In what seems like a return to the Most Wanted formula, Need for Speed: Undercover takes place in the open world of a fictional Tri-City Bay Area. Players will take on the role of an undercover cop hired by a federal agency to infiltrate a crime syndicate, and tasked with busting crime bosses of increasing difficulty.
Back are all the cop chases and highway pursuits that made Most Wanted a hit. However, developer EA Black Box hopes that new events, improved driving physics, a developed story, and robust customization and leveling systems will make the game more than a rehash.
The career mode is based around earning money through missions and racing events. Players will spend their hard-won cash on car customization, allowing them to cruise around the world in new rides. Meanwhile, point systems will keep track of the moves you pull during races, the damage you rack up during a police chase, and the bounties you collect--all adding up to a general level progression.
EA is placing an emphasis on dramatic, Hollywood-esque scenes when it comes to Undercover. The game world's clock is frozen at "Magic Hour," with lens flares and a high-contrast aesthetic that lends itself well to the theme. A "Heroic" driving engine will allow players to pull off flashy racing tricks, such as 180 or 360 degree spins. It's all about arcadey physics and a detailed damage model--crashing through destructible objects in style, and beating your car to pieces.
After getting my hands on the game for a short time, I mostly messed around with the Highway Battle race type. This pits one driver against another in a race down a busy freeway, with the winner being the one to pull away and gain major ground on the opponent. It's a simple concept, but a lot of fun--a mode derived from some of the best moments in Need for Speed titles.
I also had the chance to cruise around the Tri-City area, occasionally breaking away from my tour to run from some cops. Strangely enough, I couldn't stop staring at the game's pale blue, high resolution skybox--something not really captured in the available screenshots. The art team has done a solid job of making the world of Undercover feel unique, with a wide variety of settings on display across the city cities.
While the real hooks of Need for Speed--the cop chases and the crazy level design--didn't seem radically different from past titles, I left the event still wanting more time to explore Undercover's freeways and shortcuts. And still wishing I'd made it away from that last cop.
Need for Speed: Undercover is set for release this November on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii and PC. PlayStation 2, PSP and iPhone versions are also in development.