“ Manufacturer: Electronic Arts / Type: iPhone Game „
Street racing is something that all boys (admit or not) have a bit of a passion for. You don't even have to be able to drive yourself to participate in it, be it in the passenger seat or arranging for the races to take place. The police have been having trouble for years with what we call 'boy racers', generally aged from around 17-24 where young men modify their cars to make them faster and of course better looking, in order to catch the eye of a young 'girl racer'. Games have capitalised on this in recent years and in particular we've seen successful franchises such as Midnight Club and Burnout produce game after game for these lads to eat up. Need For Speed is a franchise that has been going strong for years now and is arguably the leader in the street racing market. With their 12th instalment: Need For Speed Undercover, we see why.
Unlike a lot of racing games, Need For Speed knows that the experienced gamer wants a little more from his/her game than just non stop racing. Need For Speed features a running storyline in which you play an undercover cop (who never appears in the game, or is referred to by gender, giving the game more of a unisex feel), you've been sent undercover by your boss, played by Chinese film star Maggie Q (Die Hard 4.0). You've been ordered to act as a street racer and use your skills to infiltrate a large scale smuggling operation. Along the way you'll need to compete in races, perform favours for gang leaders and ultimately evade being uncovered. The story progresses well but is hardly one that grips you. After most races that you complete you'll watch a 30 second video clip in which we witness real actors portraying the racers. This is a nice inclusion and one that I haven't seen in a video game before. Need For Speed is without doubt (in my opinion) the market leader in the world of street racing games. The only other famous face to appear in the game is struggling R&B singer Christina Millian. She appears heavily in the first half of the game then seems to disappear as your progress through the storyline.
Graphics wise the game is a winner. The game looks superb on the iPhone in the landscape view, with cars actually looking like the real thing and the roads looking as realistic as possible. My only bugbear concerning the graphics are that the game is quite dark a lot of the time. Need For Speed didn't seem to consider that people playing on an iPhone aren't going to have the same large view that you'll have on an Xbox 360 or PS3. The other thing would be the traffic. Unlike other racing games that I've played in the past, the traffic play a part in this game and aren't just there to bug you. However, bug you is what they do. Due to the somewhat squashed view that you get on the iPhone and the speeds in which you travel in some of the cars it can be hard to see pedestrian cars until it's too late... and... bang. You've lost all your speed, your competitors have overtaken you and you're left to play catch up for a considerable amount of time in the race. To be fair the traffic is few and far between and there are rarely more than two cars on the screen at any given time. This means that most of the time you'll just have one car to swerve around, but, when there are two cars driving in opposite directions it can get a little tricky. In a future update of the game, I would personally like to see markers of where the cars are on the little map that's situated at the top left of the screen. This would give the player a fair chance to swerve out of the way of any cars, which becomes almost impossible if you're going round a sharp corner.
Game play, however, is simply faultless. Racing games have always been a bit hit and miss with me, some are easy to control, whereas others will consist of me swerving violently from left to right until I finally finish the race in last place. Need For Speed is different though, with minimal controls and buttons to press you can concentrate on the races themselves instead of being caught up with overcomplicated buttons. Controlling the car is simple and requires you to tilt your iPhone from left to right. Handling the car is extremely easy and you'll never find yourself completely losing control of your car (regardless of how well it handles on paper). The game requires only the lightest of movements for your car to move with it, which results in optimum results that I've rarely experienced on an Xbox 360, let alone a mere iPhone app. The car accelerates automatically, meaning there's one less button to worry about and breaking is done by simply pressing anywhere on the screen. Similar to breaking, there's speed breaking, a bit irrelevant to game play as a whole, it allows you to slow your car down for a couple of seconds without stopping completely. This can occasionally come in handy during the bounty games, but overall it's a bit of a black sheep. During game play, there are no visible buttons, everything is done utilising the touch screen, meaning that the entire screen is dedicated to the game play itself and not playing host to any fiddly and unnecessary controls. The tight controls on the games manoeuvrability can occasionally cause more harm than good, as when you're suddenly faced with an obstacle it becomes nigh on impossible to avoid it so you'll more than likely go crashing head on into a car, which, after around 5 or 6 times can become very annoying.
There are a couple of different game modes that you progress through during your career mode. These range from doing someone a favour by driving their car to the nearest garage while escaping from the police, to smashing a car off the road. Police play a bit part in this game. In most other racing games I've found the police to be, well, a bit of a joke. However NFS have really given them a kick up the backside and now they've come back and are better than ever. During the modes where you're escaping the police, they will *always* catch up with you, no matter what car you have and no matter how many times they crash into other cars. A police helicopter also chases you, although it does little more than freak you out a little when you're playing for the first time! Having the police play such a focal part in the game really makes some game modes a challenge. Taking a car to a garage sounds like a walk in the park... although a walk in the park, it is not. With the cops chasing you and trying to bump you off the road, your damage metre is quickly depleting and when it gets to the bottom your car is declared wrecked and you'll be forced to start over again. In terms of racing, things are kept fresh with different types of races, the elimination race being my personal favourite.
Difficultly wise, this game isn't much of a challenge. There aren't any difficultly options which makes the games shelf life limited and no matter what car you have you always seem able to catch your opponent. You could be racing a Porsche 911 and your little Golf GTI will always catch them and overtake with ease. This grates a bit, however as you near the end of career mode you are given a lot more of a challenge. What I do like about this game is that once you've completed a race, you are still able to complete it again for cash. It won't be as much as it was the first time, but this can become invaluable to you if you need to upgrade your car for the upcoming race and are short of cash.
In terms of realism I was actually pretty impressed with this game. When you're on modes where you're racing from the cops the damage your car takes becomes very important, so it's good to know that a tiny scrape doesn't cause as much damage as you hitting a 7.5 tonne truck head on. The damage metre is actually very clever, despite being one of the more difficult aspects of the game and can provide you with a much needed challenge. I was, however, disappointed that said damage doesn't actually appear on your car which is prevalent in numerous other racing game I've seen. Although, as it's just an iPhone app, I'll let this slide.
Customisation isn't too good. There are numerous cars available to purchase which is good news, however, when it comes to customising your own car the game falls a bit flat. You have the option of upgrading the top speed, acceleration, handling and nitro of your car which is all very good and simple. However, when you want to upgrade the aesthetics of your car you're really let down by a lack of variety. In each option there are only a few choices for you and a lot of these look terribly 90's and camp. Not what I was expecting at all. Fortunately, what really matters though is the performance of the car and those options are all up to par.
Connectivity is very poor, infact, it's non existent. You don't have the option to connect to Facebook, Twitter or even your email contacts which is prevalent in so many other iPhone apps/games at the moment. There is no online mode either, so anyone looking to play on two player modes you're going to be extremely disappointed by this shoddy effort.
The app, or game as it should be known is available from iTunes, currently selling at £2.99. A great price, considering the Xbox 360 version will cost you around £30. The game requires 98.7MB of memory which is quite large considering the average song will take up around 7MB. However, it's not going to take up too much memory in your iPhone (game not available on the iPod Touch).
Recommended, but only to people without access to a games console.