Review: Need for Speed Underground 2


There you are, picking through old games at the local shop or clicking through the bargain pages of a web site.  Either way, you come across Need for Speed Underground 2 (the version for the PS2 and X-Box is being discussed here, though it also came out for Windows and the GameCube; as far as I’m aware, the main differences are that the Windows version allows to save the magazine photos), and you’re pondering picking it up.  Sure, you can go off of reviews written when the game was new—but what was great as piping-hot chimichangas then may be trifling better than refried dog food now.  So how’s one to know?  That’s what I’m here for.

Developed by E.A. Canada and published by E.A. Games, it was originally released late-‘Oh-Four to generally good reviews.  The GameCube version wasn’t received as well, and the hand-held version certainly wasn’t, but a lot of the reason for both can be chalked up to data storage limitations.

Underground 2 marks an interesting time in the franchise.  It was the first to offer a full world to just explore and drive around in, where the former titles were very much going solely from race to race.  You can also see the influence from The Fast and the Furious and its sequel had on it, from the overall feel to the world to some of the races.

One of the worst aspects of the game by far, though, is the product placement.  No matter what good things can be said about the game, the product placement goes beyond merely irritating and straight into the territory of ludicrous.  The cars are obvious exceptions; the cars being officially licensed versions of real cars is a selling point, and a good one at that.  No, we’re talking about things like not being able to roll three blocks without seeing a humongous billboard for Burger King or Best Buy, and the pre-AT&T Cingular Wireless logo being constantly on the screen.

That aside, let’s see how fun of a game it is now, six and a half years later.

Game Play
When you first start up the game and every time thereafter you’ll get the warning against pulling the kinds of stunts in Underground 2 in real life that is one of the things the series is known for.  After that, there’s a beautiful opening cinematic looking over the fictional city of Bayview, highlighting some of the possible car-creations, and such.

From there you get to the title menu, where you create a new profile.  The name can be nearly any length, so no matter what name you want to put it should accept it.  After that you’re treated to what passes for exposition, then you get a phone call from a woman named Rachel, who basically loans you her car until you get your own (and calls you constantly for other things).  From that point on, you partake in races, buy your own car, and start moving up in the world.

If you’re coming into this from more recent Need for Speed games, the first thing you’ll notice is that unlike later games, this one is definitely light on the arcade-y physics.  That’s not to say they aren’t there at all, but there’s a distinctly more realistic feel to everything, from the driving itself to the usage of nitrous oxide.  In later games, nitrous would make the car go warp speed, and while that’s present here it’s only to a drastically limited extent.  It also doesn’t last very long for much of the game (late in the game you can upgrade it to last a bit longer) or provide a huge boost, making it more for getting up to speed quickly and helping get out of an over-cranked turn or the like.

On the other hand, nitrous gets refilled in a really odd way—when you do something “cool” like narrowly miss another car, drift cleanly around corners, and other such things, you refill your nitrous.  Conversely, if you do something like smack head-on into a “pedestrian” vehicle, you get nitrous deducted.  That’s a definitely more arcade-like mechanic, but it certainly works well enough.  It gets the player more invested in not knocking pedestrian vehicles around like pinballs, at any rate.

The controls are pleasantly customizable.  You can use the two sticks for steering, acceleration, and braking/reversing, or you can use the D-pad and face buttons.  You can also use a combination of the two, if you want.  Coming at it as an older gamer used to racing games controlled with pads that didn’t even have sticks or shoulder buttons, that was very nice indeed.  Being somewhat used to modern racers, I kind of flip-flopped between the D-pad and left stick for steering, but I never really got the hang of using the right stick for acceleration and braking/reversing.  That said, it’s still nice that the option is there for those who are more comfortable with such a set-up.

One thing I really like about the controls is that the loading screen with the controls on it changes to reflect how you altered the control scheme.  It’s a comparably small thing, really, but one that’s wonderful.  For those who tend to alter the control scheme for greater comfort and ease of use, I would imagine many would get frustrated not remembering exactly what does what, and the control display on loading screens is no help, so you have to take additional time to dig through the pause menu to remind yourself.

Also unlike later games, there are no police to worry about.  While that does shorten the length of the game a little, it’s not really a bad thing in itself.  You can enjoy just whizzing through the streets at a hundred miles an hour (or a hundred and sixty kilometers an hour for readers outside the United States) without worrying about having your car taken away if you get cornered by the police.

