Need for Speed: Undercover PlayStation 3
Published by: Electronic Arts
Developed by: Black Box
The Need for Speed series has long been a favourite of those who like their arcade, street racer driving games. For the last few years it's arrived just in time for Christmas and even though the formula has been changed on a regular basis, the games have proved to be enjoyable and a popular choice amongst those who purchase games for the festive season. Need for Speed: Undercover is the latest game in the series, and just as you would expect it's doing well in the software sales charts, but unfortunately it's one of the most disappointing Need for Speed games to date.
In Need for Speed: Undercover you play as an undercover cop. The idea in this open world racer is to gain a reputation and get yourself a wheelman position so that you can help take down street racers. To be completely honest the story feels as though it has nothing to do with the races in the game. Just because you're an undercover cop doesn't mean you won't have the police on your back though as they'll treat you as they would treat any other street racer. The game feels as though it's desperately trying to be Need for Speed: Most Wanted and it comes off as a pale imitation lacking the charisma and enjoyable nature of Most Wanted. Undercover has the usual race types and the cop chases but they just aren't enjoyable.
You'll start off with a poor car, with which you'll easily defeat the AI drivers, but as you race for pink slips you'll gain access to better cars and you can also upgrade them too (in a simplified fashion) using either the cash you've earned from the races or real cash (through the PSN Store) if you don't have the patience to earn cash in the game. Upgrading seems pretty pointless however as obtaining a new and more powerful car is a far easier way of getting more performance. There are certain driver skills that can be upgraded (when your Wheelman rank increases) and these bonuses will transfer to whatever car you're driving.
It's customary in a Need For Speed title to gently plod through the first few races and as the game progresses it all becomes more challenging. Need for Speed: Undercover bucks this trend by keeping the races easy throughout. I was surprised to find that race after race was just so easy. Whilst I do become disillusioned with racing titles that ramp up their difficulty level so much so that one error can put you out of the race, I get bored with games where the AI is just so poor. Even if you ignore the AI, it's difficult to get away from feeling as though you've already raced around some of the streets in Undercover. I couldn't say for certain that several parts of the Tri-City Bay Area, the fictitious location for the game, have been recycled from previous Need for Speed titles but it certainly feels like it.
It seems a long time since we reviewed a Need for Speed game that didn't have performance problems. Need for Speed: Undercover, for all the power of the PlayStation 3, runs about as well as a three-legged race horse. The frame rate is shocking and not even the excessive amount of motion blur can hide the fact that the frame rate is low and frequently dips. On occasions it even pauses for a fraction of a second and it's really irritating. As you might expect, all of this makes the handling feel inconsistent and if the AI wasn't so dumb you'd have a difficult time winning races. Load times are also on the long side but they are tolerable when compared with the frame rate. The graphical quality of the game isn't that good and the amount of glitches and graphical pop-up is distracting.
The disappointments don't stop there as Need for Speed: Undercover isn't subtitled. Deaf gamers won't be aware of the dialogue in the game's cutscenes. The saving grace here is that the cutscenes are actually poor and the acting in them is terrible and not humorous in the slightest. Any communications you'll receive whilst driving aren't subtitled so you'll miss out on those too. The game can't be regarded as completely inaccessible as you only need to the know the instructions for each race type and these are displayed in text. Still given the quality of the races and the other problems mentioned above, do you really want to endure a game that is also not subtitled?
I can honestly say I don't think I've ever been so disappointed with a Need for Speed title as I have been with Need for Speed: Undercover. The poor AI, the poor frame rate and the lack of subtitles all help to make Undercover a real disappointment. If you haven't yet purchased Burnout Paradise then you'd be much better off avoiding Undercover completely and choosing that game instead. The wheels have come off the Need for Speed juggernaut and the series is in major need of an overhaul. The developers need to start creating games that run at 60 frames per second and not be content with a frame rate that's so poor and inconsistent. Maybe it's time to give the series a year off in 2009?