Previews

Need for Speed: Undercover

One for our Most Wanted list?

We told EA to do this years ago. Right after Need for Speed: Most Wanted screeched onto our 360s and into our hearts way back in 2005. "This is great lads, one or two flaws but the concept is spot-on. Next time'll be the charm!" And then what? Carbon, that's what. And then ProStreet. If we could include sound effects in our magazine, like those awful Cliff Richard birthday cards, the noise it'd make now would probably be something akin to a derisive "Wa Wa Waaa".

But, at last, EA appears to have learned from its mistakes. Ergo, we're finally getting the spiritual successor to Most Wanted - a high speed, high camp chance to shatter all kinds of speed limits and nuzzle up to sexy fed agent Chase Linh (Die Hard 4.0's delectable Maggie Q). Crucially though, Black Box have shelved their ill-fated dalliance with the track and taken the action back to the streets. No sign of the neon that characterised the Undergrounds though; this edition once again takes place in the photogenic pre-dawn/post-dusk 'Golden Hour'.

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So... enough pretty padding. What's Undercover hiding under the bonnet in terms of mechanics? Well, EA are pimping yet another gimmick - the Heroic Driving Engine. It boils down to importing ProStreet's impressive physics and damage model into the more arcade-orientated chase-'em-up gameplay, but forsaking the impact on performance. So you can smash your 911 GT2 into a gazillion pieces but still be able to haul arse. Makes sense to us. ProStreet's purdy smoke effects are also present and correct.

Our hands-on with the game consisted of something familiar, something new. Enter the highway battle - a crazily high speed mash-up against a foe in which you're tasked with overtaking your rival and then staying there until the time limit runs out. The catch? That'd be the hordes of traffic you'll need to weave in and out of. It's not quite Burnout levels of enthralment, but it's way better than the Canyon Showdowns from the arse-flavoured Carbon.

More familiar was the return to mission-based fun as we legged it through the Tri-City Bay Area (located on the Gulf Coast near the Mexican border) in a swanky Porsche. Searching for a chop shop and pursued by the filth, it was almost as if we'd travelled back in time to 2005 - right down to the slow-mo Speedbreaker. Alas, that also means a jerky framerate (30fps is promised, but is that really fast enough nowadays after the 60fps treats of Forza 2 and Paradise?)

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Open-world city roaming is also back on the agenda, confirming Need For Speed Undercover as the spiritual sequel to Most Wanted. As for other game modes, the EA pixies are boringly keeping entirely schtum about the roster and online at the moment. Keep an eye peeled for further revelations in the coming months though.

We're in two minds. On one hand it's great to see NFS return to its 'roots', but it's hardly the leap forward we might have hoped for. What is inarguable is the level of polish on the narrative and acting chops - Christine Milan, Maggie Q and Heather Fox are an impressive trio. More soon...

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