With no police, you focus on two things—racing and making your car prettier.  We’ll get to the prettiness in a bit, but for races, you have six types: Circuit, Drift, Sprint, Street X, Drag, and U.R.L.s.

Circuit races are set on an enclosed loop of sorts, and you normally have to race around it for two or three laps.  Whoever is first at the end wins.  The tracks are set of various configurations of various city streets, as usual with other roads blocked by walls of glowing arrows.

Drift races are similar to Drift races found in later games in that the physics are a bit different, to let your car skid more easily.  You “drift” around corners, and whoever has the most points wins.  Interestingly, unlike later games, many of these are on enclosed tracks with three opponents.  Ostensibly you’re supposed to race with them, bashing into them to keep them from getting good scores while at the same time keeping them from bashing into you for the same reason.  The reason for the bashing is that if you smack into anything during a drift—a wall, an opponent, whatever—you lose whatever points you’d accumulated in that drift.  E.G., if you’re got a combo of twenty thousand points going for one drift and you crash into a wall, those points go away.

Really, though, there’s no need to worry about the other opponents.  It’s easy enough to get insane points for most of the races, so all you need to do is hang behind the pack for a bit and let them fight amongst themselves.  Though, E.A. Canada seems to have thought of this, too—when someone crosses the finish line after however many laps (usually three or four) there’s a count-down of thirty seconds, which is the time you have to get to the finish line as well.  You either drift on small tracks with the opponents or through mountain roads alone, the latter meaning you have to contend with traffic.

Sprint races take place on city streets, and involve getting from one point to another as fast as possible.

Street X races take place on similar tracks to early Drift races.  They’re very small courses, filled with tight turns.  These tend to be a bit more difficult, since on Sprint and Circuit races, you have long stretches of, well, not quite straight-ways, but shall we say straight-enough-ways to really put your car’s horsepower to use.

Drag races are the oddballs of the bunch.  While Drift races alter your car’s physics somewhat, the Drag races really take the cake.  It’s you against three other racers, and steering is more or less taken away from you.  You change lanes by tapping in the direction, and regardless of whether you’d selected a manual or automatic transmission before, you have to worry about changing gears.  On top of that, there are usually obstacles in the way—whether stationary on some closed tracks, or pedestrian vehicles on tracks based on the city’s streets.  These tend to be the polarizing races—some gamers hate them, some are fine with them.

The last of the lot are the U.R.L. races, which, no, isn’t something you look up on your web browser (cheap joke, but hey—cheap laughs are good laughs, I always say).  It stands for Underground Racing League, and the races take place on closed tracks, typically in the airport.  The number of laps varies, but usually four or five, and sometimes you have to race a second time on another track.  You get a lot of money for these races, and they’re usually milestones, races you need to complete to continue.

The “reason” you have to worry about U.R.L. races is because of your sponsor.  Basically, if you win enough races and get enough magazine/D.V.D. covers (more on that near the end of the section) you’ll get the attention of some car-related companies interested in basically throwing money at you.  Each time you select a sponsor, you have a good handful to choose from, each with different requirements and bonuses.

There are two ways they’ll throw money at you—a sign-up bonus and a “prize purse”.  The former is what they’ll hand you just for signing up with them, and the latter is what you get after you win certain races they want you to race in.  They’ll choose three races (which will get marked on your map as Xs of the appropriate color, and we’ll get to the map in a moment) and if you win them, you get to go through another U.R.L. race.  They can choose any three races of any combination of type, so one may have you race three Sprint races, another may have you race one Drift, one Street X, and one Circuit, and so on.

The key to them is to carefully check everything out and see what they want versus what they’re offering.  If you know your strengths and weakness when it comes to race types, that should be the ultimate judge.  If you have the worst time at Street X races, stay away from Sponsors who want you to enter them.  Also, however, note the two money bonuses.  The higher the sign-on bonus is, the lower the race “purse” will be.  Unless you absolutely need cash right then, it’s generally better to go for the sponsor that will give you the higher purse.

One thing you oddly won’t need money for is getting a new vehicle.  Sometimes a sponsor will just give you a new car, but otherwise if you want a new one and you don’t have any open slots in your garage, you trade in a vehicle you own.  Those are the only ways to get new cars, which actually isn’t so bad.  You don’t have to worry about money quite as much.  Related, though disappointing, is that there doesn’t seem to be a way to sell cars you don’t want for some extra cash.

