60In recent years, the‚ Need For Speed series has been going through what you could call an identity crisis. The last few titles have been a mix of track style and open world gameplay, incredibly cheesy cut scenes and action sequences that would even make the‚ Die Hard movies blush.‚ Need for Speed Undercover plays as if someone took all of these ingredients and smashed them together into one game. What results is a fun and entertaining title that get’s it fair share right, but strangely manages to fail–miserably even– at the fundamentals.

Nov. 18, 2008

Undercover offers players the freedom to cruise around the game’s world–the fictional city of Palm Harbor freely. In theory, the sandbox style gameplay should be a welcome change from the tried and true, point A to point B track race formula, but the developers seem to have missed the point entirely.

Other than driving from mission to mission, there doesn’t seem to be much of incentive to explore the city. There are no hidden missions, no way to hunt down opponents–everything happens in a linear fashion in‚ Undercover. A number of the missions almost scrap the open gameplay by sectioning off an area of the map you’re allowed to go. The true allure of these open world games is to explore, and it seems like‚ Undercover is more interested in a leisurely drive. Palm harbor is an immersive setting, it’s just a shame that the developers at Blackbox didn’t go the extra mile and take advantage of the setting — especially when Burnout Paradise did just that in amazing fashion earlier this year.

That’s not to say that Palm Harbor is void of all life. Yes, the cops are back in‚ Undercover — and yes they’re pissed. While the AI starts off easy going and fun, that quickly changes, and it becomes aggressive and frustrating. In fact, about halfway through, the AI becomes so obnoxiously aggressive that players, especially those new to the series may be tempted to put down the controller.

It’s not like the game is hard either. Apart from the enemy AI, it’s a safe bet to assume that this‚ Need For Speedtitle was aimed at the casual market. It’s not unusual to beat a slew of high performance cars, with a much lower rated car. It’s understandable that with the success of movies like the‚ Fast and The Furious and the incredibly hot street racing scene, the developers would want to open their game up to a wider audience, but the uneven difficulty levels distract from the overall experience.

It would be nice to say that using the game’s new RPG like leveling system helps deal with the horrid AI and uneven gameplay, but in reality, it manages to do the exact opposite.‚  This new system, which borrows heavily from games like‚ World of Warcraft, rewards players for completing missions and races with stat points which can in turn be used to better your driving skills. These stats are also used almost as a rep system; the higher your stats, the more cars and missions are available to you.

While upgrading your “driver level” seems like a logical way to get on an even field with your opponents, the game’s AI seems to ramp as your stats do the same. This tactic of games adapting to the level of players has been done successfully in games like‚ Zelda: The WindWaker,‚ Resident Evil 4 and even this year’s Madden;‚ Undercover’s system comes off as unfair and frustrating.

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About The Author

Joe Sinicki is Blast's Executive Editor. He has an unhealthy obsession with Back to the Future and wears cheese on his head. Follow him on Twitter @BrewCityJoe

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