* incredible sense of speed
* very easy driving
* easy to pull off stunts
* big story with video sequences
* from 12 to 25 hours of career
* around 55 cars (full list)
* around 8 game modes
* 3 online modes
* only visual damage
* simple performance tuning
Undercover, as you might already know, uses the same engine as ProStreet but with several modifications meaning that if ProStreet felt more to the simulative side, Undercover is much more to the arcade side. That however does not mean cars are all the same and drive as gokarts - quite the opposite. There are huge differences between cars, each one will handle differently meaning you won't be able to drive an old muscle the same way as a tuner or exotic. The good thing is that cars handle as you would expect them to. Highly powerful muscle cars will easily drift in corners, you won't even have to use the ebrake to make them go sideway. AWD cars on the other hand will have understeer, especially the Evo that I tried. It's handling could not be improved much even with performance tuning - which is limited to only 5 sliders this year - engine power/torque, drivetrain acceleration/top speed, soft/stiff suspension, nitrous strength/longevity, grip of tires). What kind of car you will use in your career is completely up to you, but choosing a old muscle or a modern exotic will give you a completely different experience.
Because the driving style is more on the arcade side, you will hardly ever stop holding the acceleration button. The fact that acceleration and braking is now progressive (it depends on how much you are pressing the button - analog control) means that you will only be gently taking your finger off acceleration in corners. Since the world design focuses on wide roads and few sharp turns, you will hardly ever be using the brakes especially because in the tight sections and sharp corners you can simply hit the speedbreaker button, which will slow down time and give you much better control of the car. That does not however mean that the game is easy to master - to pull off good runs you will need to know the tracks well as there are a lot of shortcuts and tricky sections of track where for example your car can get airtime making you lose control. But when you get a feeling for the tracks, you will love racing in Need for Speed Undercover. The sense of speed is simply fantastic, even when you're in a low end car when you pass 100mph the picture blurs slightly and the world starts flying past you. But when you upgrade your cars to tier 1 (the highest tier) or buy a CCX, Zonda or a Carrera GT, then the game really starts flying. One of the best things to do was simply go on the freeway and make the long laps through Tri-City bay. There is a lot of traffic so it will be a challenge just to keep going over 200mph, but the satisfaction of flying through small gaps in traffic at high speed is simply amazing. The way this game drives, is one of it's best features!
Heroic Driving Engine
For when you are not racing, but simply cruising around in free roam or getting chased by the cops, a new feature called Heroic Driving Engine kicks into action. If you have no idea what that is, I suggest you take a look at the Manoeuvres and Heroic Driving Engine video at the videos section. It is a set of assists to help you pull off stunts which mainly help you get away from cops. A little reminder first; in the video I mentioned Mark is a really good driver - the maneuvers he is doing are not as actually as easy to do as he makes you think. With some cars it's actually quite hard, it took me some practice to pull off a 360 on every car I drove. Also pulling off a 180 turn might be easy, but mastering it so you end up going exactly where you wanted might take a lot of practice. Camera movement will also help navigating when doing special maneuvers there though as it goes around the car to the opposite of where you are trying to go.
Cops play a big part this year; you will either be avoiding them in free roam, try to bust their cars in several cop busting career missions, or actually play as a cop in the online multiplayer mode Cops and Robbers. There are 9 so called heats - the higher the heat, the tougher the cops coming after you. First two heats will just be the civic cruisers, next two heats there are police muscle cars, heats 5 and 6 are police Nissan GTRs and the last 4 heats are Porsche 911 and SUVs. There are several tactics they will use, including an attempt to surround you, SUV's takeout tactics, roadblocks, spike strips and more. The higher the heat, the more aggressive the cops are. But there will never be more than 10 cop cars on your tail. If you take them out, new cars will spawn, but not after about 5 minutes in pursuit. After that, the heat level will go up and new police cars will stop spawning, meaning the half an hour or longer lasting pursuits will not happen. Again you will have to watch out that the cops don't bust you: get busted 3 times in a single car, and your car gets impounded. Luckily you can reduce your car's heat level by repainting it.
