Need for Speed Undercover Review (X360)

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Need for Speed goes back to its roots with Undercover after last year’s ProStreet experiment failed pretty miserably. Undercover brings back the police chases, open world city, and arcade-style gameplay that made previous titles in the series, and in particular Most Wanted, hits. Does Need for Speed Undercover recapture that old NFS magic? Find out right here in our full review.

Quick Hits

  • Title: Need for Speed: Undercover
  • Publisher: EA
  • Developer: EA Black Box
  • ESRB Rating: “T” for Teen
  • Genre: Racing
  • Pros: Fast, mindless gameplay; good career progression; good sound; easily join races
  • Cons: Framerate issues; a bit too easy; having an open world city is pointless here; option to spend real money on in-game items

Need for Speed Undercover places you in the role of an undercover cop trying to work their way into the world of illegal street racing. That means racing and beating the other street racers as well as delivering stolen cars and running from the cops to prove you are legit.

The career mode gives you several race and chase types including having to stay ahead of a rival for a specific period of time, checkpoint races, circuit races, and “Cost to State’ (total damage) or “Evasion” where you have to get away in a certain amount of time police chases. The best part about the career mode is that you can instantly enter any event through the map screen or you can press down on the D-Pad while you are driving around the city to enter events that are near your current location.

Strangely enough, you can actually drive to the events in the game world and can only enter them in the ways I described. Personally, though, I don’t mind this too much, but it does make having the open city to drive around in pretty much pointless, as there is literally nothing to do other than enter races.

And I love that you can upgrade, tune, and customize your cars and even buy new ones all through the menu.


The gameplay in Need for Speed Undercover is at the same time fun and disappointing. It is disappointing in that pretty much all of the races are mind numbingly easy. The roads are a mile wide and the corners aren’t ever all that sharp, so you can blast around at full speed during races without too much trouble. The A.I. rarely poses a challenge. Also, the cars have an insane amount of grip. So much, in fact, that the patented NFS “powerslide around every corner” gameplay that we all love basically doesn’t exist. It is actually hard to slide around in this game. Because of this magical grip to the racetrack, all of the cars handle basically the same. Sure, some are a lot faster than others, but they all stick to the track the same. The game is just too easy and too arcadey and not all that interesting compared to its competition in the genre.

With all of that said, however, there are some high points and you can definitely still have fun with it. Because it is mindless and easy, and because of the way the events are laid out and their generally short length, Need for Speed Undercover is an amazingly laid back experience.

It isn’t like the recently released Midnight Club LA, for example, where the A.I. is beating your brains in and you have to rush everywhere and it is all kind of a hassle. Undercover is all about just cruising around and listening to music in a car you completely customized, and you don’t really have to worry about anything. Personally, I think there is room in the genre for a more laid back and less stressful racing game.

Graphics and Sound

Graphically, Need for Speed Undercover is a decent looking game with nice cars and a fairly detailed city to drive around in. Honestly, the game looks a heck of a lot like Most Wanted, so if you liked that game’s color palate and softer look you’ll like Undercover.

What you won’t like, however, is the incredibly unstable framerate, pop in, and surprising lack of traffic on the roads. During police chases or races where everyone is bunched up, the framerate takes a pretty noticeable hit. Not to unplayable levels, but it isn’t pretty. The framerate issues seem downright strange, though, when you consider that there is basically no traffic out on the roads, and what traffic is there magically pops into existence just a couple hundred feet in front of you.

The sound is fairly decent. The story is told through cheesy FMV sequences and most of your communication is through cell phone calls, but the actors all do a decent enough job. The engine sounds are the standout aspect here, and are very good overall.

Bottom Line

In its zeal to remedy what gamers felt was wrong with ProStreet, it seems like EA Black Box went a bit overboard and took the game to an opposite, but equally disappointing, extreme with Undercover. Instead of being realistic and structured and more difficult like ProStreet, Undercover is very arcadey, far too easy, and rather mindless. Racing game fans looking for a challenge are not going to find it here. Likewise, Need for Speed fans looking for a fresh and different entry aren’t really going to find it here either as Undercover doesn’t really offer anything new in terms of customization, modes, or gameplay. With all of that said, however, I have to say that I think there is room in the racing genre for a game like this. Customizing cars is fun. Winning races is fun. Driving around at top speed is fun. Undercover might not satisfy on the same level as some other Xbox 360 racing games, but it does offer some fast and easy and mindless fun and sometimes that is all you are looking for when you sit down to play a game. Give it a rental.

One final thing I want to say is that like the last NFS game, you can spend real world money (MS Points) on in-game items in Undercover. Please, for the love of everything that is good, don’t do this. You unlock everything by normally playing through the game, so even though it is tempting to fork out some cash to upgrade your car or something, don’t do it. This is a business practice that should not be supported.

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