For the most part, the reaction to the last few Need for Speed games was the same: “Why aren’t they more like Need for Speed Most Wanted?” “Where are the cheesy cutscenes and the over-the-top cop chases?” It seems as if EA heard those cries, because for better or for worse, Need for Speed Undercover feels like Most Wanted.
In Undercover you play the role of…wait for it…an undercover officer. Along with agent Chase Linh, played by the attractive Maggie Q, your job is to take down a group of street racers that have somehow become involved in an international smuggling ring. The story is told via campy cutscenes that fail to capture the charm of Most Wanted thanks to uninteresting characters and a predictable plot. Having a story provides incentive to make it through race after race, but the whole “this is cheesy so it’s cool” thing feels kind of forced this time around.
Like many other Need for Speed games, all of your racing will take place on the streets of a fictitious open-world city–here it’s the Tri-City Bay area. You’ll start with a lousy vehicle, but it won’t be long before you’re able to snag a pink slip to a nicer ride. As you progress you’ll earn cash, which can be used to unlock (50+) new vehicles from manufacturers such as Nissan, Dodge, Cadillac, Ford, Porsche, Lamborghini, BMW, Aston Martin, Mitsubishi, and more. If you’re into tuning individual aspects of your ride or purchasing individual parts you can do that, but if you’re not into tinkering you can purchase an upgrade package and be on your way.
Not only will you earn money for winning an event, you’ll earn driving points for dominating it–basically beating it really, really bad. You can power up a number of your driving attributes, but they don’t have a noticeable effect on how your car handles. As long as you drive fast you’ll probably dominate, but there are occasional races where you’ll totally obliterate the time needed to dominate an event, but you’ll still lose to the CPU. The game also encourages you to drive with style and drift, draft, and drive really close to other cars, but other than increasing your nitrous there’s little to gain from doing so. That said, the new J-Turn mechanic, which lets you bust quick 180s, is invaluable when chasing down rivals or evading the cops. You’ll use it because it’s useful, though, not because it gets you heroic driving points.