Need for Speed: Undercover
|Developer(s)||EA Black Box
Exient Entertainment (Wii/PS2)
Firebrand Games (DS)
|Series||Need for Speed|
Heroic Driving Engine (PS3, 360, PC, PS2)
Octane Engine (DS)
Need for Speed: Undercover is the twelfth installment in the popular racing video game series Need for Speed, developed by EA Black Box and published by Electronic Arts (EA). It was released on PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation Portable, Nintendo DS, and mobile phone platforms in November 2008. The game was later released on the iOS on April 27, 2009. According to EA, the game has sold over 5.2 million copies on all 8 platforms combined.
Need for Speed: Undercover is also the very last Need for Speed game to be released for a sixth generation gaming console (PlayStation 2). Undercover is the last of the Black Box-controlled second era of Need for Speed games, although it is the first game to use the franchise's 'N' logo (which appears on occasion when loading and saving) and typeface.
Undercover features a new open world map (like the Midnight Club series) consisting of 109 miles (175 km) of road and a large highway system, making it the largest Need for Speed "world" EA has created so far. The game's environment consists of four boroughs: Palm Harbor, Port Crescent, Gold Coast Mountains, and Sunset Hills (in the DS version the boroughs are Metropolis, North Port Crescent, South Port Crescent and Riverton). In the Wii and PS2 versions two boroughs are copied off Need for Speed Most Wanted and put into different positions. These four boroughs make up the city, Tri-City (referring to the real-life city in Tri-City, Oregon), presumably a city located on the Gulf Coast or on the California Coast although the city itself heavily resembles Miami. The road system includes four water crossings, going clockwise: the Main Guy Causeway (Ocean Expressway connecting Sunset Hills to Port Crescent via man-made island), the Vale Causeway (Sunset Hills to Palm Harbor), the North T Causeway (Man-made island to Palm Harbor), and the Memorial Tunnel (Port Crescent to Palm Harbor). Undercover also features a new continuous highway system. In previous installments, highways were relatively small circuits concentrated within separate boroughs. In Undercover, the main highway circles Tri-City, with each of the four boroughs sharing a piece of the larger circuit. The longer highway length gives a more realistic shape, with long straight areas, gentle curves, rest areas and large interchanges. Lastly, the entire map is open from the start of the game, unlike previous installments where boroughs had to be unlocked.
The police system is similar to both Most Wanted (2005) and Carbon. It uses a similar bar graph at the bottom of the screen that moves between the blue "Evade" (shown as green on PS2 and Wii versions), on the right side, and the red "Busted", on the left side, depending on the player's speed and proximity to police. The "Cooldown" period after evading pursuing police units returns as well (shown in light blue), along with heat levels, speedbreaker and pursuit breakers. Also similar to Most Wanted and Carbon, police vehicles range from generic city patrol cars to federal pursuit cars accompanied by police rhinos (SUVs) and helicopters. Unlike previous games, the type of police that appear is not entirely dependent on heat levels (i.e. high level police can appear at low heat levels and vice versa) but more on the player's wheelman level (i.e. progress through the game). At a high wheelman level, federal police will immediately join the pursuit, even if the player was at a low heat level. Common police tactics such as road blocks, rolling road blocks, spike strips, and PIT maneuvers are all featured, although some are only used by federal police. In addition, the player gets to drive a police vehicle in a mission in career mode, which consists of stealing a Nissan GT-R state police car. The other police cars cannot be driven except in a multiplayer game called Cops and Robbers. In the PlayStation 2 and Wii versions, however, other than in the mentioned mission (in these versions the cop car is a Lamborghini Gallardo - there's no GT-R in them), the player earns from Chase Linh three police cars in career mode (Mustang GT, Lamborghini Gallardo and Porsche 911 GT2) after reaching certain parts of the game, which can be driven in a "chasedown mode", where the player has to arrest a certain number of racers, earning money as a reward.
