We’ve got a confession to make that goes against most critical response: we quite liked Need for Speed: ProStreet (at least on consoles). It was a competent and relatively accurate recreation of organized competitive racing events. Unfortunately, what ProStreet did at the same time was completely remove the essence of what made a Need for Speed game, leaving a dry approach to simulation in its place. Thankfully, the guys at EA Vancouver were equally as aware of the criticisms of ProStreet and have taken on board what gamers want from a Need for Speed title. The result is Need for Speed: Undercover – a return-to-roots fan service of the highest order.
Above: All images from the 360 Version
Even from the early preview version we got the chance to play, it's obvious that Undercover picks up where Most Wanted left off. As the name suggests, you play the part of a rookie undercover cop, using your skills as a wheelman to impress and therefore infiltrate an international car smuggling ring. Very The Fast and the Furious. However, unlike previous Need for Speed titles, Undercover has a narrative that extends beyond the flimsy storylines attached to previous games and goes down the Hollywood blockbuster route. So, rather than standing the current 'underwear model du jour' in front of a green screen to say a few flimsy lines to the camera, the gameplay has been intertwined with a substantial plot, filmed on specially created sets and directed by John Hodges (whose resume includes episodes of 24, no less). To further emphasize its new cinematic approach, actress and singer Christina Milian and Die Hard 4.0 star Maggie Q (who we discovered plays the role of your ‘handler’, Chase Lin) have been drafted in to lend some thespian credibility to the full motion video (FMV) cutscenes.
While our first impressions were that Undercover would be set in LA (which puts it in real risk of stepping on Midnight Club: Los Angeles’ toes), it’s actually set in Southern America on the Gulf Coast. While EA couldn't confirm at this stage whether it would use real maps or locations, we were told that there would be four very distinct environments; Harbor, Open, Industrial and Urban. Stepping away from the perpetual darkness of the Need for Speed: Underground games, all of the racing in Undercover takes part in what Hollywood likes to call ‘The Magic Hour’ – a special time occurring just after dawn and just before dusk. Presumably so you can experience the 80 miles worth of highways at the most visually photogenic moments of each day.