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Pedal to the metal

Like most Hollywood films, Underground is a high-octane thrill ride that ultimately feels hollow on the inside, like a tricked-out Subaru Impreza that has a Yugo’s engine stuck under the hood.

The most interesting thing about “Underground,” the latest title in EA’s long-running Need for Speed series, is its theme. Taking a cue from recent Hollywood films such as “The Fast and the Furious,” EA set their latest driving game within the world of underground street racing. Everything I know about street racing, I learned from “The Fast and the Furious” and its sequel, but it seems the game’s developers received their education from the same source. The game feels so much like those film that you may as well name your character Vin Diesel. Like most Hollywood films, however, “Underground” is a high-octane thrill ride that ultimately feels hollow on the inside, like a tricked-out Subaru Impreza that has a Yugo’s engine stuck under the hood.

This first thing you’ll notice when you boot up “Underground” is the game’s incredibly high production values. The 20 cars are all fully licensed and accurately modeled, the soundtrack is kicking with tracks from big names, and the graphics are absolutely out of this world. If you have the rig needed to crank the graphical details all the way up, you’ll have the chance to see one of the most beautiful games of all time. The cars are incredibly well detailed, the neon of the city is bright and vibrant, the reflections throughout realistic and gorgeous, and the blur effect that takes place when you hit the nox (nitro booster) has to be seen to be believed. Developer Black Box definitely deserves the highest congratulations for creating one of the best graphics engines I’ve ever seen.

If only the game itself had received as much polish as the graphics engine, this review wouldn’t be taking a turn for the worse. While the cars handle perfectly (if a little too unrealistically), and the sense of speed is off the charts, the game gets pretty boring quickly. There are plenty of cars to unlock, but only a few tracks, all of which take place in the same city and look identical. The point of the game, then, is to accept challenges for races on the same tracks in order to unlock points so you can trick out your ride.

Engine upgrades are eschewed, for the most part, in favor of simplistic additions like adding decals to your hood or neon to your undercarriage. Online multiplayer keeps things pretty fun, but the other players are fantastic. If you want to compete, you’ll have to play through most of the single-player game and upgrade your car enough.

“Underground” was a hard game to review. On the one hand, it features one of the fastest and most exciting racing engines I’ve ever played, and yet it does so little with that promise. There are over 100 missions to complete, but they all play out on a variation of the same track. There are hundreds of ways to tweak your car, but they are almost all cosmetic and don’t actually change the feel of the way your car drives.

“Underground” is a game that offers potential more than anything else, and while it is certainly one of the most entertaining racing games in recent memory, the lack of depth and variety keeps it from being one I can recommend wholeheartedly.

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