A handy feature is the map—you have a mini-map on your screen, and you have a larger map you can call up by pressing Left on either the D-Pad or thumb stick, whichever you aren’t using for steering.  If you’re coming into it from recent titles you’ll miss the ability to just jump to a race.  On the other hand, you can still jump to your garage, and with the aforementioned lack of police it’s not like the journey will be dangerous.

On the other hand, traveling to destination can mean using the game’s G.P.S. system, which is basically a giant blue arrow hovering over your car.  On the face of it that’s fine enough—however, if you choose a destination sufficiently far away, such as two sectors away (there are five sectors of the city to unlock), it can take a few moments for the arrow to appear.  That’s really not terrible, since you’re not under a time crunch or anything, but still.  Also, it’s not like the G.P.S. system is mandatory or anything, but it is nice to have.  Some of the streets can get so convoluted you’ll have no idea where to go if you don’t use the G.P.S. system, unless you bring up the map every few seconds.

Another issue with the giant blue arrow is that updating itself if you take a wrong turn takes a few few seconds.  It’s hard to get used to coming from more recent games, where the thing updates itself instantly.  If you do take a wrong turn sometimes it will just stay pointed in the original direction for quite a few moments until it gets updated and points you at a new direction.  Yet another issue is that it seems to point to specific invisible spots in the road, and occasionally you’ll blow right by that spot without “triggering” it, so the arrow will continue to point at it.  That means either crashing into a wall as you’re eyeing the arrow or fumbling as you try to figure out if you took a wrong turn.

One more thing about the system—but this isn’t a totally bad thing, in a way—is that it seems to point you at really odd-ball paths.  Left-right-left-right-right-right-left—while that’s sometimes technically the most direct path, it’s not very efficient.  Thankfully later games’ G.P.S. systems were better adjusted for this.  On the other hand, if you do your best to go where it wants you to it will get you better used to the weird twists and turns of the races.

That brings us to the main attraction of the game, the driving itself.  As mentioned before, it’s somewhat more realistic than in later titles.  Arcade physics are still present, but mainly in crashes as far as the driving goes.

Each car handles differently; primarily, rear-wheel-drive cars tend to skid around corners more easily, where front-wheel-drive cars don’t.  Different cars have different acceleration/top speed factors, even after being upgraded in the performance shops.  That’s not to say that there is one, specific car that’s better than any other.  Most of the last few cars you unlock are actually pretty equal.  It just comes down to the player’s personal preferences and skills in driving.

Another different twist, one that was more or less dropped after this title, is the different class of vehicles altogether, the Sports Utility Vehicles or S.U.V.s.  If you purchase one you can upgrade it like the other vehicles, and if you enter races in one the opponents will be in S.U.V.s as well.  They handle about as well as you’d expect them to, which is more like a large boat than a car.  That makes sense, and is actually pleasant to see.

Aside from the official races, another way to earn money is to challenge random racers that ride around the city.  You can challenge them to Outrun races, where the objective is to obtain and maintain the lead as the opponent chases you, and eventually get far enough away to end the race.  If you manage that, you get two hundred dollars.

I find that the relatively low pay-out isn’t really worth the effort.  It’s not like any other race, which have definite start and end points; the object is to just get away, but it seems like you have to get quite a large distance away before the race ends.  Which means, unless you’re a very skilled driver, the longer you go the more likely it is that you’ll crash into a pedestrian vehicle, a wall, or whatever else, and the opponent will zoom on by you.

Getting back to the map, you have your races, your garage, and your stores shown on it.  Everything is represented by its own color of dot, which is also the in-game color of the icons for races, and lights for your garage and the stores.  In the map, your garage and the stores are represented by solid dots, and races are shown by colored circles.

For the races, around city there are floating icons with a certain graphic and of a certain color denoting the race type.  Circuit races are purple, Sprint races are green, Drag races are blue, Drift races are yellow, Sprint X are cyan, and U.R.L. races are a slightly darker shade of yellow (closer to gold, I suppose).  The icons all have different graphics, too, but the main thing you’ll be looking for are the colors.

As mentioned, your garage and the shops have their own colors, in-game as floodlights mounted high on walls and casting their colored light to the ground.  Your garage is purple, body shops are green, graphic shops are red, car specialties shops are yellow, performance shops are blue, and the dealerships are cyan.

Let me take a moment to say that the garage is where you save your game, futz with options, and other such basic things.  Performance shops are where to go to make upgrade the car’s mechanics.  Body shops will give you different bumpers, spoilers, and so on.  Specialty shops handle things like neon lighting, custom gauges, that sort of thing.  Graphic shops are where you deal with paint and vinyls for the car.

