The other 15 per cent? Well, this is the bit that Most Wanted and Carbon did best – the police chases. On top of the usual racing and outdistancing events, we get specific police chase events plus challenges in which you have to cause a specific amount of damage to city property (including cop cars). When it works, it’s brilliant, as you storm through the streets, wreaking havoc wherever you go and evading capture by a whisker every thirty seconds. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work. One of the problems with the ‘Cost to State’ missions is that you have a five minute time limit in which to cause your damage, and then lose any cops still in pursuit. In a few cases I actually struggled to round up enough cop cars to do the necessary damage before four minutes or so were out, leaving me with less than a minute to get rid of those I’d finally dragged into my wake, and none of those handily placed fragile structures/piles of pipes/poorly constructed billboards with which to do it. When this results in failing time after time, the fact that the rest of the game is so ludicrously easy only makes it more frustrating.
This sort of thing is typical of Undercover; it has some great ideas, then blows them with shoddy execution. This even follows through when it comes to technical issues. You’d think that with the deliberately clean style and the lack of traffic on the road, you’d at least get huge draw distances and a solid 60fps frame rate. No such luck. Objects pop into view on the horizon on a reasonably regular basis, while the frame rate judders painfully on some corners, and even during some of the pre-race cut scenes. Again, it leaves you with the impression that you’re playing a half-finished product.
I don’t want to be completely damning. Undercover does have some other things going for it, such as a decent line-up of real production cars (one advantage it has over Burnout: Paradise), some solid multiplayer options (including a team-based cops vs robbers mode) and some sex appeal in the shape of Christina Milian (who, unlike Maggie Q, isn’t constantly shown in silhouette). All the same, you can’t help feeling that EA had a game with the potential to put the series back on track, but somehow kludged it. It actually depresses me to think that this is currently at number five in the UK all formats games chart, and that this means a lot of people are going to end up with it sitting under the tree on Christmas morning. When games like Burnout: Paradise, Midnight Club: LA and even Need for Speed: Carbon offer a similar but superior experience, that’s not just a shame – it’s inexcusable.
Undercover had the potential to be the best Need for Speed this generation, but blew it with a range of design and technical issues. Unpolished, unexciting and seriously disappointing.