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Need for Speed: Underground

Enter the world of urban street racing and high performance tuner cars with the latest title in the hit Need for Speed series: Need for Speed Underground. Take on today’s most popular tuner cars from Mitsubishi Motors, Subaru®, Toyota™ and many more, building the ultimate street machine by earning cash to pay for custom body kits and a host of licensed car performance mods. But just creating a custom street racing machine will not get you to the top; it takes a certain amount of attitude and razor sharp driving skills to compete in the tough world of urban racing.


Enter the world of urban street racing and high performance tuner cars with the latest title in the hit Need for Speed series: Need for Speed Underground. Take on today’s most popular tuner cars from Mitsubishi Motors, Subaru®, Toyota™ and many more, building the ultimate street machine by earning cash to pay for custom body kits and a host of licensed car performance mods. But just creating a custom street racing machine will not get you to the top; it takes a certain amount of attitude and razor sharp driving skills to compete in the tough world of urban racing.


NFSU opens up with you creating a persona to race with. Under this persona will be your saves, records, and customized cars. Each persona is different, and you can’t move accomplishments between them.

You use the keyboard and mouse to navigate the screens. You can tell that this was a console port from the controls, but it’s not bad. Most menus and selections are a keystroke away. Want to quit the game, just press ‘Q’. Go back a menu? Press ‘Backspace’. The mouse navigation is a bit rough around the edges, because it is sometimes hard to get the cursor directly over what you need to press.

After choosing your persona, you are opened up to six main menu choices. I’ll go through each, in order, in the following paragraphs.

  • “Go Underground”

    This is where the meat of the game resides. You start off sponsored to get you into the scene. Once you get past your first race, everything is up to you. You need to earn a reputation. To do that, you need style points and cash. Style points allow you to get reputation multipliers and get you looking good. What good is a fast car if it doesn’t look good? You also earn cash, based on the difficulty of race you choose. Cash will allow you to buy those necessary car hardware upgrades. More on customizing rides later.


    There are five main race types. Circuit is a typical lapped race through the city. Spring has you getting from point A to point B in the fastest time possible. Drag is interesting. You line up on a stretch of road, and instead of racing with normal controls, things change. You control speed, but only need to “bump” the controller left or right to change lanes. You have to use the shift controllers to time the perfect shift to get you ahead. Drift is a wonderfully fun way to earn style points. The object is to get sideways and slide as far as possible on a slick track. The last race type is lap knockout. You race a circuit race, but the loser on each lap drops out. The last lap, it’s a one on one race.


    The races are opened up to you in sequential order. That means that you start at race 1 of 100+ races, and go from there. Each race will allow you to earn cash, style points, and perhaps unlock parts or standings for you. Every few races, you’ll compete in a tournament. This is a group of races pulled together that is won based on points earned through placement. Better you place, more points you earn. The one with the most points at the end of the tournament wins. Tournaments have the best payouts, and usually unlock features, cars, magazine layouts, or parts to use. The magazine layouts are a nice addition, giving a sense of accomplishment.

    To give the game some character, opponents will challenge you verbally over your “cel phone”. This usually happens before a big race that unlocks something for you. When you beat one of these characters, you usually go up in the standings. The standings are based on the circuit, sprint, drag, and drift race types. You start unranked, and move up. By the end of the game, you will rule all four.


  • “Quick Race”

    For those times where you just want to race and have fun. You don’t earn cash, but can earn style points. Each of the five race types is available here. However, unlike underground mode, you can choose the track, opponents, and traffic levels. You can also access special “cheat code unlocked” cars in this race area, from the Rob Zombie 350Z to the Petey Pablo Celica.

  • “Statistics”

    Simply keeps track of your races, cash, win/loss ratio, etc.

Gameplay (continued)

  • “Customize Ride”

    If the underground mode is the meat of the game, customize ride mode is the veggies and dessert. Your car is your life, but the starting five cars can only take you so far. Once more cars start to become unlocked, you can choose to trade in your existing one for something a bit better. The cars represented in the game are typical of what people think of the street racing scene, with a few surprise cars thrown into the mix. Each car is rated based on acceleration, handling, and top speed. When you trade in your car, there will be a comparison to what you want to trade to.

    Enough of that, though. You want to make your car look good and run like a scalded cat. Well, here’s what you do. Once you get things unlocked, you can throw them on your car. You have two major categories, visual and performance. Each category is divided into three grade levels. As a rule, grade three changes look and run the best. It’s up to your personal choice as to which brand name you’ll use. Do you want Momos or Koenigs? GReddy or HKS? The brand names do not affect the outcome of races.