Anyway, the lights and icons are actually important, since you have to “find” most of the shops yourself, and there are “secret” races that are worth a good bit more money.  Neither the secret races nor the majority of the shops appear on your map, though the latter will after you find them.  I’m not quite sure what could possibly be the reasoning behind making the player hunt for the shops, but at least there are maps floating around the Internet to help.

Strewn around the city are two other types of icons: Cash and informational text messages.  The cash—icons with a graphic of a wad of money and of the expected green color—won’t ever be a really huge amount, but every little bit helps and it goes up incrementally as you unlock sections of the city.  The informational messages—bright red-ish/orange icons—give you tips and hints, though most are pretty useless.  They’ll say things like a body shop is in this or that general area, so look for the lights On the other hand, they give you twenty-five dollars each, so collecting them all, while hardly pressing, helps the money situation a touch.

The money is a concern because you need to upgrade your car to proceed.  You need to upgrade its performance to win more races, and you need to upgrade its looks to fulfill certain sponsor requirements as well as get magazine/D.V.D. covers.

The performance shops will handle the performance aspects, obviously enough.  In the performance shops you have quite a few areas to upgrade: Engine, E.C.U., Transmission, Suspension, NoS, Tires, Brakes, Weight Reduction, and Turbo.  You can buy pre-set “packages” which each include certain parts and can be bought for a discount, or you can buy the individual parts separately.  Obviously, it’s generally better to get the packages, but sometimes you don’t have the money and you really need one or two specific parts.

A couple of notes: Though everything else is pretty self-explanatory, the E.C.U. is the engine control unit, part of the car’s computer system (for a somewhat more in-depth look at the concept, see here).  Also, NoS stands for nitrous oxide.  The specific abbreviation “NoS” as usually displayed in the game is actually copyrighted, belonging to Nitrous Oxide Systems, and they put out a few other things besides nitrous-related paraphernalia.  The copyright issue is likely why later games refer to it simply as “nitrous”.

There’s a feature I’m kind of on the fence about, called the Jump Camera.  It’s something we’ve seen in later titles, but I don’t think it was as well-implemented, here.  Anything you do that’s “cool” or “interesting”, the view shifts to what could be meant as a standard camera on a tripod nearby, perhaps.  The game slows down considerably, as well.  To a degree I don’t mind it, and it is kind of interesting to watch large jumps, or really bad crashes into pedestrian vehicles—but it’s so jarring of a shift.

The problem I’ve run into is that you could be zooming along at a hundred miles an hour, hit a good jump and watch the slow-motion view—but then you’re quickly back to doing a hundred miles an hour and likely careening out of control.  I’ve lost a couple races later on because of that.  Thankfully, it’s easy to go into the Options menu and turn it off if you don’t want to deal with it during races.

One wonderful thing about the game is the complete lack of rubber-band A.I.  Basically, in some racing games, the scripting governing everything that isn’t the player’s car doesn’t actually keep track of the opponent vehicles.  It basically guesses where they “should” be based on various factors.  It can also make the races more difficult, as seen in later Need for Speed titles.  It can also be a way to make it a little easier, too, since the opponents stay within whatever distance the scripting says they should.  That means if you pull a bone-headed stunt and go flipping end-over-end into a wall, there’s a chance you can recover and still win.

Rubber-banding isn’t present in Underground 2, which I have to say is wonderful.  It means the player doesn’t have to rely on blind, stinking luck to win, but instead the victory is determined by skill and the car the player uses.  It makes it easier to actually get that skill, and it means even later on you can leave your opponents in your dust.

The trade-off to this is that when races are loaded, the opponent cars that are placed in the race are around on-par with your own vehicle, and the A.I. governing them is more or less where the scripting expects the player’s skill to be at that point in the game.

That makes certain races more difficult, but not in a bad way.  The Street X races, for example, being on such a small track with usually very tight turns, will see you jockeying for lead.  Especially later in the game, you’ll end up winning by a few tenths of a second—if even that much.  Same with the other short races.  Thankfully, with the Circuit and Sprint tracks being so long, you have plenty of room to get away from the opponents.

