Need for Speed Underground Rivals PSP Review

The racing genre is a big risk. There's so much competition, just doing one little thing wrong will send your game into the bargain bin. It's tricky too. Making the game deep with all sorts of add-ons and tweaks for your car alienates those who know nothing about cars. Keeping the game at a surface level immediately turns car buffs away from your title. "Need for Speed Underground Rivals" is an in-between racer, offering arcade-like physics on the track, but deep customization options off. It's a mix that doesn't please anybody.

This is a series that invents a new genre, the caRPG. You basically level up your vehicle, buying new parts to make it stronger and faster. You challenge bosses for cash and take part in other types of races to earn even more. There are numerous licensed cars available for purchase.

That's great if you enjoy fiddling with your cars. Actually, even if you don't just adding things and watching the vehicle performance get a boost is fun. Sadly, there's little explanation for most of the upgrades. You go in blindly, boosting stats that you don't even know what they do unless you've done this type of work yourself. All of the visual upgrades are a nice touch too. There's just no point to most of it.

This would all make sense if the actual racing portions were sim-like. It's not. It controls just like any other arcade racer. There's no attempt to make this even seem like a simulation. Even this would be fine if the races were exciting, but they're not. In actuality, they're dull exercises you'll either win or lose depending on what sort of work you've done in the garage.

That's obviously a major problem. It's far more fun off the track than it is on. Leveling up is a slow process and trying to keep up with the difficulty curve while buying new vehicles is almost impossible in the early going. Later, things start evening out and the races finally start becoming fair, challenging even. It's a shame the opening hours of play are as dull as you can get.

There are countless attempts to keep this fresh. There's a plethora of different races to choose from, like drag, knockout, drifting, and nitrous. This does keep things from getting too repetitive. It's just a shame the basic racing engine isn't that engaging or enjoyable.

The game even fails to impress on the visual side. The cities are all brightly lit and everything is quite shiny. Everything takes place at night and turning on the nitrous provides the nice blur effect the series has quickly become famous for. It's the rather unfortunate the frame rate that drags things down, hovering around 30 fps for the most part and then dipping down when things get crowded. Considering the closest competition ("Ridge Racer") looks so much better without out a single complaint, it's hard to understand what went wrong here.

EA Trax provides most of the backdrop audio, blaring a loud, obnoxious soundtrack the entire game. It's constantly streaming from the disc, so expect battery life to take a hit. Mercifully, you can turn it off. Doing that reveals there's not much left besides basic engine roars once into the streets. Ambience is nil.

On the PSP, you have "Ridge Racer," that's really all you need to know. This console port almost seems unnecessary. This is a game (and series) that will appeal to people and it's easy to see why. They have the home console versions though, and there's no need to play here.

Comments (1)

Yet Need for Speed Underground Rivals trounced Ridge Racer in sales numbers. Maybe "trounced" is not the correct work. Maybe annihilated is better.

Need for Speed: Underground Rivals $5,973,790 121,293 units
Ridge Racer $2,388,781 60,638 units

I can't wait to get my hands on NFSU:R myself, but I think I will like it less as I have spent so much time playing Ridge Racer.

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