    Visual packages move your reputation into the stars. You can change your body kits, spoilers, headlights, bumpers, rims, paints, decals, and more. Body changes will be shown on the actual racing model. There is a plethora to choose from per grade level. Better grade level paints, for example, will go from gloss to metallic to pearlescent. You can add labels and up to four layers of vinyl to your car as well. During the course of racing, you can also get special visual upgrades, like carbon fiber parts and custom vinyl that you can’t get anywhere else.

    Performance upgrades will give you the edge over the competition. That is, unless they have them as well. You can upgrade your engine, exhaust, drivetrain, tires, computer, etc. Each upgrade package allows you to choose the brand you want to use. Again, this has no bearing on the actual running of the car. It’s just a personal choice thing.

  • “Options”

    Your standard game setups are located here. Audio setup allows you to control the different volumes. Camera controls the default angles around the car, and set up the frequency of the jump camera. When playing, the game will detect a stunt or impact, and display a close-up, slow-mo of the action. Your controller setup is here as well. Using the keyboard is just fine, because the control scheme is dead simple. You accelerate, brake, move left or right, and shift. The video and other audio setups I’ll discuss a little later.

  • “Play Online”

    Multiplayer is played through EA online lobbies. You create or use an existing account, log into the NFSU rooms, and then challenge others to races. There are no other multiplayer modes, which is sad. NFSU would be a great LAN or internet game. However, with the current rash of trainers available for the game, the online play is full of cheaters and griefers.

The racing itself is arcade in nature. While the race physics aren’t ultra-realistic, they are good enough to be fun. In all race modes, except for drag, you can not be damaged or put out of the race. Collisions do nothing more than slow you down for the opponents. You can be put out by a collision in drag racing, but restart the race and you are good as new. I have a feeling that because money is kind of hard to come by, the designers didn’t want you to have to pay for repairs, like real life.

The tracks are interesting in design and function. You get to race through the streets, but sometimes if feels too controlled from the barricaded side streets to the glowing neon direction arrows. There are some realistic aspects, though. Traffic sucks, but you have to deal with it. In later races, traffic is very thick. If often seems like they are out to get just you, but the AI players can be subject to collisions as well.

Racing against the AI can be a mixed bag. Like most EA sports games, if you start to pull away, they can and will catch up to you. They don’t necessarily race the courses like they are on a programmed track, but they are hard to beat at later levels. You have to hit every corner just right, draft good, and have no missed shifts to win. Also, don’t forget to hit the shortcuts, because the AI won’t. Winning at the later stages can be done, but it is aggravating to do.

There have been quite a few patches released for the game. The version I’m using for this review is 1.3. Kudos to EA, for they have been very diligent in correcting issues.


The world looks good, and there are a ton of graphical options to make it look even better. I can run with everything turned on and set on high at 1024×768 with no slowdowns or issues whatsoever! The menus are defaulted to 800×600, however.


The cars look fantastic. The models are spot-on, and your changes through customization are recognized immediately. Subtle touches, like the pulsing glow of neon can all be detected. Once you get up to speed, you should turn on the blur option. This gives an even greater illusion of moving at high speeds.


One issue I do have with the game is that everything looks so shiny. The pavement and buildings have a sheen on them that makes it look like they were freshly waxed. The backgrounds are good, but most of the time, you are moving so fast you will hardly notice them. Little bits of water and smoke make for good course effects, along with skid marks that will stay around for the rest of the race.



The game sounds great, from both sound effects and music. The car sounds are great. You can here the blow-off valves when shifting. Each engine on each car sounds different, from the whine of the Golf to the throaty growl of the Skyline. Tires scream around corners, while your car makes a nasty crunch when you impact the rails. Positional audio is good as well. Nitrous boosts sound off behind you, while the echo of your engine bounces off the walls of underground tunnels.

The music in the game is what really surprised me. The EA Games Trax selections are varied and frankly, wonderful. You get a full selection of rock, hip-hop, rap, and techno/trance. Some of the artists lending their talent to the game are Rob Zombie, Crystal Method, Fuel, Static-X, and Little John and the Eastside boys. You can choose where each song will play, either in the race, on the menu, or both. You can also setup up whether they will play randomly or sequentially. This is the music that I’d be listening to if I was racing.


While not ultra-realistic, the racing and modification aspects serve to enhance the sensational fun this game embodies. You can spend five minutes or hours playing the game and not get bored with the options that you have. The PC version is just as good, if not better, than the console ports, and it is also less expensive. I heartily recommend this to whoever is looking for a pleasurable single player racing game.

Test System Specs:

  • Pentium 4 @ 2.24ghz
  • Intel D850EMV2 mtbd
  • 1gb PC1066 RDRam
  • GeForce Ti 4600
  • WD 80gb HD @ 7200rpm
  • SB Audigy

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