Developer: Electronic Arts Inc.
Price: $2.99 Download on the App Store
Need for Speed: Undercover - For nearly 15 years and several generations of gaming hardware, the Need for Speed franchise has endured as a beloved arcade racing franchise for all gamers.
Granted it has come in several different themes over the years (e.g. exotic cars, rally racing, street racing, police pursuits, etc.), the quality of the games has consistently been good to fantastic. Electronic Arts(EA) has brought over the popular franchise to the iPhone through it’s most recent entry in the series, Need For Speed: Undercover.
While this title was released last holiday on all major consoles and handheld devices, I was nervous this version would suffer from a quick and dirty port. It turns out my fears were unsubstantiated as EA has unquestionably delivered one hell of a racing game.
Need for Speed: Undercover places you in the role of an undercover cop whose goal is to infiltrate an organized crime organization in Tri-City. With live-action video, you become enthralled with folks on both sides of the law. Through this story telling method your goals and missions are presented to you in the game's lengthy campaign. Upon completing a race, a new one opens up to maintain the linear flow and tight storytelling. Luckily for us, the acting is good and you’ll recognize several celebrities in the cut scenes. All in all, it’s a welcome change from the typical “win first place” text prompts in some of the more formulaic racing games out there.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a more thoughtful brand of racing on the iPhone than what’s here in Need For Speed: Undercover. The mechanics and fluid, and with some practice, the innovative controls will feel like second nature. Steering is handled by tilt controls, and slowing down from the automatic acceleration is done by holding any area on the screen.
Where this game bucks conventional wisdom is through using touch gesture controls to influence some of the more advanced techniques. Everything from nitro boosts, speedbreakers (think Matrix's bullet time), camera manipulation are controlled by one or two finger gestures. In between races, the game does a good job of reminding you of the mechanics, and you’ll soon have everything memorized. Considering that there are 8 unique racing modes (e.g. Circuit, Highway Battle, Cop Takeout, etc.), I’m so thankful that the controls are so refined and precise.
Winning races earn you money allowing you to customize your ride. There are 20 licensed cars from brands starting on the lower end like Pontiac and Nissan all the way up Porsche and Lamborghini that beg to be tinkered with. You can buy performance or cosmetic upgrades, and the depth of options that are available are staggering. If you’re short of cash, you can always trade in a vehicle collecting dust in your garage to upgrade to that next aspirational vehicle.
I’m happy to report that the visual and audible stimuli in Need For Speed: Undercover matches the level of the gameplay. The look, feel, and emotion of the Need For Speed franchise comes through completely intact. The licensed vehicles are wonderfully modeled and the textures are amazing for an iPhone game. Listening to the engines of the various cars throttle up and down is spot on, and the “swish” of the gears changing will excite fellow gearheads. If that isn't enough, there's motion blurring to jacks the sense of speed to another level across the game's 24 races/missions. The main thing that keeps Need For Speed: Undercover from taking the graphics crown from 2XL Supercross are the frame rate hiccups. The stutters happen just enough to have an impact on the immersion of the game, so it must be noted.
Like all racers in the early going, there hasn’t been one game that excels in all facets yet. The glaring crime here is the lack of any multi-player modes which is a staple of the Need for Speed brand. Even with the lack of multi-player, Need for Speed: Undercover is undoubtedly worth its $10 price point. I urge all racing fans to purchase this game to ensure the iPhone sees another quality entry from the Need for Speed franchise.