Need for Speed Underground 2 Review

Need for Speed Underground 2 (NFSU2) takes street racing, well, to the streets. While its predecessor featured plenty of street racing action, NFSU2 removed the between race menus and instead sets you free to drive the streets of the city. Events and special locations are marked by color-coded icons on the game’s map and to activate them you simply need to drive to them. You can make your way to these locations by keeping an eye on the mini-map, or better yet you can use the game’s excellent GPS navigation feature. When enabled, the GPS will display a large arrow on the screen indicating the direction you need to travel to get to where you want to go. The really cool thing about it is that it points out the turns you should make to take the shortest route to your destination rather than empty-headedly pointing to the destination directly. You have to drive to your destination and not fly there, after all, and the GPS will get you there and eliminate all of the wrong turns and dead-ends inherent with the destination pointer in most games that let you drive the city streets. What a concept – a navigation system that actually navigates. I love it.

The city in which the game is set is called Bayview and the developers have done a good job of giving the fictional city a distinct character. The city is divided into five neighborhoods, each with its own character, be it ritzy, industrial, or dense urban. Each area is meticulously modeled and looks fantastic – so good in fact that you’ll be tempted to pass on the racing for a little bit to give yourself time to sightsee around the city.

That’s the good side of the city, and like real cities everything is not so perfect beneath the surface. As you’re driving the streets you’ll see only light traffic and there aren’t any pedestrians in sight. The city can almost feel lifeless at times. When you reach a race icon or secret location in the city you’re rewarded with a floating icon hovering above a hotspot. Even though you may have just pulled up to the start of an illegal street race, there are no cars, people, or anything else around – all that’s there is the lifeless icon. When you reach the icon you’re given the option of racing or not. Selecting the race button will take you to the race, but the race does not take place where you found the icon. This causes a bit of a disconnect with the illusion of an open city – you may drive under an overpass to activate an icon, but when the race begins the bridge is nowhere in sight. Lastly, the city is a victim of product placement gone mad. The billboards sport ads for real companies and you’ll notice real retailer and food chains spread across the city. While you can say that this lends an air of realism to the city, it’s really just another way to cram more advertising into your leisure time. Seriously, do you really need to get in-game messages from a national cellular carrier branded phone?