I LOVE the Need For Speed series; I have been playing it since its (and my) infancy. It's had its ups, it's had its downs, and still it comes back and sells in volumes. The last two NFS games were at complete opposites, whilst NFS Carbon was an arcade style game, NFS Pro Street took the simulation route, attempting to make the game as realistic as possible. For me personally I prefer the arcade style games, and I play Carbon endlessly, always going back to design new cars, take on my friends, mess around with the endless little challenges to unlock more cars. It had the one thing I love in a game - re-playability. Pro Street for me was a fun game, but didn't have that spark with me that Carbon did. Anyway, when I heard the new NFS was going to be open world, similar to Carbon I was sure it was for me. Of course it had big boots to fill, so I eagerly ripped open the packaging, and got started.
The first thing you notice in this game is its fast, as you are dropped into the opening sequence escaping from the Police, while it serves no strict story purpose, it allows you to be acquainted with the controls before going deep undercover. And undercover is straight where you go; you are a police officer, one of the best drivers and undercover officers the force has to offer. You and your side kick Chase (actress: Maggie Q) are charged with taking down a car theft and illegal export operation. Chase commands from her office, providing intel and directing you to the bad guys. You progress through the city, slowly taking down the bad guys and trying to find the head of the snake.
In order to gain attention from the gangs in a hope to infiltrate them you must participate in various events to increase your "wheelman rep". This is your level, and is increased by winning these events. In turn your wheelman rep unlocks jobs and eventually cinematic sequences as the plot unfolds. The first three events veterans of the series will be familiar with. The Circuit, Sprint, and Checkpoint, these are your basic races, with Circuit having a set number of laps, and Sprint being a race from point A to B. Checkpoint is similar to Sprint replacing opposing races with the stop watch. New additions are Outrun and Highway Battle, both of these pit you head to head against your opponent, in an attempt to either reach a certain distance ahead of your opponent, or in Outrun, remain in front for a certain amount of time. Out of the two, Highway Battle is the more challenging of the two, as you have to maintain your top speed whilst weaving in and out of the traffic, attempting to get 1000ft ahead of your opponent. In addition to these two modes there are police events, pitting you against the cities finest in one of three events: Escape, cop take out, and cost to state. The idea of these being escape within a time limit, immobilise a number of police cars, or cause an amount of damage to the state, the latter two also requiring an escape from the police at the end. It seems that these events replaced the canyons and drifts of Carbon which in my opinion was a mistake as these were some of the most fun events in the previous game, and far superior to the Police events in Undercover.
Finally there are the jobs, these are story driving events that you unlock, they generally involve you gaining the trust, or later on taking out the gang leaders, transporting package/car A from B to C avoiding the police. Other times they resemble the outrun or highway battles, but against key characters. Only once you progress far enough is it time to take down the gang members. Essentially you ram them whilst they try and evade you, the health bar above them indicating how far you have gotten. Overall I felt the jobs could have been more engaging, challenging and varied. Whilst its cool to drive different cars for the jobs, all too often I felt left doing the same thing as the last job, with very little variety in them or even an increase in challenge.
The police and opposing racers who some will remember from Carbon were pretty dim have had an AI revamp making them more aggressive and determined to catch you, equally the opposing racers benefit from this meaning if you get aggressive with them they will retaliate (if they can catch you). They also use shortcuts much more readily rather than previously waiting for you to use them before following. Slightly annoying is the fixation with the police on you. Whilst racing against 7 other racers, they still focus solely on stopping you, which can feel very staged when you get taken down only to watch the opposing racers fly past unscathed by the police presence.
One reason I always go back to NFS Carbon, is that I can play it vs. my friends offline. Nothing feels better than them designing the ultimate car, only to have it passed right before their eyes by me in a stock lambo. Tragically there is no split screen in Undercover so I cannot add this game to a beer fuelled night with the lads; which was one of the most disappointing removals from Carbon. Fortunately I can still enjoy beating children who have yet to grasp basic English across the internet! This is where I have another problem with the game, the cars don't feel balanced. Previously the cars were separated into Exotic, Tuner, and Muscle, each group having its pros cons, and best car, providing the cars were from the same tier, you could choose at least 6 cars and you would have a decent chance of winning. This seems to have been lost as I find myself the sole Lamborghini in a race full of Bugatti Veyrons, and having to drive a lot harder to stand a chance of coming 3rd. When reducing to Tier 2 you see a shocking number of Lamborghini Gallardos and this trend of predicting the car everyone will pick removes part of the fun, fortunately at the bottom end there is some mystery in the cars, but the game is too slow to really enjoy.
There is a new multiplayer mode - Cops and Robbers, the principal is simple enough you each take it in turn to be the cops or robbers, the robbers have to retrieve a stash of money and drop it off without getting stopped by the cops, points awarded for each stop and each successful drop off, before switching. Providing you have a good team this can be a lot of fun as you perform a dummy u-turn into 360 and watch the police car slam into a wall when he mistakenly reads your moves!
The new "Heroic Driving Engine" makes moves like J-turns, 360s 180s a lot more accessible to the average player, whilst they are by no means easy to pull off, they work well and feel fluid and natural. Despite the lack of a specific event, drifting is recognised by the game (you receive zone points for them which I will explain later) It is rubbish; brief sideways moments are not what drifting was about and do not feel right, and no matter how hard you try and how you tune your car it is impossible to hold a drift for more than 2 seconds, this is because for some reason counter steering (a key element to maintaining direction whilst drifting) brings you out of the drift. Therefore drifting can only be achieved by using the hand brake, which I find very frustrating.
All moves enabled by the heroic driving engine, as well as taking out opposing racers, trading paint with them and drafting provide in the zone points. These are recorded in a meter to the right of your speedometer and provide "speedbreaker" and nitrous bonuses. Your zone points also increase through clean sections (avoiding hitting walls) and having close calls with traffic. It is also reduced when you hit walls, discouraging you from slamming off the walls as it affects your nitrous boost.
One of the best things about this game has to be the cinematic sequences which are worthy of the hype created around them, the acting (for a game) is top notch, whilst the action sequences are sharp and exciting. The music suits the sequences and the game well (however I still prefer the carbon music).
Overall when not comparing it to my all time favourite racing game, its pretty good, with a compelling story good game-play and fun multiplayer, (Unfortunatly the multiplayer feels slightly bugged and laggy, and you often see other racers lagging out, but hopefully this issue will be patched shortly.) but it lacks the replayability of previous games and I feel that with all the good ideas Carbon had it could have been better. On its own a good game, but compared to others it could have been better.