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Need For Speed Underground: Rivals Review

Replay Value:
Overall Rating:
Online Gameplay:
Not Rated

Ok, I admit it. As of this moment, I've had my PSP for almost 3 months now and Need for Speed Underground: Rivals is the first game I've played on it. In case you're wondering what I've been doing with my PSP all this time, I've been 1) Showing it off to my friends, 2) Using it with my guitars for its awesome audio playback, and 3) Toying around with encoding MPEG4s. Having said all that, I'll be honest when I say I've been anticipating Rivals for quite some time. I've been a Need for Speed fan since the mid-90's. I absolutely love the Underground franchise, as it is something I can relate to in my everyday life; and with EA granting PSP owners the chance to take a visually pleasing Need for Speed title with them anywhere they want…I just can't seem to love this franchise anymore than I do right now.

For starters, Rivals is a completely original game and has no connection to either of the console-based Underground titles. You see, unlike the other Underground titles, Rivals only has you paying for performance mods. So, every aesthetic feature in Rivals is absolutely free, where as performance parts are not. Purchasing performance parts requires that you build them–if you want a turbo-kit, you'll have to purchase three parts from the turbo menu for the kit to come together and function on your car. Certain items only require two parts; others may require up to five. Money comes rather easy in the game, so the building aspect isn't really bothersome–I managed to acquire every level-1 performance option in less than an hour of game time.

As far as how deep the modding goes, it's pretty much identical to the original Underground in most cases. In Rivals, body kits come pre-done, so you can't mix and match like you can on the other titles. The number of aesthetic mods included is pretty damn admirable for a handheld title, and goes to show that EA didn't cut many corners with the game. If I were to make a rough (and humble) guess, I'd say 2/3 of the aesthetic stuff present in the first Underground can be found here–if not more.

Moving on, Underground has always been about the fun factor (as is the rest of the NFS series). and Rivals delivers here without a doubt. The car selection is nice, mixing some new cars in with cars taken from the two console Underground games. You've got the common cars, like the Subaru WRX STi, Nissan Skyline, Dodge Neon, Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V, Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX, and Ford Focus ZXT, among others. And, in addition to that, the list of cars also includes classic (and retro) American muscle, such as the Pontiac GTO, Ford Mustang, Dodge Charger, Chevrolet Corvette Z06, and others.

There are ten brand new tracks in the game; if you were worried you'd be getting a rehash, you can rest easy now; and all of the environments are completely different from the old ones. In addition to new tracks, there is an altered version of the drift competition in Rivals. Drift competitions are more skill based this time. Instead of just wobbling left and right while tapping the handbrake, the drift competitions in Rivals have you drifting on a highlighted floor spot around a large support beam. You have to make sure that once you start drifting in a certain direction, across the spot, that you do not try to swerve the car to another direction to create additional momentum. You'll have to stick to one direction when drifting in this event; otherwise you won't get the points. Eventually the drifting gets a little more complicated, as you'll be required to combo drift in order to complete the event successfully. Combo drifting is basically completing drifts in chain successions–crashing or ruining a drift breaks the chain.

It should also be mentioned that Rivals borrowed a nice little event from Burnout 3: Takedown–the nitrous run–but the Rivals team put their own little twist on it. Basically, you have to run through checkpoints by using nitrous; and for every checkpoint you run, your nitrous will refill all the way up (doesn't matter what level nitrous you've purchased). You'll be given a designated amount of checkpoints to run in order to succeed.

If you're a fan of the Underground series, there's no doubt you'll enjoy Rivals' gameplay. It embodies everything that makes Need for Speed fun, including what seem to be the series' two core modes: a Battle mode and Circuit mode. Between both modes you'll earn money and unlock all sorts of aesthetic parts, performance parts, and cars. Both modes make you play all of the different race types available in the game. In a change from the console games, car trading isn't possible in Rivals. Instead, you have a fully customizable garage (cars can be organized by category) that can hold all 19 cars, and every time you buy a car, it'll come equipped with every performance mod you purchased for your current ride.

Though the game may be simple in design, it plays quite well and has very responsive controls. It's not the deepest racer in the world, but it is a lot fun and that's what counts the most.

Now, what's really cool is that Rivals supports wi-fi multiplayer, which means you can play against four other people in the nearby vicinity. While I've yet to experience the pleasure of playing the game via wi-fi, I can only imagine how much fun it is.

When it comes to graphics, none of us are really sure what to expect from the PSP yet. Rivals looks decent, that's for sure; and, unlike the console games, its frame rate is locked at a perfectly steady 30fps. For a handheld title, Rivals is a triumphant achievement. The game is primarily set during the night time, a setting that helps to showcase some of the visual tricks that the PSP can achieve. The reflections in the game are absolutely incredible; they're so clear that you can easily read a road sign reflecting off a car. You won't just see a generic blur effect. The actual environments reflect off of the cars. What's more, the reflections animate at the same frame rate as the game, so they come off looking incredibly smooth as they beam off of your car. The textures on nearby surroundings are pretty sharp, while the textures off in the distance are quite poor; even flat and grainy. Background-heavy tracks with lots of buildings will make the poor texture work very apparent. Meanwhile, the more scenic tracks strike a balance that enablesp layers to appreciate the game's overall decent looks.

As far as car detail is concerned, the game has its ups and downs. Sometimes, it's difficult to tell what car you're looking at when you're viewing it from the front; this is largely because of the bright headlights that every car has–headlights obscure the grille area of the cars quite a bit. Even so, the cars are easily recognizable for the most part. They're not fantastic, but they're good enough and get the job done.

Overall, the graphics in Rivals do justice to the Underground faceplate. All of the signature visual touches are present, including the dark settings, the lighting effects, the blurring, the flaring, and so on. Likewise, the sense of speed is exhilarating.

A note on the soundtrack, however.

More of a rant really, about how 'EA Trax editing sucks'…

EA really needs to stop butchering the songs they put into video games with their abysmal audio splicing and editing. I thought I reached my full loathing state for it when a really lousy song edit was made on the Burnout 3 soundtrack (Burning Brides – "Heart Full of Black"). Alas, I was wrong.

Some of the songs on the Need for Speed Underground: Rivals soundtrack are good choices. I'm a fan of the majority of bands on it.

But, first they butchered "Burning Brides" in Burnout 3, and now they've hellishly butchered My Chemical Romance's "Thank You For The Venom"–worse even than the tinniest edit that would be made to the radio-edit of the song. It irks me beyond words to hear these lousy splices. They sound so broken and off that it literally sends shivers down my spine.

EA splices out some of the most trivial content too. It's not like they're hardcore swears.

Here is an original verse to "Thank You For The Venom":

So give me all your poison
And give me all your pills
And give me all your hopeless hearts
And make me ill
You're running after something
That you'll never kill

And this is what EA's "beautiful" work consists of:

So give me all your poison
That you'll never kill
And give me all your hopeless hearts
And make me ill
You're running after something
That you'll never kill

"…Poison that you'll never kill"? How lame. And look, by changing the second line, they've created an incredibly redundant verse (the line repeats again four lines later!). One simple edit, one ruined song. And this is just one song I know very well, who knows how many other songs were butchered all to hell. Enough is enough EA. Either don't use the song, or use it in its original form.

Even though the soundtrack is practically worthless, Rivals still manages to provide a good time. It's a nice game to have in your PSP and it's a worthy addition to the Underground lineup. It may lack the depth that Underground 2 has, but for a portable racer it does its job well. I'm certain (or at least hoping) that future iterations will provide a slightly deeper experience, with a more engaging look, but for now, this'll do.

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