A damage system returns to Undercover, but differs from the prior title ProStreet in that the damage is only cosmetic and does not adversely affect performance. However, a car can still be "Totaled" in the new "Highway Battle" mode (except PlayStation 2 and Wii versions) and in some missions in career mode. During these missions a car damage bar is displayed, which indicates the amount of damage done to the player's vehicle. The primary goal of these missions is to deliver certain cars without totaling them. In general, damage is automatically repaired after every career race or police pursuit, unlike in ProStreet where it had to be repaired by the player at a cost (either money or a "repair marker"). The damage system has been updated, which is more detailed given that scratches and dents are now seen on the player's car (which represent minor damage), or heavy damage such as entire sections of the car ripped off (like bumpers, hoods etc.) or large deformations or dents. Police vehicles can sustain damage but in a different way than they did in Most Wanted and Carbon. Instead of the damage being made up of static models (although doors, trunk doors, hoods, bumpers and sirens could be broken off), the damage models are now flexible, and each area of the car can suffer from none, light, medium, or major damage (unlike Most Wanted or Carbon where each area can be in only two states of damage, undamaged or damaged). Many minor hits to different areas will gradually make the sustained damage more and more severe.
The customization of cars is similar to Need for Speed: ProStreet but has been enhanced on the level of graphics and detail. The new color palette and the "matte" paint were improved. The game also features aftermarket parts like Carbon did. As a bonus, EA added a vinyl similar to the vinyl of the BMW M3 GTR in Need for Speed: Most Wanted that was continued as a bonus car in "Carbon".
The player can gain wheelman (i.e. reputation) points as they progress through the game's story by participating in missions, winning races or performing flashy maneuvers in a police chase. In turn, this grants the player access to bonus missions, adding a small RPG-like element to game play.
A few days before Undercover's release, EA revealed a few plot details. A video was uploaded that showed the player evading capture from the Tri-City Police Department (TCPD). Another source revealed that the player gets aided by Inspector Chase Linh and Lt. Jack Keller, played by actors Maggie Q and Paul Pape respectively, whilst also making friends with a character named Carmen Mendez, played by singer and actress Christina Milian.
In addition, six criminal characters were revealed, who are:
- Chau Wu played by Jack Yang
- Gregory "GMAC" MacDonald a former undercover police officer from the TCPD, who's gone native, played by actor David Rees Snell (from the television series "The Shield")
- Rose Largo played by actress Heather Fox
- Hector Maio played by actor Kurt Caceres (from the television series "Prison Break")
- Freddy "Nickel" Rogers played by actor Lawrence B. Adisa
- Zack Maio played by actor Joshua Alba (brother of the actress Jessica Alba)
The player is set in the story as a police officer, who goes undercover into the criminal underground of Tri-City, a fictional city where the game is based. The player has to take on dangerous 'jobs' and compete in races in order to infiltrate and take down a ruthless international crime smuggling syndicate, consisting of illegal street racers and car thieves. The player's only contacts to the police are federal handler Chase Linh as the main antagonist, played by Maggie Q, and later Lt. Jack M. Keller played by Paul Pape. In time, the player begins to prove himself an excellent racer and wheelman. As he goes deeper undercover, he ends up having to take out different criminal "friends" he meets, but mistakenly frames Chau Wu, a ruthless leader of a crime syndicate. Chau Wu then calls the player and tells him that there is only one thing he can do to redeem himself. There is a car stolen from the dockyards with incriminating evidence in it. Chau Wu believes GMAC stole it, and he wants it back. In reality, Hector and Zack Maio are the ones who stole it, not realizing who the car belonged to. Carmen, fearful that Chau Wu is coming after her, asks the player to take the BMW M6 (Porsche 911 GT2 on PS2 and Wii versions) from her, however, Chau Wu finds out that the player now has his car. He phones the player demanding the car back and will use Chase Linh as a hostage until the player does. As a result, the player takes the car to Chau Wu, hoping to save her but when he gets there, he discovers that Chase Linh has been working with Chau Wu all along. Chase Linh then kills Chau Wu and his henchmen with a silenced pistol recovered from Chau Wu in order to frame the player for the manslaughter and escapes in the car, taking any of Chau Wu's possessions that were in it with her. The police, thinking the player is the killer, come after him, but Lt. Jack Keller tells him to lose them and go after Chase. The chase takes place with Chase in a grey BMW M6 (red Porsche 911 GT2 With a vinyl resembling the vinyl of the BMW M3 GTR in Need For Speed Most Wanted in the PlayStation 2 and Wii Versions) which contained the money. Eventually, she is apprehended and charged. Later, Lt. Keller tells the player that Carmen testified in return for not being charged for any criminal offenses and that the evidence used against Chase Linh was Chau Wu's PDA, which contained information regarding the dockyard cars and other criminal activities. The player is praised because he went 'Deep Undercover' but still did not forget himself. In the last scene, Carmen asks the player to drive her to the university because she is currently attending as a med student. The ending song after that scene (credits) is On My Own performed by Splitting Adam.
