Once upon a time the Need for Speed games were incredible fun. All about cop chases in top class motors, the first games were truly fantastic titles that still remain decent examples of the four wheeled genre.
Sadly the latter years has seen the series sink ever downwards, becoming obsessed with offering huge amounts of style, yet lacking any kind of depth. Basically the gaming version of any generic “glamour model” you see adorning the “lad’s mags” in your local newsagent.
This year it’s sad to say that the same well trodden path has been utilised once again. Undercover tacks on a terrible cutscene driven storyline, which even fails to rival Hollyoaks in the quality stakes. It’s truly shockingly poor stuff, particularly thanks to a bunch of characters that you’d be reluctant to urinate on if they happened to burst into flames.
Undercover is set in the kind of open world setting that every major franchise seems to be gearing towards post Burnout Paradise. Just like the aforementioned franchise - also from EA, the same publishers of the Need for Speed series - you drive around the games three major cities, taking part in a wide variety of racing models.
In Undercover’s defence, rather than force you to trek halfway across the map for the next event, a few button presses can send you right slap bang onto the start line. It might not sound like a major feature, but it certainly cuts down the frustration levels by a severe chunk.
Get stuck into a race and two things hit you once you’re through the first few bends. Firstly, the handling model is actually quite solid. Where previous titles have felt a little off, with the obsession with powerslides overriding all, here it actually feels quite rewarding, if a little soft and lacking much in the way of braking.
Racing fans in desperate need of a real challenge need not glance in Undercover’s direction however. Take a corner far too fast, and you’ll magically smack off the barriers right back on course, with barely a tiny drop in the way of speed. Admittedly the game does start to ramp up the difficulty levels once you make your way through to the latter races, but by then you could be forgiven for leaving in hope of finding a real challenge elsewhere.
One major minus point is the inclusion of said barriers. Where Burnout Paradise did wonders by keeping the city open for you to head from checkpoint to checkpoint as you wish, Undercover slaps down huge barriers to keep you on a set course.
Secondly, the frame rate is absolutely horrific. While the game world is fairly pleasing on the eye - though the road seems to be coated in Vaseline - as soon as any kind of action heats up the game starts to shudder. It smacks of optimisation issues as this certainly isn’t the best looking title on the PS3, yet at times its shakes come close to game breaking.
It’s a shame for Undercover that the designers seemed to be too intent on offering visual brilliance and dodgy storylines than give us a slice of classic racing.
While the racing is decent enough to claim a reasonable score, the poor technical aspects, combined with some strange design decisions make this the racing title to leave on the shelves this Christmas.