundtrack makes our hearts beat faster. Yes, all of this is still convincing today.
Some game elements may look old-fashioned, the technology is of course a lot out of date and the once-huge world is pretty clear on closer inspection. In the end, that doesn't matter, because as soon as the rubber glows on the asphalt, Underground 2 is doing one thing above all: Really, lots of fun. And that's probably the most important thing.
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NFS Underground 2 was my early gaming childhood and the reason my mom wanted to take the console away from me.
When I inherited his Gamecube from my big brother, including his games, I didn't know what was in store for me. Besides Mario and James Bond, I spent most of my time in Bayview, racing one after the other. I was particularly fond of drifting tracks, it was just satisfying when the points counter rose rapidly and it still is today. How often we were late for appointments because my mother hardly got me off the television when I was eight, I no longer remember; only that the threat to steal the game from me was very effective. While I got very angry as a child when the AI pushed me into a wall, today I'm wiser, push myself away and only swear softly (well, sometimes very loudly). The excited feeling at the start of a race, the frustration of having to restart a race and the pride in my lovingly pimped and beautiful car has not changed since then. So the title remains surprisingly playable, even if the spectacle is graphically pretty muddy. My tried and tested solution: drive so fast that everything around me blurs and nobody notices it.
Our retro special for Need for Speed: Underground 2 (1) (Source: PC Games)
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