That’s actually a good thing, and leads us to the third-to-last thing to mention—Reputation.  You need a certain amount of Reputation to unlock U.R.L. races, magazine/D.V.D. covers, and such.  You earn Reputation by completing races—but it’s not the completion that really gives you the points.  It’s by how much you win.  Come in first by a few tenths of a second, and you’ll earn a small amount.  Win by thirty or forty seconds, or more, and you’ll earn a lot.  That’s easier on the larger tracks, obviously.

The second-to-last thing to mention are the magazine/D.V.D. covers and how you get them.  Every now and then, you’ll be told to meet such-and-such reporter or the like.  Zip across town and you can either take a picture of your car right then and there, or you have to race across town under a time limit to meet the person.  Either way, the prettier your car is, the more money you get as a reward.

You know how pretty your car is as vehicles are rated on a one-to-ten scale based solely on aesthetics.  You unlock paint and vinyl types as you progress, and using the most recently-unlocked items, and a lot of them, will net you a higher rating.  Most things don’t give a full point, however; usually you’ll earn tenths of a point, a third of a point, and so on.

To do that you do things like apply carbon fiber hoods, spoilers, and so on.  I don’t like carbon fiber parts, I admit—you can’t alter the colors and you can’t apply vinyls.  You’re stuck with the charcoal-grey look.  Anyway, aside from the prettiness affecting how much money you get, some covers are unlocked only by reaching a certain part of the scale in the first place.  Rachel will tell you what your rating has to be, then it’s up to you to get your car to that point.

The last thing to mention, and one that kind of cuts down on the action is that there is a lot of loading involved.  Whether it’s races (which you’ll be entering often) or the shops (which you’ll also be entering often), you’ll run into a lot of load screens.

Thinking about load screens, there are quite a few—they show the controls, or a tip, or whatever else.  A decent amount of the tips aren’t all that useful once you play for a bit, but they’re still nice in case you need them.  Unfortunately there’s no way to cycle through them.

Story
The reason for you to do everything in the game—I won’t dignify it by calling it a “plot” or even a “story”—is simplistic.  Childishly so.  It’s essentially continuing from the first Underground, where you became a head man on campus, as it were.  In this game, you find out that some rivals basically destroyed your ride and almost you with it, so you healed up then headed to the fictional California city of Bayview, looking like it’s based on the real Bay area.  You start over as a buster and work your way up again.  Re-reading that, I’m really making it sound more intelligent than it actually is.

Anyway, the whole thing is told through terrible voice-acting over blasé comic book-ish static panels.  It’s not even campy in the fun way—it’s just silly.  It’s not like you really even need a reason, but to try and make some sort of vaguely “serious” reasoning when something as simple as “You’re new to the scene and you want to make it big” would have sufficed is just—silly.  As shallow as it is, it makes this section possibly the shortest section I’ve ever written on a game and likely the shortest one I will ever write.

Graphics
The game over all is beautiful, though the city is a bit bland.  The cars, specifically, look wonderful.  It’s perpetually night in the city, which does make some stylistic sense.  Like in real life, bright colors on cars tend to “pop” more under the city lights and darker colors are more subtle.  My favorite effect is the “pearlescent” paint job.  It has a more subtle effect here than it would in later titles, but even so it just looks pretty.  Especially when it changes the color of the vinyls whose colors you can’t otherwise mess with.  You can come out with some really interesting looks for your cars.

The city, though—it actually looks good, but it’s so low-resolution as to look bland.  There just isn’t much detail to anything.  You can really see where the developers tried for a genuine “city” feel, with each section having its own distinct look—but the fact that it’s all so low-resolution bites that attempt in the tuchus.  The main problem with this is that the low-resolution city is combined with the fact that it’s nearly perpetually night.  (The only exception is that, occasionally, you’ll start to see dusk/dawn, but then it swiftly goes back to night.)

It’s a problem because often turns aren’t easy to see, and walls can easily be mistaken for turns, shortcuts, or whatever else, especially when it rains.  I won’t say it’s happened often, but it’s happened often enough that I’ve lost a race because I slammed nose-first into a wall without even realizing it was there.  That it’s happened at all is a shame, making me wish they spent a bit more time on the city to make it distinct enough from everything else.

The pedestrian vehicles look alright; a touch higher-resolution than the city, but not a large touch.  There’s a decent variety of them, however, so you won’t run into the same vehicle twice.  You shouldn’t even see the same pedestrian vehicle for a good while after the first time.

All in all, the racing cars are where most of the graphical horsepower went and it shows.  It certainly isn’t a bad thing, though—the cars are what you’re going to spend most of your time looking at, after all.  They’re the focus of the game.  It’s a bit of a shame that Bayview doesn’t look as interesting as later cities would, but it’s understandable and really not much of a black mark against the game.