Electronic Arts CEO, John Riccitiello, stated that the previous release in the series (ProStreet) was only "an okay game...[and was] not good" and that Undercover would "be a much better game". He stated Undercover would have a considerably longer development cycle than its predecessors because the Need for Speed development team had been split up into two teams, both of which would work on a "two-year" development cycle with future titles, alternating releases between them. Riccitiello stated he was "torturing" the development team with a tight development cycle in the past. "When this change was implemented in mid-summer 2007, one team started working on Undercover (giving it only a 16.5 month development cycle), while the other team (that finished ProStreet) would start working on the next title." Riccitiello also stated Undercover took inspiration from action films such as The Transporter, with a large embedded narrative.
Frank Gibeau (President of the EA Games label) stated during development that due to the fact that the sales of ProStreet didn't live up to EA's hopes for the game, the Need for Speed franchise would go back to its roots (although Undercover was already being developed before ProStreet). "John Doyle (Developer at EA Black Box) said that Undercover would feature a brand new game mechanic and a 'Most Wanted-ish' sandbox style of gameplay." The game was also provided with an all new damage system. Andy Blackmore (Senior Vehicle Concept Artist at EA) explained how one of the Porsche cars that was "conceptualized" in the game was then brought to life for the game from a brief description to being approved by Porsche.
Reception of Undercover was mixed. There were complaints about the game's easy difficulty, repetitiveness, and poor texture maintenance. The IGN review went as far as recommending the game's rivals such as Rockstar Games' Midnight Club: Los Angeles and EA's own Burnout Paradise.
The IGN review was critical of the PS3 version of Undercover giving it a 4/10, calling it a "poor game with a ton of problems" and with "practically no redeeming qualities". IGN also commented on how the reason for having an open world environment was lost because a player could only start an event from the map. However, the Xbox 360 and the PC versions received a higher score in contrast to the PS3 version in the IGN review, due to the fewer severe problems that occurred.
The 1UP.com review called the game only "fairly successful," but praised the games selection of cars and tighter handling on the vehicles. However, the "leveling" system that unlocks cars and upgrades was criticized for resembling "grinding".
In general, sparse traffic, wide-open roads, and poor AI led to complaints about extremely low difficulty, however, one reviewer commented on how this may have been a marketing ploy to target a wider audience.
The reception to the live-action cut scenes was almost universally negative, with many critics noting that the videos were poorly acted and lacked purpose. Many have even compared the cut scenes to a "Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich film". The lack of connection between the crime fighting undercover cop story and the racing game play was particularly criticized by IGN who said, "You ... run missions where you steal cars, make 'special' deliveries and things like this now and again, but you never actually see any sequences that show how the cops are putting the evidence together or anything of that sort. Chase Linh will tell you [what] you need to do to get on the inside of a racing group in order to get dirt on them, and then after a race she'll say 'We have enough, let's move in.' [But you're left asking: How did that help at all?]" Finally, the in-game frame rate received little praise, and GameSpot particularly criticized the PS3 version for this problem resulting in a lower score on the platform compared to the Xbox 360 and PC versions.
Need for Speed: Undercover has sold 1.4 million copies in the United States.
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- Official website
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