Apart from the property destruction, cop evasion and cop takeout game modes, there are also outruns - a race mode like in Underground 2 where you race a single opponent in open world but instead of the 400m/1000ft lead, you have to be in front for 1 minute. The classic circuits and sprints are back, so is the checkpoint mode - which is the same as Most Wanted's toll booth mode. Like the cop takedown, there is also an opponent takedown where you need to crash into AI opponents to disable them. A progress meter is floating above them so you can actually see how many more times you need to hit them. The star mode in Undercover though is the Highway Battle mode which is basically a one on one race on a traffic filled highway. Your goal is to either get 400m/1000ft in front of your opponent or be in the lead after about 1:15min. In my opinion Highway Battle is the best game mode in the game - racing up against heavy traffic and trying to smash your opponent is one of the most fun things to do in game.
The career itself should have about 200 missions. Only a few of those are story related missions that you will have to finish, the others are there to earn you cash and help you advance as you have to build up your driver reputation to unlock more career missions. Starting races is easy in Undercover: either you press down on the D-pad which will instantly launch the nearest race or simply go to the gps map and manually select the race you want to start. Career related races are also clearly marked on the map. Earning cash should be easy: you get around $6k per race at the start of the game, with the amount doubling later on. You can save that for buying new cars or spending it on upgrades on your current one. There are also a few pink slips event that will get you free cars. Except for performance and visual tuning, there are no other costs in the game; damaging your car will not require you to pay money to repair it. Whenever you finish a race your car will look as new again. Also except in highway battle you cannot total your car and damage does not have an impact on performance. To just get you through the career, it should take you about 12 hours, for a 100% you will need close to 25 hours. Getting all achievements should be easy this year: most are career related with a few online ones. Too bad for the PS3 guys: there will be no trophies in the game.
Visual tuning has been a large part of the recent Need for Speed games and Undercover follows that tradition. Once again you can pimp up your cars with a large selection of new rims, spoilers, hoods and other parts. There is no separate bumpers and sideskirts as promised earlier, but just about 3 bodykits per car. Parts are autosculptable again so that should give you a bit more options. What is new this year is the painting options, which allow you to paint separate parts of the car, and the improved vinyl screen. You can now see all the vinyls in the menu before you apply them to your car, meaning that browsing around the huge selection of vinyls (around 12 groups of up to 60 vinyls) will be much faster and easier. The vinyl layer limit is 20 again. That might be a problem as in the build I was playing there was no mirror vinyl button, meaning you had to put the same vinyl on your car twice to show up on both sides.
Performance upgrades and tuning has been scaled down a lot this year. For the upgrades, you will just have 3 upgrade packages and on the tuning side only the before mentioned 5 sliders. Cars are however divided into tiers - you can upgrade a low end car to a higher tier, but you won't be able to match a high end tier, like the Koenigsegg CCX for example.
The online modes will feature the usual circuit and sprint races (about 50 different tracks) and previously announced Cops and Robbers game mode which is basically a racing version of capture the flag: two groups of racers, one is robbers that need to get the cash which spawns somewhere on the map and take it to the safe spot which is determined randomly. Cops on the other hand have to stop them. When the robbers steal all cash or time runs out, the players switch sides. The online lobby has been changed as well. For ranked games there is a simple find match option where you just select your game type and the game automatically tries to find you a game with opponents with skills close to yours. There is no host in ranked games meaning you won't have to run the same race over and over - everything is done automatically. There is a 2 min waiting period if player want to wait for the game to fill up with other people, but a game can be started immediately if more than 50% of the players in the game vote on immediate start. Unranked games have a host which sets the parameters of the race.
Another thing worth mentioning is the AI. The AI cars finally do not feel like they are driving on rails - you can easily hit them sideways and they will end up spinning around. But that does not mean they can't do the same thing to you - quite the opposite, I ended up spinning around my self a few times. Also what you might not like is that the rubber band AI system called catch up is back. What it does is it slows down AI opponents when you are way in the back and make them faster when you're going for the top in the race. Whether you like the system or not is up to you, but the fact remains that in an even race making a catastrophic mistake early on will not necessarily cost you your win.
So what kind of a game are we getting on November 18th? There are a few worries about longevity as there are only 3 online modes, little performance customization, limited visual customization and a linear story, but overall it is a very fun game with incredible sense of speed and great driving style, a great successor to Most Wanted.