Sound
The soundtrack isn’t too bad if you like that kind of music.  It’s a bit eclectic, so you should find at least a few songs you like.  The downside is that you won’t hear much of each song.  Whenever there’s a loading screen, the song cuts out and a new one starts after the load screen, and as mentioned before there are a lot of load screens.

The only real problem I have with it is that one of the load screens—well, it doesn’t outright lie, but it doesn’t quite tell the exact truth, either.  It says you can go into the options menu and mess around with the E.A. Trax—which is technically true, though you can only access E.A. Trax from the main menu, not the in-game menu.

That aside, the vehicles sound fantastic.  They sound wonderfully how one would expect them to.  They’re distinct, from the engines to the shifting gears to the screech of the tires.  They’re simply wonderful, and make the game enjoyable to just listen to.

Replayability
There’s a ton of upgrades to unlock for your cars, and almost as many vehicles to purchase.  As well, out of the Career Mode you can race a friend in a Versus Race or random A.I. opponents in a Quick Race, but I think the most interesting feature is the one simplistically titled “Customize”.  You can take any vehicle you’ve unlocked, slap on whatever upgrades you’ve unlocked, all for free.  You can do it just for the heck of it, or you can use one of these vehicles in the aforementioned races.

As for the Career Mode itself, once you’ve beaten the game there isn’t a whole lot left to do—the only races that don’t end are the Outrun races, but they get tiresome quickly.  You can, technically, re-race in the others, but you’ve already won the money and Respect, and don’t get any more for re-doing the races.  That said, it’s still fun to just race around the city without restriction.

Final Recommendation
At first glance, it’s hard to like the game, especially when you compare it to later titles.  You can upgrade nearly anything, including aesthetic combinations that are almost on par with later titles, but the cars in later titles look a little better.  Then you have the abysmal attempt at a “story” as well as a really bad attempt at making everyone sound “cool”.  That the “cool” comments are given through downright silly in-game text messages doesn’t help.  An example when you start a certain race:

Ya knew it was gonna start so don’t look surprised.  This here curve kick is inked into your contract so ya best roll in first.  Sponsor aint [sic] gonna hang with a loser.

That’s a direct quote, mind.

So, yeah, the story and setting is—well, it isn’t anything you’ll be worrying about keeping up with, but that actually works in its favor.  It’s perfect for playing for only an hour or three at a time, and you can pick it up again days later without missing anything.  That also makes it perfect to be someone’s default game.

Also, this is one of the quickest reviews I’ve ever written.  I just couldn’t help but devote more time to playing.  I enjoyed the game immensely—it’s fair in its treatment of the player, the city is huge with a lot to see, and there is so much you can do both in and out of career mode—that I ended up playing through it in only a few days.  I had to restart races now and then, sure, but it wasn’t frustrating.  At least, not in the way later titles could be, where the A.I. is programmed to be a right pain in the butt.

The only real disappointment I have is that I have to put it away.  I’ve got articles to write, other games to review, and of course a life away from this blog to tend to.  Still, this is a game I’ll pop in now and then when I have a free moment, just because zooming around the city is so fun.

Scoring
Game Play: GOOD
It doesn’t get too much better than the driving physics here.  Arcade-y enough to be enjoyable, but realistic enough to be satisfying.  No rubber-band A.I. makes the races more enjoyable as well.

Story: BAD
An attempt at a semi-serious story done horribly wrong, with bad voice-acting and told through terrible comic book-y static panels.

Graphics: GOOD
The racing vehicles look wonderful, at the cost of everything else being low-resolution.  When it’s raining, it’s especially difficult to determine what’s a road and what’s a wall.  Not a good thing when you’ve got the pedal floored, zooming through the streets barely ahead of your opponents.

Sound: AVERAGE
The voice clips are silly; the actors are really hamming it up.  The music is alright, not stellar or horrid.

Replayability: AVERAGE
On the one hand, there’s not much to do in Career Mode after you beat the game.  On the other, the ability to create whatever car you want with whatever upgrades you want without cost and use them in Quick Races and Versus Races is great.

Final: GOOD
It’s simply a great game.  It encourages the player to become more skilled, but makes that easy to the point of being intuitive, nearly subconscious.  The lack of scurrilous A.I. scripting means that there’s less frustration, which leads to more enjoyment.

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