Back Catalogue: Need for Speed: Underground


What is it about?

Well, it’s a Need for Speed game so that really doesn’t need much explaining. Underground was released in 2003, when the franchise was at its very peak and EA could do no wrong with it. It is the first game from what is considered the franchise’s second generation – a series of games that revolved around cheesy plots and street racing. Underground is classic Need for Speed; great cars, great tracks, and arcade gameplay.

Why should I play it now?

As with all racing games, the only reason to go back to an old one, really, is for the nostalgia. If you didn’t play Need for Speed: Underground back in 2003, you probably won’t get why it’s still special in 2012. Modern day racers have evolved in every aspect to the point where Underground probably feels too simplistic today. That said, the drag racing is as much fun today as it was nearly a decade ago, and the expansive car customisation options are impressive even by today’s standards.

How does it hold up today?

Rather well on the PC. You can ratchet up the resolution up to 1280×720 (720p) and with all settings maxed out, it still looks pretty decent. Gameplay-wise, it does show its age a bit, but having jumped back into it for this feature for the first time since 2003, I’m surprised by how playable it still is. The controls are tight, and although the AI is a little dense by today’s standards, races are still a lot of fun. And that just makes it all the more sad to see how developer Black Box has fallen from graces with recent releases like Undercover and The Run.

Is it similar to anything else out there?

There are several games that came out around the same time as Underground, which followed the import tuner street racing theme. My favourite of them all, and pretty much at par with Underground, was Rockstar’s Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition. It’s the only game at the time that could challenge Underground in terms of car customisation (although it did release two years later), and it even featured bikes. There was also the comparatively mediocre Juiced from THQ. A year after Underground, EA released Underground 2, and while some peg it as the better of the two, for me, it did very little to differentiate itself from its predecessor.

What do I need to play this?

A decent PC with integrated graphics should be plenty, which pretty much covers most PCs these days. It installs and runs just fine on a Windows 7 system, so you won’t have to jump through any hoops to get it working. It was also available on PS2, and you should be able to find one reasonably cheap if you look hard enough.

‘When I played through…’

Underground is probably my most played Need for Speed game to date. Drag racing for hours on end in winners-stay competition was a daily ritual for my friends and I to the point where I had the entire soundtrack in my head like a playlist. Believe me, Lil Jon’s Get Low is not a good song to have on repeat in your head 24/7. When I was by myself, the entertaining career mode kept me occupied, and even going back to it now, I’m surprised by how the game makes car collection and customisation so addictive and rewarding.

Is there anything else I should be aware of (i.e. mods, crazy glitches, contribution to pop culture, Internet meme, etc)?

Need for Speed: Underground was part of the massive Japanese tuner and street racing culture that had swept across America in the early and mid-2000s, more specifically following the release of The Fast and the Furious. It had taken over pop culture with several movies, games and music videos hoping to cash in on the craze. It was neon lights, chrome rims and NOS everywhere!

Where do I get it?

It looks like I managed to pick up the last PC copy of Underground from Flipkart, because it currently shows as out of stock, but if you look around enough, you should be able to spot it on store shelves. Sadly, Underground isn’t available on EA’s Origin service, and I’m quite confused as to why. If you do fail to find a copy, Underground 2 should be readily available on PC and PS2. It isn’t the same, but it carries forward the successful formula pretty much intact.

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