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Another Need for Speed game hits the streets - this time placing you as an undercover cop trying to smash the criminal gangs in the ever-sunny Tri-City. Taking elements of previous Need For Seed games and mixing them in a big pot we get races galore and the added joys of cop chases and take-outs. Add in the ever-corny cut scenes, with Maggie Q playing the part of your supervisor and its sure sounds like a barrel full of fun.
Undercover takes place in a Burnout Paradise style open world, but the locations are bland and uninteresting and I never felt like just driving around to see what I could find. Indeed it seems somewhat pointless to have this ability anyway as the game lets you jump straight into races with a press on the D-pad. I actually liked this way of doing things as I feel I would have been bored having to drive between events. The option of replaying a failed event straight away is a bonus as I was always annoyed in Burnout with having to keep traipsing back to the start of a race.
Tri-City must also have a first rate (underground) public transport system because the roads are virtually empty of any other traffic. While this lets you concentrate on your racing, without having to worry too much about T-boning a truck at an intersection, it does add to the rather sterile feel of the environment.
I eventually managed to get the Top Gear favourite Bugatti Veyron for an eye watering amount of money.
To move through the story you take part in dozens of events scattered around the area, with regions becoming unlocked as you progress. The events include checkpoint, circuits & races, road battles and cop takeouts so there's a good mix of different types. Every so often you'll trigger a special event such as stealing a car for the gang you're trying to gain the trust of and then you'll be back to normal races again until the next one.
You will earn money for winning an event, but there is the added bonus of levelling up your stats (Role Play Game like) if you manage to ‘dominate' it. This is done by not only winning, but winning big by beating a course time. You won't get to choose how your bonuses are applied and it was somewhat difficult to see what effect they were having - to such an extent that I rarely bothered to take much notice of this area of the game. And then there are the occasional events where you can totally cream the opposition but be as much as a minute off the domination time, or, conversely, beat the domination time but somehow still manage to lose the race. Indeed the other drivers' skills seemed somewhat inconsistent: easily beaten in one race, but then having one driver who's really hard to catch in another.
There are a huge number of cars available to drive, though they are divided into three tiers and you won't be able to progress to a new tier until you've won enough events. Once you've unlocked the tier you can take a trip to the garage and buy the object of your dreams (if you have enough money) and then either tune it up manually or, thankfully, buy an upgrade pack that either tunes up speed & acceleration or handling. I eventually managed to get the Top Gear favourite Bugatti Veyron for an eye watering amount of money, but found I didn't have enough left to tune it up and as a result it performed worse in races than my fully tuned Porsche! You can switch your cars at any point so I just had to drop back to the Porsche to win a few more events to be able to stump up the cash for the tuning.
My Bugatti and Porsche both have two marks and so I've become paranoid about driving them around in case I lose them
Unfortunately once you have your dream car it is possible to lose it again. If you're ever busted by the cops, which will happen if you get trapped in a corner by the increasingly aggressive police, you'll lose some money but also get a ‘mark' on your licence (for the car you were driving). Get three and your car is impounded! My Bugatti and Porsche both have two marks and so I've become paranoid about driving them around in case I lose them. I actually turned off the auto-save so that I could recover if I lost a car.
And being a level 15 wheelman means that the police have become really, really tough. You'll often get four, five or more black SUVs and other pursuit cars swarming all over you as you try to escape, continuously ramming you and trying to force you into the side of the road where it can be really tricky to escape as they all swamp your car to bring it to a halt. The cops will also utilise fairly ineffectual roadblocks and, later, stingers to bring you to heel. Run over a stinger and it's more or less chase over as you'll be unable to manoeuvre enough or get up enough speed to escape unless you're very lucky. Fortunately you get to listen to the cops radio chatter so you'll hear the road block tell your pursuers which side of the road to use to avoid the stinger.
Overall I would say that Undercover provides a pretty enjoyable driving experience, though there's nothing particularly new here and other titles seem to be pulling away into the distance as far as innovation goes.
We are thankful of the distance between life and art - the gruelling reality of the crashes would be too close for comfort had there been a soft fragile human cadaver in the middle of it all.
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