Last year's Need For Speed: Underground pretty much came out of nowhere, resuscitating a flagging brand while simultaneously kick-starting the whole car modification genre. A shrewd move by EA - it's a huge market, with top-selling magazines featuring a winning combination of neon piss-flaps and impressionable young girls exposing their breasts. The best-selling racing game of 2003, it was no surprise to learn that a sequel would follow, and you can bet your modified camshaft that as you read these words, an anonymous game factory is currently slaving away on number three.
In a break with EA tradition, this sequel does actually differ slightly from the previous game. Whereas Need For Speed: Underground was a largely abstract series of events, number two embraces the current trend for so-called 'emergent gameplay', placing the action in a 'living, breathing' city, with even a vague storyline to back it up.
Arriving in the fictional city of Bay View following an unsavoury incident six months previously, a car is waiting for you at the airport. No sooner have you put the keys in the ignition than some Doris comes on the blower telling you to give her car back. Voiced by Brooke Burke, her CV also involves appearing naked for the gratification of men. In the game, she's a 'sassy broad' who introduces you to Bay View's thriving underground racing scene.
In time-honoured fashion, you start the game with a nice little runner. It may be adequate for picking up a selection of lonely meals from Sainsbury's, but it doesn't really cut the mustard in the high-stakes world of street racing. Some low-grade races soon earn you a few quid though, enabling you to pimp your ride, tweaking the performance as well as earning points for artistic merit, thus eventually securing magazine covers.
It's a tried and tested format, but one that works supremely well in this instance. Simply touring around the enormous city is a joy in itself, with a map directing you to the various shops and races, of which three new types are added. The story won't win any Oscars, particularly as it also features a cameo from Kelly Brook, but it does make it more of a rounded experience than previously. Musically, the EA Trax are again in full effect, this time featuring less hip hop and more shouting.
Ultimately though, it's all about the racing, which is rarely less than gripping. For an arcade game, it's even surprisingly playable with a steering wheel, with near misses causing no small amount of amateurish flinching. If you can't afford to attach largely pointless gadgets to your otherwise moribund vehicle, this is the next best thing.
Fast and furious
- Sense of speed
- Free-roaming gameplay
- Online action
- Erratic AI
- No damage
- Starts slowly